I recently reread one of my favorite writing books, “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. This book galvanized my identity as a writer in the late 80s. It was like a breath of fresh air again to get a dose her zen motivation medicine.
Natalie was very practical in her teaching of what was essential in writing. She cut to the chase by teaching beginner’s mind and writing practice as “first thoughts” on the page, based on her 12 years of Zen meditation training. In “Bones” she advised, “It is important to have a way worked out to begin your writing; otherwise, washing the dishes becomes the most important thing on earth…” I have this quote heavily underlined in red pencil; when I read it again, I had an “isn’t that the truth” moment.
I can relate. Even though I have multiple writing projects going, I don’t always follow a particular regimen for doing them. I tend to write when my day-to-day world feels “settled.” A certain amount of quietude is needed.
As Natalie says, we like to complicate things, but keeping things as simple as possible works best. Make a schedule for writing or call a writer friend when you get stuck. Otherwise, she says just pick a time and a place and then buckle down and do it. It’s okay to reward yourself afterward with chocolate chip cookies :).
Some years ago I took a poetry class with a teacher who said that reading the King James Bible gave her inspiration for writing poetry. That was the first time I heard the idea called “priming the pump”. As an English lit student in college we had to read Chaucer, and I loved the musicality of his Middle English poems. I fell in love with the sheer sounds of vowels and wrote poetry for two decades. Certain poets and writers, or musicians and artists, can do that to you. What inspires me to write now is reading some really good writing that I enjoy, or reading about the lives of amazing writers and artists.
Natalie was struck by poetry too. She hand copied poems of her favorite poets to kick start her writing. She taught writing workshops for 15 years before Bones was published, taking the advice of her beloved Zen master who told her to “go deep” into writing. Writing was a vehicle for self mastery as worthy as Zen.
In Natalie’s view, you practice writing whether you want to or not. You don’t wait for inspiration. You do it to develop your writing muscles, so they “are in good shape to ride the universe when it moves though us.” If that’s not an incentive, I don’t know what is.
Haven’t read this book? Check it out here, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. Your purchase through our link helps support this website. Thank you.