Thursday, August 16, 2007

13 Things I’ve Learned About Writing from Natalie Goldberg

First, I must start with a disclaimer. I don’t know Natalie. I’ve never met her in person. I haven’t read all her books, but I’m a fan just the same. The truth is, I’ve read many of her books and I’d like to share 13 things she taught me about writing.

Note: As my friends know, I don’t always pay attention to the main points. Some of these aren’t Natalie’s core rules, but many are. Any poor wordings or misunderstandings here are student error (mine), not Natalie’s.

1.) To start writing, you need to begin. Start cheaply with a good pen and some paper. You don’t have to spend a lot.

2.) Once you start, don’t stop. “Keep your hand moving,” she says.

3.) Give details. Be as specific as possible. There’s a big difference between a flame point Siamese and a lynx.
4.) Say what you want. Don’t worry about being polite or proper. If you want to swear or cry or rant, go ahead.

5.) Don’t worry about all those writing rules from English literature and high school composition. If need be, basics such as grammar, punctuation and spelling can wait until you’ve got your ideas on paper.

6.) Write like a street fighter. Don’t be afraid to gut-punch or throw a haymaker.

7.) Get what you need to say out.

8.) Good writing takes time. Have the compassion to give yourself that time.

9.) Practice. Writing, like all learned skills. takes practice.

10.) If you want to get good at writing you have to practice a lot. (Yeah, I know I’m repeating. That’s how practice works.)

11.)Tell the truth. Honesty adds power to art.

12.)Time your writing. Do 10-minute drills. They work.

13.)When you get discouraged about your writing journey, read Natalie, she’ll lift your spirits.

My favorite quote from Natalie comes from her Minnesota Workshop, "Writing the Landscape of Your Mind." She says, "The gift of good writing is a moment in being present and if the writing is present, you almost physically can't turn from it."

Do you have a favorite Natalie quote? Has she inspired you?



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  1. great tips, thank you! Happy TT.

  2. Excellent list, Brenda. I may have to print this out and post it over my computer : )

  3. I use #12 on a regular basis. I set my writing time in 30-minute segments when I'm trying to push through a "wall"...I make myself write until the timer goes off--it's amazing what you can get done in 30 minutes. :) Love this list!

  4. Sounds like sage advice to me. Very well done. Have a great TT. :)

  5. Yes, she has inspired me: From "Cracking Open the Writer's Craft" - But Who is Listening?

    "I was writing for everyone and everyone was me."

    Also: "Rest in the structure that holds us up, and keep one foot in each world. Stay close to your own reality and stand also on the bridge that take you out to something larger -- our understanding that we're finally all in this together."

    But I can't write in cafes like she does. It's too much like trying to sleep on a bus.

  6. Great tips! Here's one ala so lost! Sometimes, an 'elongated yellow fruit' is just a 'banana.'


  7. It's an interesting list. I agree with most of them (with a reservation here and there). Keep on keeping on is a particularly useful one.

  8. Yeah, sometimes a banana is a banana! I love that one too! Thanks for stopping by. Brenda

  9. Nancy, I like #12 myself. It really fits in with summer and the kids. I find myself saying, "Hey, guys, just give me 10 minutes." Thanks for commenting.

  10. Hi mamaarcher and comedy +
    Happy TT to you too!

  11. Thanks cathy,
    I want to set my next book in a Alaska so I'll be visiting your site a lot. You're from Alaska, right?

  12. Wonderful advice, Brenda. The writing segments is a great motivator. I get the most done when I'm "Chat Challenging" at Romance Divas. We all go into the chat room and someone is time keeper. They make a cracking whip sound and we all go to our respective wips and write our hearts out for twenty minutes. At the sound of the whip, we return to the chat room and share our new word count. It is so much fun to see what everyone has accomplished. And, if one of us doesn't get the numbers they were hoping for, everyone else boosts them up with loving words and support. Oh! And sometimes we'll each share a line or paragraph of what we've just written. Now, that is very entertaining!

    Sandy :-)
    Sandra Barkevich - Romance Author
    *August 25, 2007 at Sandra's Goings On - Guest Blogger, Betty Hanawa ~ More Than She Wished For

  13. I didn't think I had read Natalie Goldberg at first, but found stuck in my old college writing book, this quote.

    "Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones out of our minds, come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil." --- Natalie Goldberg

    "Grounds" for writing, wouldn't you say?

  14. Hey Brenda!
    Great job! I loved the pictures, and the inspiring words. I do a LOT of technical writing in my career and have often found many of your tips very helpful. I agree that most of the grammar and modifying should wait until the end. I've never read Natalie's books, but I probably should in the future.


  15. Hey chinameli,
    I'd forgotten her comment on compost, but boy, has it been true in my life. Thanks for the reminder.

  16. Hey, Sunshine Suzy,
    Happy Birthday to you too. I'm glad you came by.