Flesh and Blood and Bones of Writing, Natalie Goldberg

Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

Book Review and Commentary  April 13, 2016


This is an intimate approach to the journey of writing. Goldberg is a writing teacher and a practitioner of Japanese Zen. Goldberg believes that learning to write–that’s the course ahead–hinges greatly on “first thoughts.” These first thoughts have tremendous energy and are unencumbered by the ego. So, this is like blood flowing, maybe gushing forth with your story. Speed here is the key. Keep the hand moving.

I actually like this path because it probably does free up the writer to let go of all the controls that might deter or stagnate a good story. Of course Goldberg says to trust the mind and body and create your own practice. These are the bones where you create the structure for yourself. Want to light a candle while writing or listen to music? Do it.

“We write in the moment.”  There’s a great emphasis on listening. Listen, not only to people but listen to the air, listen to the past, and listen to the future. This is the meat, the flesh, of a story or a character.

Goldberg identifies three things that all writers must do: read a lot; listen well and deeply; write a lot. Many writers have heard these points before. She adds … “Forget yourself. Disappear. ” So, really the effort is to let go of your own consciousness and allow the subconscious to lead.

Zen works from the theory of becoming whole,  and this is Goldberg’s theory too. There is a Zen interconnectedness  in your writing–feel it. It will certainly bring you beyond just storytelling and into the textures and details that all writing, especially in fiction, demand.

The importance of place, of memory, of emotions all are addressed in this book. “Shed doubt.” She writes that knowing your needs and tools on this path is essential for authenticity. Gosh, not a single word on adverbs. Who wouldn’t love this book?



My Recommended List of the Best Writing Books I’ve Read



Method Writing, Jack Grapes (book review here)
Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury (book review here)
On Writing, A Memoir, Stephen King (book review here)

Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway. All the basics of how to write: the writing process, show vs. tell, characterization, fictional atmosphere and place, story structure and plot, point of view, theme, and revision.
Story, Robert McKee
Story Trumps StructureSteven James
The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (I reread this book once a year, it’s that good)
Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern
The Art of Character, David Corbett
Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins
The Secret Miracle, the Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon
Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande
The Faith of a Writer, Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carole Oates
If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland
Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose
Elements of Style, Strunk & White

Best Editing Books for Writers:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King
A Dash of Style, Noah Lukeman
The Grammar Bible, Michael Strumpf & Auriel Douglas
Line by Line, Claire Kehrwald Cook
The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein
Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Second Edition, Ernest Gowers
Chicago Manual of Style
Words Into Type, Third Edition, Skillin & Gay


Next writing book on my list to review, Writing Wild by Tina Welling

Comments welcome!



Filed under Book Reviews, fiction, short story blogs

14 responses to “Flesh and Blood and Bones of Writing, Natalie Goldberg

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  13. My favorite Writing Down the Bones quote: “In the center of chaos, make one definite act.” Good for writing and, well, everything else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh that is a a good one, Katherine. Natalie really does have a healthy perspective on writing, especially about the energy of it. She thinks of writing as breathing and that makes so much sense to me. Thank you for your comment.


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