Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir
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Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  599 ratings  ·  95 reviews
Twenty years ago Natalie Goldberg's classic, Writing Down the Bones, broke new ground in its approach to writing as a practice. Now, Old Friend from Far Away -- her first book since Writing Down the Bones to focus solely on writing -- reaffirms Goldberg's status as a foremost teacher of writing, and completely transforms the practice of writing memoir.

To write memoir, we...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published February 12th 2008 by Atria Books (first published 2002)
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Saundra
I have finished the exercises for the first two sections of Old Friend, which I'm using as a text in my class, Writing Practice, Memory, and Memoir. I'm keeping a separate notebook for this work, although most of the topics have lead me back to the book I'm writing--but with angles and insights I wouldn't have otherwise reached. I actually conceived this class so I'd do the exercises in Old Friend, because I didn't have the discipline to do them on my own. Nothing like accountability to get you...more
Inder
I just finished reading this book this morning. Now that I've read it, I need to work through it. Which I am very much looking forward to, because, oh, what a lovely little guide! Some of the best writing I encounter is actually writing about writing. Which makes sense if you think about it - why would you follow advice from a badly written book about writing?

Natalie Goldberg does not disappoint - she is as funny, down to earth, succinct, and harsh, as ever. This book is inspiring in the best wa...more
Joel Friedlander
It took me 6 months to "read" this book. How come? Almost every page is an exercise in reconstructing your own memories of your life and the people you've met along the way.

I decided to work through all the exercises and it turned into a truly transformative experience. I think if you're interested in memoir, in telling your own story but you need help getting started, or if your writing seems to "lack juice" this book is for you.

Through writing exercises and memory-enhancing writing prompts, Na...more
Janet
Great book. I'm going to buy it. I never buy books. It's out in paperback 3/10/09. I can wait.
Angel
Aug 23, 2010 Angel rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: aspiring writers
I liked this book, but as I was reading it through, it was not easy to handle. The reason is that this is a book meant to be read, and for people to do the writing exercises. I constantly wanted to stop and do some writing, but since I was borrowing the book (from my library), I could not stop. I would definitely buy a copy of this book for myself at some point. I remarked in one of the updates that I still liked Writing Down the Bones better, and I can say that statement is still accurate. That...more
Rachel
Natalie Goldberg saved my writing life. Stuck in the depths of writing block despair - the longest and bleakest I had ever experienced - I grabbed this off the shelf at my local bookstore. Two pages in, I felt a ray of light break through the thunderhead surrounding me. I ran out and bought a new notebook. I sat down and wrote five pages without stopping.

Writer's block DEMOLISHED.

Been writing well and without blockages ever since.

I love Natalie method of "zen writing". It's easy to identify wit...more
Heidi
The same, old, stuff from Natalie Goldberg. Wordy personal narrative disguised as less than inspiring ten-minute writing exercises. I think of something Amy Hempel said in Paris Review a few years ago - that being "writerly" can overshadow what you are trying to say. "Sometimes, the door is just "open", she said.


"Write everything you can think of about the Fourth of July" just doesn't excite me. I'm passing this on.
Beth
"This revolution in personal narrative that has unrolled across the American landscape in the last two and a half decades is the expression of a uniquely American energy: a desire to understand in the heat of living, while life is fresh . . ."

au contraire --- it is because we are a country of self-absorbed, egotistical narcissists.

