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Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  25,228 ratings  ·  1,807 reviews
For more than twenty years Natalie Goldberg has been challenging and cheering on writers with her books and workshops. In her groundbreaking first book, she brings together Zen meditation and writing in a new way. Writing practice, as she calls it, is no different from other forms of Zen practice--"it is backed by two thousand years of studying the mind." This edition incl ...more
Paperback, 312 pages
Published January 10th 2006 by Shambhala Publications (first published October 12th 1986)
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Jason Koivu
Jul 29, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: writing
Natalie Goldberg's droning voice sapped the life out of anything of value she had to say. And what did she have to say? Pretty much the same as other how-to-write books.

Writing Down the Bones is your bog-standard cheerleader-style writing advice, but delivered in a cheerless voice: g.o...y.o.u...you can do it.... That sort of stuff can be inspiring when done right, but a whole book's worth will take the punch out of any pep talk.

Clearly it was a mistake to listen to Goldberg narrate this one o
...more
Michelle
Jul 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Young or beginning writers who don't mind hearing a spiritual dimension added to writing
Recommended to Michelle by: Professor Robert Bensen
I've owned this book for six years. My copy is the pocket-size version. Its cover is wrapped in packing tape to slow the dog-earing.

The first time I read this book in college, and many times since, I carried it everywhere with me, reading it before classes, and over lunch in the dining hall. Natalie Goldberg's short, friendly chapters filled with spiritual and practical wisdom and stories made me feel as though a very warm and welcoming teacher had sat down across the table from me and struck up
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Dec 17, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing, read07
I heard about this book a lot while doing Nanowrimo last year, and thought I'd read it. It's a little amusing, written in 1984, so pre-computer really. And some of her advice was pretty repetitive, but I did get some glimmers out of there.
"We walk through so many myths of each other and ourselves; we are so thankful when someone sees us for who we are and accepts us."

"You're never free unless you are doing your art."

"I write because to form a word with your lips and tongue or think a thing and t
...more
Gabriel
Nov 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
For you poets out there, this book is for you.

For those of you meant to write memoirs and light happy stories about light happy things, this book is for you.

For those of you who want to write about things of no consequence that have some consequence - The Light Coming Through The Window, Your Favorite Meal, Blue - this book is for you too.

For those of us who are busy thinking of short stories, who are thinking of horror, who think of sf that may deal with harder topics, that think of things that
...more
Bonnie
I picked up Writing Down the Bones when I was still teaching elementary school, and used ideas from it with my grades two to four students. My emphasis on these “10-minute writes” was on unedited (until later) free-writing. The rules were a condensed version of Natalie’s:
-Keep your hand moving
-Don’t cross out
-Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar
-Don’t think

I would set the timer, and on the word, “start”, pencils began moving, some faster than others. And of course I would be writing
...more
Heather
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Okay, this book is amazing. I feel that this will be one of those books that never stays on my bookshelf. I will too often be taking it down to read bits and pieces. Very inspiring.
Jenny
May 01, 2008 added it
Shelves: writing
This is a great starting-point aspiring-writer's book, terrific for getting the creative juices flowing. I have used Natalie Goldberg's techniques both as a writer and as a writing teacher. Eventually, if you want to write Things That Other People Want to Read and not just Things That Are Good to Write, you need to work on the less free-spirited, less blue-sky, and occasionally less exciting stuff: structure, pacing, whittling away extraneous words. You need to learn to *re*write, to do somethin ...more
Nikki
Nov 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott struck me as reading two very similar books from two distinct voices. Writing Down The Bones is a personal reflection on the craft and what works for Goldberg and might work for you. It's easy to digest, coming in short chapters, and it really does make you think about what you write, how you sit down to work, whether you're really dedicated to writing. The allusions to Buddhism and Judaism and how they affect her ...more
Laurie
Aug 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to improve their writing skills, or understanding of the writing process
Recommended to Laurie by: Dr. Michael Angelotti
Shelves: favorites
This book changed my life as a writer, a teacher of writing, and as an individual!

