Hello, I am Elena and I am a compulsive reader of self help books for writers.
Last weekend at a writers’ workshop I saw Natalie Goldberg’s WRITING DOWN THE BONES in the stack brought by the co-leader of the workshop. I couldn’t resist borrowing it and diving in. (In my defense, I have rewritten a chapter and a half while reading it so I am not completely dysfunctional.)
I found it interesting and unsettling. While I loved Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY, Natalie Goldberg’s style and suggestions go further, making the control freak in me very uncomfortable. I also get the feeling that some of her ideas lend themselves more readily toward the writing of poetry and short stories than to novels. Still, I think there are things there worth trying.
A major theme is “writing practice”, doing free writing in notebooks (with goofy pictures on them to keep one from feeling pressured to create masterpieces in them). My reaction to this idea was something like, “And how is this going to help me complete a manuscript to send to my agent in mid-April per plan?” But I’m trying it, just 10 minutes here and there, as a warm-up. I also think it might help keep me from getting rusty during the months when I’m doing early drafts, when I concentrate on story rather than writing. Anyway, it’s been fun. I even wrote a poem, only the second I’ve written since school. No, I promise I won’t inflict it on you! 🙂
Another of Goldberg’s suggestions is to write in different places, outdoors, in restaurants or cafés. There are lots of examples of writers penning bestselling novels that way (J.K. Rowling for one). Some writers need to get away from household cares, or they like stimulation, or they feel trapped behind a desk. And it sounds so very chic and sophisticated to write in a café.
But it doesn’t usually work for me. When I started writing my first novel I tried out different locations: libraries, cafés, parks, and found that I was always too anxious to get much done. I’m better off hiding in my “writing cave” (albeit a well decorated and comfy one) where no one can look over my shoulder or interrupt me and I can forget there’s an outside world that might not love my characters as much as I do.
When you read a book, do you ever think about whether the author wrote it sitting in some chic café (like this one in Paris) or at home in her jammies? For the writers amongst you, have any of you read Goldberg? What do you think? Do any of you do practice writing or keep journals? Do you write in the same place every time or do you like to change the territory now and then?
When you read a book, do you ever think about whether the author wrote it sitting in some chic café (like this one in Paris) or at home in her jammies?
If I find myself wondering that, then the book isn’t keeping my attention strongly enough! Either that, or the author’s showing off, drawing my attention to the author rather than the book… 🙂
Elena, Goldberg’s book was the first book on writing I read. I have a handy pocket version I can carry in my purse, and I read it on my bus commute to work. And I fell in love with writing.
I tried doing the “writing in notebooks with pens” that both Julia Cameron and Goldberg recommend but it didn’t work for me. I find it far easier to write in my online journal. I do try to do it first thing in the morning and in a stream-of-consciousness manner. Sometimes, I have a topic in mind that I’ve thought about the previous night, but most of the times, it’s nothing concrete.
I’ve been reading Cameron’s book on-and-off lately, and I find her a little more to my taste than Goldberg. Her advice is really out there.
However, when I find myself in a writing slump, her book is the only one that gets me going again. Simply because she’s so much in love with the act of writing.
Cara, what I meant (as opposed to what I said) is whether readers think about such things during a pause or after reading. There’s this stereotype of writing as a glamorous activity and I wonder how many people believe it. No one could who saw me at work. 🙂
Keira, it’s interesting that typing works better for you. Most of my writing is done at the computer but I do find switching off to longhand occasionally helpful.
I have moved on to reading Goldberg’s WILD MIND (published back to back with WRITING DOWN THE BONES in the copy I borrowed). I prefer it because like THE ARTIST’S WAY it has specific exercises to try.
I do writing practice sometimes, but it seems to me that Goldberg overdoes it. And all that meeting her friends for writing and little snacks seemed uncomfortably like Pooh and Piglet (give me Hemingway and Gertrude Stein as a fantasy of the writing life).
Try Goldberg’s latest (I think) writing book, Thunder and Lightening. It is an interesting and updated complement to WDB. Also, there is a podcast interview with Natalie Goldberg that is very enlightening. It is Writers on Writing and the interview is dated 2/2/2002
And all that meeting her friends for writing and little snacks seemed uncomfortably like Pooh and Piglet
LOL, Pam! I also am amazed at what a positive picture she paints of writer relationships. While I have some wonderful writing friends–like here at the Riskies–I also have met some seriously dysfunctional people in writers’ groups. They can be very hurtful. Maybe I’m just scarred, but I cringe at Goldberg’s suggestion to openly share writing. Maybe it’s because I’m not a Buddhist. 🙂
Thanks for the suggestions, Sandy, I’ll save them for when I need another “fix”. 🙂
Coming in late…I collect all the great self-help for writers books but I really don’t read them! I have them all, though.
I never do journal writing of any kind. My prep for writing is often email or Scrabble Blast.
I write on my small laptop in two places: my TV room couch (TV is never on until evening) or my bed. My bed is not really that glamorous. The bed is made; I’m fully dressed; I can scatter research books around me.
And I never wonder where authors I read write.
I feel like an aberration!
I’ve never really thought about where an author writes but if I did…
I would think they would be like me (I’m not a writer) when I’m working on my computer at home, I’m in my most comfortable clothes (PJ’s) and slippers :D. Wanda
I’ve been dithering over trying “The Artists Way” for ages. The problem is that I’d have to get up early to do the journal thing and at this time of year that’s almost impossible for me. And I’d miss Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac on NPR (broadcast by our local station at 6:55, actually long after I should have got up).
Janet, these creativity unblocking exercises help me because I have a really bad tendency to self-censor. If you’re not doing that maybe your process is fine the way it is.
Not that I think you would do this, but I think some people go too far with the writer self-help. It’s important to do it as an addition to and not instead of the actual writing.
Natalie Goldberg did publish a novel a few years ago — so if one is wondering about the efficacy of her writing practice, one could check out the novel. And if it seems a bit too much like a novel written by someone who lives a cute life scribbling in cartoony notebooks at cafes… well, one might want to consider that before entirely adopting her practices.