Ms. Goldberg has not only jumped on the bandwagon, she's now driving it.
Ron Seybold
This is such a treasure of exercises and invitations into the spirit of writing your own life. It's got the trademark "just write 10 minutes, go!" of Natalie's practice. Yes, she really does urge you on like that in person, something I got to experience at a workshop with her at Kripalu. Highly recommended, full of the kinds of suggestions a great coach will nudge you along with. Easy language, and her examples show how writing at a 7th grade level is most inclusive, while preserving rich meanin...more
Andi
So I did it, I finally finished Natalie Goldberg’s new book (is it even new anymore?) Old Friend from Far Away. And I really appreciated it. It’s not a book I would say I loved, not because it’s not great, but because it’s not the kind of book that you read right through. It’s made up of chunks - some of one or two lines and some of several pages - that all address various aspects of memoir writing. Some of the sections are writing prompts, and some are reflections on the writing process. I love...more
Hella
Je autobiografie is niet een opsomming van hier geboren, daar naar school, keurig langs het gangpad van je leven.
De momenten moeten erin staan, waarop je de auto keerde en van de brug af in de rivier sprong omdat het water zo helder was, en je opeens moest denken aan boterhammen met pindakaas, en het liedje dat de bakker vroeger floot.
Of toen je besefte dat je er helemaal niet van hield om aandrijfriemen voor tractors te verkopen.
Een autobiografie is ook geen ouwemensenland. Duik erin, hoe oud o...more
Ashley Lauren
It's not really fair to say I've "read" this book, because you don't read this book - you do the book. Each chapter is a task, each is ten minutes, and it's to get you writing. It's not even so much about the craft the memoir itself, but the craft of writing for the memoir. This book will help you understand yourself and your experiences in a whole new way.

I stupidly checked this book out of the library. This is not a book to be loaned. This is a book to keep and methodically work through. My m...more
Patricia
For anyone writing memoir, this book is a must. There are hundreds of prompts and exercises, that will always get you unstuck. Keep it close to your writing space.....ad keep at it.
Carol
I frist read this book 2 years ago and found it excellent for writing and then discovered it is a magnificent book for the DAYS OF AWE--those ten days for reflection between the new year and the day of stonement. We are forced to genuuinely look at our lives, not as we wish they were, not as we pretend they were, but as they really lived out with texture and various senses. We start with something as simple as a writing exercise about a nut and it opens us up to an whole world of memories. So no...more
Amanda
I like to have one craft book as a companion when I write, something I can turn to and help "grease the wheels", so to speak, and I think this will be a good one. While I'm not planning on writing a memoir, I picked it up b/c memories are the mine for creating our characters - particularly, it seems to me, the emotional beings of our characters, so I thought this book would be helpful. Lots of exercises here to help you access memories from forgotten-points in time. :) I also ust plain like her...more
Alice Osborn
As a fan of Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, I want to read her latest "how-to" book. I own the audio version of this title, but would like to experience the updated print version. A review from this month's The Writer (Aug 2008) wasn't too positive, so I'll need to judge "Old Friend" for myself.

I'd like to use this book as inspiration for my upcoming "Journaling Your Memoir" class I'm teaching Wed. at the Sertoma Arts Center in Raleigh off of Millbrook/Leadmine at Shelley Lake. The c...more
Sara
This is not what I expected, but I really enjoyed it. Goldberg is a very good writer and writing teacher, so her thoughts on memoir writing are gold. The book is almost entirely made up of writing prompts, which are excellent, but I wish she had included more of her thoughts about memoir as a genre.

I'd highly recommend this to anyone interested in memoir writing, but beware that this is not a "sit down and read" book - it's meant to be used as a guide to remember and WRITE your own material ove...more
Diana Higgins
This was pretty good. A lot like her other books and other books of this ilk. I deducted one star from the four I might have given just because I found the constant repetition of, "10 minutes. Go." to be tiresome.

I think one blanket statement in the beginning that most of these prompts should be attempted in 10 minutes, along with the explanation as to why, would be sufficient and really, I don't need a cheerleader to tell me to "go."

