Saturday, September 10, 2011

Saturday Solicitations: Writing Down the Bones

Today's Saturday Solicitations is about Writing Down the Bones. Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg is 171 pages of writing notes, Zen philosophy, and personal journal.

According to the Amazon review, Goldberg associates good writing with, of all things, good sex: keep your hand moving, lose control, and don't think (those 3 rules are listed on page 8 of the 1986 version). She writes that "writers are great lovers" in the section Writing is a Communal Act. She goes on to say "writing is the act of discovery" in A Big Topic: Eroticism. I don't think mentioning sex two or three times over 170+ pages merits such a review, but maybe that is just me.

I really enjoyed Writing Down the Bones the 2nd time I started reading it. It is nonfiction, which I of course have issues reading. The 1st time I started reading it, I didn't get passed the Introduction. Yet, it remained on my bookshelf for years until I picked it up again last year. I've [fully] read it now for the 3rd time. Goldberg does so much more than write about sex... That Amazon review is irritating me right now. The review from The School Library Journal is a much better and a more honest review. It is on the same page as the Amazon one linked above.

Goldberg shares stories throughout 60-ish short sections that are rife with humor, personal stories, and real world writing advice. It is hard to really say what the book is about because it covers so much. I will say that the only way I was able to get through it was because each section was really short, usually no more than 2 or 3 pages. She just writes about so much. Writing rules, practice, writing topics, fighting the inner editor, poetry (more on that in a second), obsessions, details, living the character's life, listening, writing for attention, and syntax are covered in just the items on the 1st page of the Table of Contents. Usually, books that use a broad umbrella term (or generic term if you please) and then overload the reading with tons of information bother me. It wasn't so bad in this book.

My favorite thing to come from this book is what she has to say about poetry in Tap the Water Table. In this short section, she says two things. First: "We learn writing by doing it. That simple." Yes, this. Exactly this. The second: analyzing poetry kills the natural poet or storyteller inside. She related this to school children, but it brings to mind one of my English Lit classes in college. We had to analyze "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman. I was awful at that because in my mind, I couldn't get passed the "if he meant X, why didn't he just write X, instead of writing ABCD?" When I asked my lit teacher this, she said that was a "lazy attitude" and basically insinuated that I lacked any and all culture because I didn't enjoy analyzing poetry. Goldberg says this about poetry: "Poems are not mystery novels." Again, yes, this. Exactly this.

I personally enjoyed this book once I was able to break it up into smaller reading chunks. Most of the poor reviews on Amazon are due to "too much personal stuff" related in Goldberg's stories (I enjoyed the stories) or in her many references to a spiritual Zen (I didn't find it overly used and found the examples used to be short and sweet). Still, with 196 reviews, it has a 4 star rating out of 5. I think I can agree with that. It is a little heavy on the poetry aspect but still, it is a really good book.

Love is love, no matter the back story. <3 DS

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