02 September 2010

Review of Writing Down The Bones

Emily Hutto is a Portland-dwelling, outdoor-loving, sushi-eating freelance writer with passion for places and faces. She has a chronic case of travel bug that she documents on her blog, Global Osmosis, at glosmosis.blogspot.com. She could also use some votes to blog her way around the world next year at http://www.blogyourwayaroundtheworld.com/blogs/view/1010.

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambhala Library)To read or to write? That's the conflict of interest that Natalie Goldberg creates for readers of her book, Writing Down the Bones. Despite Goldberg's steady pace that keeps the reader intently turning page after page, her encouraging voice throughout the piece urges the reader to put down the book and pick up a pen instead.

In the book's preface, Goldberg says, "Now, please, go. Write your asses off."

Before it even begins, her intention is to prompt writers to do just that. She makes the point that much like running, writing is a practice that must be repeated in order to improve. She periodically gives suggestions as to what to write about, where to write, how long to write for and who to write with. Her innovative suggestions often seem undemanding, but she promises that writing exercises, such as listing the details of your meals that day, when practiced, will yield good material.

Goldberg can make said promises because she's experienced first-hand that these techniques work. Her use of personal stories and anecdotes not only provide real-life examples but also add color to her writing. Readers get a truer sense of this Zen-practicing, chocolate-loving Boulder-ite with every progressive chapter. Goldberg entertains her readers with stories about wearing blue lipstick and wigs at cafes and somehow makes these actions seem like perfect solutions to any writer's block. She claims to be a writer because she is a "crazy, schizophrenic," and somehow this statement makes her that much more credible. Just as she urges her readers to develop their voices in the practice, Goldberg cultivates her own.

She also encourages readers to use analogies in their writing, a technique she employs throughout Writing Down the Bones. She implies that readers should learn by example while comparing writing to relateable topics such as baking, running, hamburgers and playing dress-up, among others. Her analogies are simple, yet complex. With each chapter, Goldberg presents a new abstraction about writing and then takes her time and precise word choice to develop the metaphor. Her list of metaphors is eclectic and completely random; however, the reader can thoroughly understand each one because her transitions from chapter to chapter are seamless.

Goldberg's smooth read can be attributed to practicing what she preaches. She doesn't just tell readers to fill an entire journal each month; she has the 5-foot-high pile of notebooks to prove that she does it too. She suggests having "writing marathons" because some of her most magical stories have come out of these circles with her friends. Both her sincerity and creativity about the practice make Writing Down the Bones an essential read for both novice and experienced writers alike.

Goldberg often reminds readers that she is in their shoes because each time one sits down to write he or she has to start with the basics. Even experienced writers have to clear their slates after each piece, whether it is published or not. Goldberg presents the idea that experience does not make for good writing, good ideas and rigorous editing do. By recognizing that her writing is often garbage, she advises writers to just keep trucking. Her personal experiences help to eliminate writers' common fears of producing unfavorable work.

Writing Down the Bones is inspirational. It urges the non-writer to start journalling. It persuades the frustrated writer to keep trying. And it commends the avid writer by offering innovative suggestions. No matter who reads this book, he will surely close the final chapter and write his ass off.


  1. Documentation is a good thing, but one needs to be picky, or the tons of pure data may turn out to be overwhelming.

    Will this be used in any of your stories? May it be used? Or is it merely a fairly interesting thought?

    Things like that. Eventually one learns pickiness, to filter documentation. Your stories will still contain an abundance of fertility.

  2. I like this advice. I firmly believe that experience writing can transform ordinary writers into great writers and that financial success is a trick of marketing.

  3. I always recommend this book to people who say they have writer's block, or even folks who are considering doing some writing but don't know where to begin. It's true that writing can be as simple as making lists, and you've got to start somewhere.

  4. Everyone who tells me that Twitter IS writing is a wonderful beautiful human being. I've dedicated so much time to it, but learned to be succinct.