I use this book currently in my high school Creative Writing I class. I read chapters to the students; we talk about what they might mean, and how the advice given could change their writing. I wasn't sure if this approach would be successful with high school age students, but within weeks I have seen more free writing, more stream of consciousness writing, and more unedited writing than ever before! My students ar
...more
J. Sebastian
This is an encouraging and motivating little volume, filled with an assortment of anecdotes, advice, and exercises for writing practice; it is a good way to get into the habit of writing. It has, however, one of the ugliest book covers I have ever seen.

Writing Down the Bones promotes a Zen-like writing practice, in which no errors are possible, provided that one be present and continue to write. Goldberg gives the student permission to write badly, and creates a liberating safe-space that helps
...more
J.F. Penn
Apr 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
I read this book again every few years. I love it. It takes me back to the fundamentals of writing & gives me pages of notes , thoughts, lines of poetry & my own inspiration and memory. A must for all writers. ...more
Caro the Helmet Lady
It was interesting and made sense, but just not really my thing. Too much of Zen and Buddhism and it's not like I'm against it or something, but it's just not what I expected from this book, I guess. Might come back to it someday, though.
Anne Ku
Jul 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I went to a Writing Group in the Hague today for the first time. Seeing the half-read paperback "Writing Down the Bones" on someone's table made me curious as I had heard of it before.

I simply couldn't put it down.

So I negotiated with the owner of the book, the friend who introduced me to the writing group, to swap the book I was reading (something about taking back your life, another self-help book I was half-way through and wanted to finish and give away because there were too many of such bo
...more
Tim Dudek
Feb 28, 2010 rated it it was ok
Having heard great praise for this book from several people I respect I had high hopes. Like many, I found it lacking. Golberg wrote a book not about writing but about using Zen to overcoming self doubt. I am sure this could be quite helpful to many prospective writers. Judging by the many positive reviews this is the case. And to those of you I say, “More power to ya”. I rarely wallow in self doubt of my writing ability. I fail to write not because I am afraid, but because I am lazy and easily ...more
Jessica Shelley
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, favorites, 2020, 2019
I love, love, love this book with all of my beating heart.

There's a kind of fuzzy warmth, like standing present on a balcony overlooking autumnal woods and hearing the sounds of bird songs, as I finished Writing Down the Bones.

I want to tape this book to my chest and keep it with me always. (But my desk will have to do.) And I want to memorize every revelation. (But it was almost every other page.)

Goldberg is a gift to this world. And Writing Down the Bones is the best book on writing I have e
...more
Angel
Jan 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: writers, starting out or veterans. Those interested in Zen
I put it under inspirational, since it does have a lot of that, but this is also the best writing book I have read. I got it on the recommendation of a colleague of mine when I was still teaching high school English. It has inspired me to be a better writer myself. And it is just a good book to read when you need something that is easy and relaxing. Goldberg is very encouraging, inspiring, and gentle with a bit of an erotic element. I am finally adding it now as I am rereading it yet again. True ...more
Daphne Stanford
Jul 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to write!
This book is what got me writing. Absolutely stunning in its simplicity, but also much more deep than one would think upon first glance. Natalie Goldberg is a brilliant teacher who compares writing to many other crafts that necessitate discipline and daily practice, including meditation, friendships/relationships, athletics, and just about everything else.

A (very!) paraphrased/off the TOP of my head quote:

[You may have $2 in the bank account, your children are screaming, your loved one is begg
...more
Bill
Nov 21, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5 STARS

Back in September I joined the newly formed Westfield Writer's Project https://www.facebook.com/groups/11641... and one of our writing assignments was to read a book on the craft of writing and and share our thoughts at our next meeting. I chose Writing Down The Bones!

Perhaps it was the curious title that included the words “bones” and “writing” that attracted me to this book. Or maybe because it came up so many times during my messaging conversations with the WWP moderator over several
...more
Julie
Dec 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It took my ego 15 years to crack open Stephen King's memoir, On Writing. When I finally did, I was transformed. . . how could his writing process be so similar to mine? Why do he and I have the same strange thoughts?

