Book Review: “Writing Down the Bones”

#DailyWings“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.” – Charles William Eliot

This week, I am back on my regular posting schedule! Today, I present to you – as promised – my long-awaited book review on “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. But first, I’d like to take a moment and apologize for the roller coaster that was last week! Thank you for bearing it with me, and many thanks to the people who sent me kind well-wishes via social media! For those of you who were spared the details before, I caught a nasty cold and also had a mild case of gingivitis (characterized by swollen, bleeding gums – ew!). Truthfully, I’m glad I took some time off for self-care and for the sake of my physical health. I’m feeling a lot better now!

It’s been over a year since I last wrote a book review. My sister’s boyfriend, Aron, gave me “Writing Down the Bones” as a Christmas gift last year, and I only got around to reading it in August. It normally takes me forever to finish a book, but “Writing Down the Bones” is broken up into three-to-five-page chapters that are easy to fly through if you have a few spare moments.

If you read my last blog post, you know that “Writing Down IMG_5635the Bones” was a November favorite of mine. Looking for a book about grammar or the basics of writing well? This isn’t what you’re looking for. Natalie Goldberg tackles issues that every writer goes through, whether experienced or beginner: confidence, trust in one’s own words, what she calls “artistic stability,” discipline and the itch of the red pen – also known as criticism (or editing).

As a writer who has suffered from confidence issues my entire life, I find Natalie’s words both comforting and inspirational. She writes like a sage friend, as if she’s talking to you: One of the chapters, “A Meal You Love,” opens with this sentence: “If you find you are having trouble writing and nothing seems real, just write about food.” Solid advice. Though it may not be as practical as other books related to the craft, such as Stephen King’s ever-popular “On Writing,” but people who are interested in meta-writing and want to better understand their personal relationship with writing should read this “Writing Down the Bones” at least once.

Not everyone will enjoy Natalie’s book or appreciate the passages where she draws on her experiences with meditation, spirituality and the “zen” life and compares them to writing (especially if you’re not ’bout that life), but you will learn a lot about the way you tick as a writer. You’ll take mental risks and document little memories you forgot you still had. You’ll experiment with words, take apart sentences and rearrange them in ways that we were taught never to do back in elementary school. You’ll learn to not only be open-minded about what the world has to offer you, but also about yourself and what you have to offer the world.

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” – Natalie Goldberg

As much as I love this book teaching me to be bolder with my writing, I disagree with one of the fundamental lessons that Natalie teaches in her book: we are not the poem. On page 42, she writes: “Don’t identify too strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those black-and-white words. They are not you. They were a great moment going through you.” She tells writers not to get too caught up with their successes or their failures, to let go of their previous work and continue writing because that’s where the magic happens – not in the oohs and ahhs of readers.

While I’m all for maintaining a balanced ego, much of my confidence is generated by reminding myself of what I’ve written before. When I read my past writing, the poems that took me five hours to find the perfect last word for and the stories about characters that I care more for than my turtles, I am reminded of what I love to write and why. During moments when I’m frozen by fear of failure or by writer’s block, I remember that I am still capable of creating. Every piece of writing I’ve ever written is a part of me. Sorry, Nat, but I am the poem.

Overall Rating:

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Exciting news: My Facebook page for Wendy Lu Writes surpassed 200 Likes this week! Thank you so much for your continued support and for helping me to each this goal. Though Thanksgiving may be over, know that I am grateful for you all every day!

One response to “Book Review: “Writing Down the Bones””

  1. Sara L. says:

    This sounds like a wonderful source of writing inspiration, Wendy. I’ll put it on my TBR list. :)

    I do agree with you on the “identifying with your work” bit, too. Natalie’s right about certain parts, like not getting caught up in successes, failures, and people’s reactions to your work. However, how can we not identify with our work when each story, poem, etc. is a small piece of us? That’s how I feel about everything I’ve ever written. Although, maybe Natalie was suggesting this so we as writers don’t feel hurt or offended when others criticize our work? I’m only guessing, since you’ve read her book and I haven’t, but maybe that’s a possibility…

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