We learn writing by doing it. That simple. We don’t learn by going outside ourselves to authorities we think know about it.


In Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg explores the concept of writing as a Zen practice.  Natalie offers suggestions, encouragement, and solid advice on many aspects of the writer’s craft: on writing from “first thoughts” (keep your hand moving, don’t cross out, just get it on paper), on listening (writing is ninety percent listening; the deeper you listen, the better you write), on using verbs (verbs provide the energy of the sentence), on overcoming doubts (doubt is torture; don’t listen to it)—even on choosing a restaurant in which to write.  Goldberg sees writing as a practice that helps writers comprehend the value of their lives.

Basically, if you want to become a good writer, you need to do three things. Read a lot, listen well and deeply, and write a lot.

“Talk when you talk, walk when you walk, and die when you die.” Write when you write. Stop battling yourself with guilt, accusations, and strong-arm threats.” Zen Saying

Here are my favourite takeaways from reading, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg:

Writing Down the Bones Theme:

  • It is also about using writing as your practice, as a way to help you penetrate your life and become sane. It is about trusting your own mind and creating confidence in your experience.
  • Learning to write is not a linear process. There is no logical A-to-B-to-C way to become a good writer. One neat truth about writing cannot answer it all. There are many truths. To do writing practice means to deal ultimately with your whole life.

Human Activity

  •  Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate. Think about it: Ants don’t do it. Trees don’t. Not even thoroughbred horses, mountain elk, house cats, grass, or rocks do it. Writing is a uniquely human activity. It might even be built into our DNA. It should be put forward in the Declaration of Independence, along with the other inalienable rights: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—and writing.
  • Meditation and writing practice are coincident. The more we understand the human mind, our basic writing tool, the better, more secure we can be in our writing.

Beginner’s Mind, Pen and Paper

  • In a sense, that beginner’s mind is what we must come back to every time we sit down and write. There is no security, no assurance that because we wrote something good two months ago, we will do it again. Actually, every time we begin, we wonder how we ever did it before. Each time is a new journey with no maps.

Experiment.

  • Even try writing in a big drawing pad. It is true that the inside world creates the outside world, but the outside world and our tools also affect the way we form our thoughts. Try skywriting.
  • Choose your tools carefully, but not so carefully that you get uptight or spend more time at the stationery store than at your writing table.

First Thought

  • Keep your hand moving. (Don’t pause to reread the line you have just written. That’s stalling and trying to get control of what you’re saying.)
  • Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.)
  • Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.)
  • Lose control : Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
    Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)

Writing Practice: Writing as a Practice” like running

  •  Like running, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Some days you don’t want to run and you resist every step of the three miles, but you do it anyway. You practice whether you want to or not. You don’t wait around for inspiration and a deep desire to run. It’ll never happen, especially if you are out of shape and have been avoiding it. But if you run regularly, you train your mind to cut through or ignore your resistance. You just do it. And in the middle of the run, you love it. When you come to the end, you never want to stop. And you stop, hungry for the next time.

Composting

  • Our senses by themselves are dumb. They take inexperience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies. The author calls this “composting.”
  • Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil.

If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you. Besides, those voices are merely guardians and demons protecting the real treasure, the first thoughts of the mind.

Artistic Stability

  • 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.
  • If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you. Besides, those voices are merely guardians and demons protecting the real treasure, the first thoughts of the mind.

Tap the Water Table

  • DON’T WORRY ABOUT your talent or capability: that will grow as you practice. Katagiri Roshi said, “Capability is like a water table below the surface of earth.” No one owns it, but you can tap it. You tap it with your effort and it will come through you. So just practice writing, and when you learn to trust your voice, direct it. If you want to write a novel, write a novel. If it’s essays you want or short stories, write them. In the process of writing them, you will learn how.

We learn writing by doing it. That simple. We don’t learn by going outside ourselves to authorities we think know about it.

Poverty Mentality

  • People often begin writing from a poverty mentality. They are empty and they run to teachers and classes to learn about writing. We learn writing by doing it. That simple. We don’t learn by going outside ourselves to authorities we think know about it. I had a lovely fat friend once who decided he wanted to start exercising. He went to a bookstore to find a book so he could read about it! You don’t read about exercise to lose weight. You exercise to lose those pounds.

Listening

  • Writing is 90 percent listening. You listen so deeply to the space around you that it fills you, and when you write, it pours out of you. If you can capture that reality around you, your writing needs nothing else. You don’t only listen to the person speaking to you across the table, but simultaneously listen to the air, the chair, and the door. And go beyond the door.
  • Basically, if you want to become a good writer, you need to do three things. Read a lot, listen well and deeply, and write a lot. And don’t think too much. Just enter the heat of words and sounds and colored sensations and keep your pen moving across the page.

Dogen, a great Zen master, said, “If you walk in the mist, you get wet.” So just listen, read, and write. Little by little, you will come closer to what you need to say and express it through your voice. Be patient and don’t worry about it. Just sing and write in tune.

Doubt Is Torture

  • For every book that makes it, there are probably thousands that don’t even get published. We must continue anyway. If you want to write, write. If one book doesn’t get published, write another one. Each one will get better because you have all the more practice behind you.
  • Doubt is torture. If we give ourselves fully to something, it will be clearer when it might be appropriate to quit. It is a constant test of perseverance.
  • Don’t listen to doubt. It leads no place but to pain and negativity. It is the same with your critic who picks at you while you are trying to write: “That’s stupid. Don’t say that. Who do you think you are anyway, trying to be a writer?” Don’t pay attention to those voices.
  • There is nothing helpful there. Instead, have a tenderness and determination toward your writing, a sense of humor, and a deep patience that you are doing the right thing. Avoid getting caught by that small gnawing mouse of doubt. See beyond it to the vastness of life and the belief in time and practice.

All the Best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

Write A Comment