Otherwise, though, it was good reading and it provoked good t...more
Sarah
I loved this book. So many great writing prompts, my head is spinning. I just need to find more time to write!
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Another book I picked up because the author is beloved. Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones was the first book I read about writing that inspired me. I’ve read all her books since then (including one very disappointing novel) but nothing’s clicked with me like Bones. This book was close; I felt a click here and there. Old Friend is fundamentally an expanded Bones. It has lots of fun exercises for those who are suffering from writer’s block. I’d like to keep it a little longer and try more of the e...more
Faith
I buy a lot of writing books, I read even more. Natalie Goldberg is an old standby, and her newest is no exception. Even if you are not necessarily interested in writing a memoir (I'm not sure I am), the questions she asks are sure to get your mind working in new directions and bring a fresh perspective to whatever you are working on.

The covers of my copies of Wild Mind and Writing Down the Bones are growing tattered from repeated readings over the years, and I expect this to be no exception.
Victoria
Feb 16, 2014 Victoria marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing-2014
via Megan
Amy
Jun 30, 2008 Amy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: writing teachers, blocked writers
I'm not certain how much help this will be for actually organizing a memoir, but in terms of writing prompts and advice, it's first rate. I'd especially recommend it for anyone who might be teaching an intro-level course in creative nonfiction or memoir, as it's divided into easily digestible "bits" that would be ideal for a workshop/in-class writing situation. Goldberg's writing advice sometimes feels a little pat to me, but there's an authenticity to this book that is really appealing.
Ruth Charchian
I have read tons of "how to write" books and this is one of the best i have read. I highly recommend it because it gets you immediately into writing. No stalling. No psychological evaluations that take pages and pages before a word goes on paper. Just do it. She provides endless non-threatening, juicy topics to entice your memory. It is hard NOT to write while reading her book. She compells you to pick up a pen and just write and write and write.
penny
May 09, 2010 penny rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to penny by: flashlight worthy
Shelves: library-nypl
If you want to write, then write! Goldberg drives straight to the point and provides lots of great prompts within the three hundred-odd pages. Whether you read Old Friend from Far Away to write your memoir, or if you are use it to aid in character development for a piece of fiction, or if you turn to it to provide guidance in questions to pose to a relative to elicit stories to record-- nothing will occur if you don't write. Ten minutes. Go.
Elizabeth
A plethora of writing practices!
Holly
I've finally read the book all the way through and now I am going back and reading it again and doing the exercises. I think that Natalie Goldberg is a great writer and an even better writing teacher. Some of the writing prompts are a little odd and I think I am going to skip those, but overall I really liked this book. If you want to learn how to write a better journal or family history, this book has a lot of helpful suggestions.
Crystal
I have reviewed this book as a reference for my thesis. While it is full of writing exercise toward creating a spiritual memoir that is really where Goldberg's instructions end. Her goal is to get the reader writing and this is good because that is often the hardest thing to make happen. I would recommend using the book to motivate the writing. I will likely use some of this in developing a memoir workshop.
Steve Lee Sr
Encouraging, with lots of good advice and writing exercises.
Erin Lyndal
I always like Natalie Goldberg's writing on writing, so I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. Initially, I felt like this book was a little too much like Writing Down the Bones or Wild Mind and wasn't specific enough to memoir. But as the book went on, I decided that it was very good for memoir writing. I like the breadth of the exercises, how some are simple and distant and some are heartwrenching.
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25189
Natalie Goldberg lived in Brooklyn until she was six, when her family moved out to Farmingdale, Long Island, where her father owned the bar the Aero Tavern. From a young age, Goldberg was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Carson McCullers's The Ballad of the Sad Cafe , which she read in ninth grade. She thinks that single book led her eventually to put pen to paper when she was twe...more
More about Natalie Goldberg...
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“The things that make you a functional citizen in society - manners, discretion, cordiality - don't necessarily make you a good writer. Writing needs raw truth, wants your suffering and darkness on the table, revels in a cutting mind that takes no prisoners...” 10 likes
“Too often we take notes on writing, we think about writing but never do it. I want you to walk into the heart of the storm, written words dripping off hair, eyelids, hanging from hands.” 7 likes
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