Review: Writing Down the Bones

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, was published in 1986.  My writing partner, Kelly, recommended that I read it, and I”m forever grateful to her for it.  The book is presented as a series of essays on the writing process with strong ties to the Zen practice.  It is simple, straightforward, and profound.  Rather than review it as I would fiction, I’d like to list some of quotes I found most interesting and thought-provoking.  I encourage you to pick up this book if you are a writer (or want to be one.)  The selections aren’t enough on their own–the context of each episode is integral to their understanding.  The quotes, however, will get you started exploring some of the nuances of writing that will give you the sense of peace and freedom you need to build the courage to write.


  • “There is no security, no assurance that because we wrote something good two months ago, we will do it again. … Every time is a new journey with no maps.”  (p. 5)


  • “We don’t exist in any solid form.  There is no permanent truth you can corner in a poem that will satisfy you forever.  Don’t identify too strongly with your work.  Stay fluid behind those black-and-white words.  They are not you.  They were a great moment going through you.  A moment you were awake enough to write down and capture.”  (p 33)


  • “Be specific.  Don’t say ‘fruit.’ Tell what kind of fruit–“It is a pomegranate.”  Give things the dignity of their names.”  (p. 70)


  • “Contrary to popular belief, a writer is no Prometheus alone on a hill full of fire.  We are very arrogant to think we alone have a totally original mind.  We are carried on the backs of all the writers who came before us. ” (p. 79)


  • “We are not separate from everything else.  It’s only our egos that make us think we are.  We build on what came before us, even if our writing is a reaction to it or we try to negate the past.” (p. 80)


  • “All writers, at some level, want to be known.  Here is a chance to bring your reader deeper into your heart.  You can explain with deep knowledge what it means to be a Catholic, a man, a southerner, a black person, a woman, a homosexual, a human being.  You know it better than anyone else.  In knowing who you are and writing from it, you will help the world by giving it understanding.”  (p. 146)


  • “This is important to know.  We have an idea that success is a happy occasion.  Success can also be lonely, isolating, disappointing.  It makes sense that it is everything. ” (p. 170)

One thought on “Review: Writing Down the Bones

  1. […] do with this review what I did with my review of Writing Down the Bones.  I’ll post some quotes and highlights.  If you are a writer, this book is a must read.  […]

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