I’m rereading a book I was given a dozen years ago by my brother — Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. It’s a well-known book on writing by an excellent writer and teacher of writing. It’s also a good kind of book for me to read. The author is a student of Zen Buddhism and this worldview permeates the book and informs her approach. I am, by nature, more left-brained than right. More rational than emotive. Patently Western. I tend to over-think things. Ms. Goldberg’s advice is to let go, think less, worry less, and trust the words that come from that mysterious place inside.
I’m honestly not comfortable with that kind of thing, but that’s why I think it’s good for me.
I’m taking my time going through the book, and I expect it will spark some posts. Like this one.
Here’s a quote that stood out to me from her chapter titled “Beginner’s Mind, Pen, and Paper”
In a sense [the] 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.
This seems true to me. And kind of exciting.
In her chapter called “First Thoughts,” Ms. Goldberg describes what she calls the timed exercise. It’s what I’ve referred to as freewriting. It involves setting a timer and writing until it goes off. The amount of time varies, of course, but the rules are the same:
1. 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.)
2. Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you don’t mean to write, leave it.)
3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.)
4. Lose control.
5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
6. 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.)
Now, my first reaction to this advice is, What’s wrong with control? What’s wrong with thinking and logic? But I get it. There’s nothing wrong with control and thinking. We just need to put them in their place. First get the mess out on the page — all the raw, ugly truth that sloshes around inside of us. We can make sense of it later and decide how much and which parts we should expose to the world.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions below.
I can understand how this approach could work well for fiction, but– and here’s my own patently Western mind objecting– wouldn’t it result in a muddled mess for most nonfiction? Especially essays? . . . says the WriteAtHome essay coach.
I hate to be cliche, but I REALLY needed to read this. Lately I’ve been over-thinking my story far too much, and it’s hindering me from getting anything done. I’ll sit down to write, get a lot of words on the paper, but then end up with a blank page and a stressed mind when I decide to break.
Over-thinking and being too analytical is getting exhausting. Looking forward to using her timer exercise! Thanks for the post.