The deep connection to that book led me to rethink this book, Writing Down the Bones, that has sat, barely touched, upon my night stand for nearly a decade.

I have come to realize, through these two excellent books, that it's good to journey outside of your powerfully resistant ego a
...more
Dave Cullen
Jun 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is not a how-to guide, but a series of anecdotes, ideas and exercises for freeing up the voice, and getting unstuck. It's very different than most books on writing, and the best I know of at what it tries to do. It sure helped me.
Roxanne
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: _read-again
This was a great read on writing. I enjoyed this compilation of essays on the various aspects of being a writer and building a writing practice. What I most appreciated about this book was that the author did not just describe ways to be a better writer or tell us readers what to do in order to write better, but her essays show us that the author practices what she is preaching.
Julie Christine
It's time for a reread of this classic....

So beautiful, confident, Zen, simple, inspiring, frank, courageous, and simple. Just sit down, put pen to paper, and write your guts out.

I'll come back to this book time and again, open a page, read, be inspired.
Lisa
Apr 16, 2013 rated it did not like it
I tried to read this book many, many years ago and quit because I didn't get much out of it. There were occasional insights, but not nearly enough meat to keep me going. It is still on all the "must read" lists for writers, so I thought I'd give it another chance. After all, I was a teenager the last time I tried and I didn't have a lot of patience for things I didn't understand.

I should have trusted my teen self.

I was able to hit upon a few nuggets of wisdom, but for the most part, I was readi
...more
Gina
Jan 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: librarianish
Great book of non-dork writing prompts.
Cassandra Hawkins
Jul 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Yesterday, I finished "Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within," by Natalie Goldberg. I started reading this book years ago. I began this book, when I was attending the University of Mississippi Writing Project Summer Institute. This Summer Institute was designed to teach teachers how to write and teach writing. At that time, I was only a special education teacher with a Master's degree in English, yearning and longing to teach English. Who would have thought that years later I would f ...more
Jade
Feb 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
At a time when I was ready to quit writing (yet again), I read Writing Down the Bones and felt revived and excited about writing, something I haven't felt in awhile. Even beyond the helpful advice is the author's energy, the ability to stir up in the reader an excitement for writing because she is excited about it, and it clearly shows. Her words gleam and sing with personality; her writing style is sensitive and down to earth.

While the book heavily emphasizes writing freely in a notebook, I f
...more
Julia
May 18, 2013 rated it did not like it
I'm sure this book was trail-blazing when it was originally published in the mid-80s, but a lot of these concepts have been told and retold so many times in the past few decades it was tedious to read again. The author was genuine, and at times very insightful, but annoying. I felt like I went into a time machine and hung out with my kindly stoner art teacher from 3rd grade for a day. There was some value there, but it was work to wade through the self indulgent hippy stories from the 1970s unti ...more
Zaki
Nov 04, 2010 rated it liked it
This is an excellent tool to loosening up the writing muscles.
Gil
Apr 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars

I’ve always found books about writing very comforting, like Lamott’s Bird by Bird, though I don’t consider myself a writer. Goldberg’s advice, as she herself admits, consists mainly in getting you to trust your own voice and to just sit down and start writing no matter what. Her persona is more a cheerleader than a critical editor, so if your biggest problem is getting started in the first place, this is a great book to read.
rains
Jun 22, 2016 rated it did not like it
Sheesh.

This book was written in the '80s, and boy, is it a book written in the '80s. A post-'70s '80s book. Example?

"A friend once told me: 'Trust in love and it will take you where you need to go.' I want to add, 'Trust in what you love, continue to do it, and it will take you where you need to go.' And don’t worry too much about security. You will eventually have a deep security when you begin to do what you want. How many of us with our big salaries are actually secure anyway?"

That's from the
...more
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Is this worth the read? I need to know what's her best book on writing! 3 21 Dec 21, 2017 07:35AM  
The Dinner Scene 3 81 Jan 23, 2012 07:31PM  

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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

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“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” 619 likes
“We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn't matter. . . Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp's half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer's task to say, "It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a café when you can eat macrobiotic at home." Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.” 166 likes
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