Writing Down the Bones


As I mentioned yesterday, I promised to share what I thought about “Writing Down the Bones,” the book on writing by Natalie Goldberg, a Zen Buddhist Jewish woman, published the year I was born. There are just so many thing right with that equation that I knew going into it it was going to be good. And it was. There are 67 chapters, each a page or two long, and each can be read individually when you need an extra dash of inspiration or encouragement, or all together. I tackled them all together, in order, over the course of a few days. (PS. Theresa, I’m totally sending you a new copy and keeping this version, since I dented the cover accidentally by carrying it around in my bag with me everywhere. Sorry!)

As with ‘Bird by Bird’, there were parts that were so relevant it felt like the author was writing specifically to me. That is one of the most magical feelings every possible, because it makes you realize you’re not alone; someone else felt the exact same way as you about something and was able to articulate it. Especially with something as big and scary as writing. Here are some passages from “Writing Down the Bones” that I found particularly poignant and mentally earmarked to come back to:

It is important to have a way worked out to begin your writing; otherwise, washing the dishes becomes the most important thing on earth — anything that will divert you from writing. p. 26

And because I needed further validation that Paris is the best place in the world for a Delicate Artistic Soul like me:

In Paris, I was astounded by how many cafés there were. It is considered impolite to hurry a customer. You can order one coffee at eight a.m. and still be sipping it with no pressure at three p.m. Hemingway in ‘A Moveable Feast’ (it’s a great book! read it!) tells of writing in cafés in Paris and how James Joyce might be a few tables away. When I arrived there last June, I understood why so many American writers became expatriates: there are probable five cafés to every block in Paris, and they are all beckoning you to write, and writing in them is very acceptable. p. 101


There is no perfection. If you want to write, you have to cut through and write. There is no perfect atmosphere, notebook, pen or desk, so train yourself to be flexible…If you want to write, finally, you’ll find a way no matter what. p. 110-111

And Goldberg is completely right. The other day at work, I was walking back to my office from a neighboring client’s building, and a line of dialogue popped into my, so perfect it had to have been placed there by some divine intervention. I repeated it out loud a couple of times while I rooted around in my bag for a scrap of paper and a pen, and I quickly scribbled it down so I wouldn’t forget it. I probably looked like a lunatic. All the days I spent hunched over my computer, willing the words to appear on the screen in front of me, and nothing. And then! Out of nowhere (and I’m giving credit to the book for this one, which kept insisting you are a writer even when you’re not actually, physically writing) words!


If you follow me on Instagram, you know that this past weekend was an extremely productive one for me: I wrote over 3 thousand words in the matter of five or six hours. I had been hovering a few under the 18k mark for months (a shameful admittance: when I saved the document, I noticed the last save date was January 19, exactly four months ago from the day. Oops.) and after crossing that milestone, I just kept going. And going and going and going. Sure, I’m maybe less than a fifth of the way done the book overall (and I’m still struggling to figure out how everything fits together), but I was so happy after being able to cross off those post-its that hung from my computer monitor, I went around high-fiving everything in my house. Walls, Jamal, myself, Fitz, my computer, etc. I’m letting go of the fact that it took four months between spurts, and instead focusing on the next 20,000.

Thank you for lending this to me, T! I loved it. What are you guys reading these days?

32 thoughts on “Writing Down the Bones

  1. a) congrats on breaking 20! that’s amazing! i don’t think it matters one iota that you had a 4 month dry spell… sometimes those moments are as important as the prolific writing sprees as they’re what allow the story to breathe & even build (sometimes unknowingly) in your head… the pauses inform your writing more than you’ll ever know!
    b) my best “writing” rarely occurs when i’m at my desk… grabbing a coffee, doing the shopping, clipping my toe nails… you name it, i’m a freakin’ poet laureate then… just rarely at the precise moment when i want to be! answer: always be prepared (use the notes function on your iphone if you get stuck short for pen & paper)
    c) i love books that just tell it as it is… this sounds like a gem!

          1. Haha, I went through a phase last year/the winter before where I only had a Nokia bar phone. Like it was 1999.

    1. Haha, I’m glad I’m not alone! In the check-out line at the grocery store, in the shower, you know, places I never have access to a pen and paper. For a while I had about 15 draft emails saved on my phone filled with half sentences.

