I first discovered her during the summer after my first year of college. I'd been working in a funky neighborhood bookstore/cafe, and had been flirting with a local poet between making sales. I don't remember his name, now, but I remember that we had a long talk about the comfort of companionable silences, and how it was nice to be able to share a table and not have to converse, just have the sounds of glassware clicking gently on the tabletop, and the scratching of pens as the only noise.
He let me read a poem, and asked what I was always filling notebooks with when I was working, and there were no customers to serve. I blushed, and told him I was 'just babbling on paper.' He asked if it was a story, and I said no, just thoughts. Even then, I had the strong feeling that, much as I love to read it, writing fiction was not for me.
He went to the shelves in our small-but-eclectic 'writing and reference' section, and brought me back an oversized paperback called Writing Down the Bones. I revealed that the cover had intrigued me – it looked so frivolous – but, he said, it's not.
So I read it. And I nearly didn't realize when my shift was over because I was so entrenched in, entranced by, this book.
Yes, it's essentially a writing manual.
No, it's not like any other writing manual you could ever imagine.
Natalie Goldberg doesn't so much instruct as suggest. She's a great proponent of using notebooks, because handwriting is more visceral and more organic than typing words on a screen. She pushes for writing practice and writing meditation and timed exercises.
But most of all, she's adamant that when you're sitting down, and putting pen to paper, or even fingers to keyboard, you turn off the self-censor, and send the internal-editor to bed.
Her rules are simple, and in a later book, she joked that they apply to everything from writing to cooking to running to sex:
Keep your hand moving. Meaning don't stop to think, to edit, to see how long you've been writing.
Lose control. Let yourself go wild. If it flows, go with it.
Don't think. Just write.
I have never met Natalie Goldberg. One of my fondest dreams is to spend a week in Taos, New Mexico (and if you know me, and know how much of a desert person I'm NOT, you'll understand how much I want to do this), and take her writing classes.
I rarely have time, these days, to take a notebook (paper or plastic) to a cafe and sit and just scribble or babble. But I still want to.
Goal for Q3: Return to writing practice. Write /something/ every day.