      You’re right about the pauses influencing the rest of it! There’s a part of this book that went over the “compost pile.” Meaning, when you’re not writing, your brain is adding to your compost pile and sorting through everything and then one day, you can use that compost as energy to write. I’m repeating it poorly, it was actually much more eloquent than that in the book. Harumph. xo

  2. Oh I love this book. You guys are inspiring me to get out so many books I haven’t read in ages. I so agree about the dishes thing which is why I haven’t gotten much of anything done today. And if Fitzgerald had had the internet? Would we have had Gatsby? I have to wonder! ;)

    I also think it’s important to remember that this isn’t a linear process. Have you heard me say this before? And just because your fingers weren’t on the keyboard doesn’t mean the mind and heart weren’t engaged in deep, deep work for you. That’s why you were able to unleash the way you were. X

    1. It really makes you wonder! “No, Zelda, I can’t finish that chapter today, I’m busying on Facebook.” Man, it feels wrong even joking about that…

      Haha, I know I know. Non-linear. I’m with you! I just expected it to be something totally different than it’s turning out to be. Linear, for one thing. Easy, for another. And fast. And I’ve been wrong on all counts! But that’s okay. It’s okay. xo

        1. CAN YOU IMAGINE HIS TWITTER FEED. Oh man, I’m about to start a HemingwayTweets account and go bananas.

  3. See if you had an iPhone you could have just made a voice memo of your dialogue so you would’nt have looked like a loon writing it down.

    sounds like a great book, I kinda want to write a book now too!

    I’m reading Quiet, on Theresa’s erudite recommendation. I can’t put it down it’s fascinating. But it did lead to me have a bit of a strop in a ‘values’ workshop this morning because they made us all stand up and say things infront of everyone which I HATE!

    1. I’ve made my peace with looking like a weirdo in public. I’ve done it often enough it doesn’t even register anymore to be honest ;)

      Theresa is really great with book recommendations, isn’t she? I need to pick up ‘Quiet’ next. Sorry you were traumatized at work! How much longer are you there, anyway?? xoxo

    2. Yay, I’m glad you’re reading Quiet and finding it fascinating. Your little exercise at work sounds like my worse nightmare!
      Oh, I forgot to answer Erin’s question and mention that I’m reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. So far, so good. Another thought provoking read.

  4. What are you writing Erin?

    I want to be a writer too… I’m trying to figure it all out right now. I’m going to read these two books and I’ll let you know how I get on. I love the idea of 1-2 page chapters that you can dip in and out of.

    At the moment, I’m reading Quiet by Susan Cain. I’ve experienced that feeling that she is writing directly to me (or about me) a few times already and I’ve only just begun – I love it when a book can do that to you.

    1. I’m writing a novel about a young woman (in Paris) who works at an art gallery. There’s romance, friendship, art, travel, and even an art heist rolled in there. But it’s all very loosely formed at the moment, despite having been working on it for months and months. It spawned out of a blog series, actually: My Inner French Girl. Of all things, creating outfits for a fictional person for blog posts sparked something in me last year. I’ve always been a writer, ever since I was a kid, but aside from blogging I hadn’t done much of it for a few years. It feels really good to be back in the saddle! xo

  5. i really wanted to be a writer. i had big plans. i have piles of short stories and book starts somewhere in boxes around my house. now i do other things that i feel tap into the same sort of space, inside myself at least. but someday . . . i may just have to pick it up again.

    i am so proud of you for reaching that milestone! and i am even more proud of you on not getting hung up (hanged up?) on how long that particular milestone took you. and i love that bit about you being a writer always, even when you aren’t writing. true!

    would you believe i am still reading game of thrones? i am on the third book. i have nerd tendencies, they usually come out most with dystopian and apocalyptic novels, but i guess the game of thrones is bringing it on out too (big time. i am obsessed with these books!) xoxo

    1. I’d love to read some of your unpublished goodies! I bet you have loads. If you’re channeling your creativity into your needlepoint pillows now, I can only imagine how good your writing is. You’re incredible. Thank you for the encouragement! I’m uncomfortable bragging but that 20k goal was one that I never thought I’d cross, so I had to share!

      Game of Thrones are massive, don’t even apologize. I’m beyond impressed you’re even giving it a whirl, I can’t imagine how dense those must be! Thank you for reminding me, we need to catch up on the show! We’re like 2 seasons behind, haha. xoxo

  6. So, so happy to read that the book helped you! I was a bit on the edge of my seat and holding my breath to see what you thought. I loved the book, but I’m not in the process of writing an actual book, so I wasn’t sure if you would find as good. Congratulations on hitting the 20K mark! I agree with everyone, even though you weren’t physically typing or putting pen to paper, you were still writing in those four months. I’m sure most writers would agree that living life is part of the process, like creating a beautiful work space. Oh yea, and damn if those dishes and laundry and the obsessive need to tweeze my eyebrows aren’t forever calling me away from doing actual work. ;)
    PS~Erin, you don’t need to buy me a new book. Books are meant to be loved and I welcome this one back in any condition. Truthfully, I would let you keep it except I want Eat, Shoots & Leaves. ;) xo

      1. Have you read it? It was a hit in the UK before it was even published here. It’s so good! xo

    1. I can’t thank you enough! It was just what I needed to crack my dry spell and get me back to writing. Even if I was ‘writing’ the whole four months, it felt much more productive on Sunday, and I know the book had something to do with it! I’m glad it’s not just me that gets so easily distracted by other mindless tasks when something important needs to get done! I vacuum probably three times as much as the average person for that reason alone ;)
      You’ll love Eats, Shoots & Leaves. I find myself actually laughing out loud when I read it! I’ll send it soon. xoxo

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