Writing Down the Bones

While on sabbatical in Darby, Montana to complete The Business of Being, I wrote like a fiend during the day, and read until I couldn’t hold my eyes open any longer at night.

During a walk with Willa near the river, we happened upon a skeleton—most likely that of a mule deer. It immediately brought to mind Natalie Goldberg’s book “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.”

In her book, Goldberg addresses the importance of reading. Writers read for the sheer joy of it, but also to ignite our imaginations. We read to gain insight on storytelling; to ponder concepts, ideas, and issues outside our sphere of knowledge; to learn new approaches and techniques for narration, plots, and scenes—each necessary for “writing down the bones.”

Goldberg said, “Writing practice is no different from other forms of Zen practice.” I would add that—for me, at least—reading is the same. It’s a practice; one I adhere to daily.

What book are you currently reading?

© TuesdaysWithLaurie.com

72 thoughts on “Writing Down the Bones

  1. Thanks, Laurie. I’m reading a couple of books. A historical book about mental health care in Victorian England and a thriller. I also read every day. Have a good week, Laurie.

  2. I always have pleasure reading that is fiction because I have “work reading” that is nonfiction. I don’t want to read at night and feel like I have to take notes. Right now I’m reading a Japanese (translated) mystery. I found it while browsing in the library. Even if I can only manage a few pages at night before I fall asleep, I always have a book to read.

      • I never thought about it, Laurie, that some people don’t do that. 🙂 I guess ever since grad school, I’ve had work reading and pleasure reading. But it’s funny that while reading the Japanese mystery, I’m observing the depiction of women in it.

  3. At the moment I am reading Onyx and Crake, Margaret Atwood. as well as seeking to write everyday for the workshop, I have to say it has been a hit and miss practice while being stimulating.

  4. I am with you there, Laurie: I can’t sleep unless I read for a bit first.
    I am currently reading The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan: a very interesting idea that I think would appeal to you. What’s the story behind all those little things we find in the street, the park, etc? How did their loss affect their owners? Was it meaningful? Did it change their lives? Quite philosophical in a way.

    • Fatima — After reading your description, I just went out to Goodreads and added THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS to my “want to read” list. Thank you for pointing me in Ruth Hogan’s direction.

      • I am glad that I have inspired you to search that book and add it to your list. I truly believe you will enjoy it. I am still reading it.

  5. Thanks for the reminder about that classic book. It took me ages to get the drift of the bones, and I may not understand the concept today the way she wrote it. I’ll have to pull that book off the shelf and reread. I also love the photo!

    I’m dipping into “It Didn’t Start with You,” by Mark Wolynn. Mark was one of four speakers last week on the free NAMW webinar on Truth in Memoir. He presented a compelling case that trauma affects entire families for several generations. Whether specific trauma or ongoing circumstance, I can certainly see intergenerational threads of causation in my family and am eager for more insight.

    • Sharon — Thank you for this information. I followed it a bit more and learned that Mark Wolynn is a pioneer in the field of inherited family trauma. I’ve added IT DIDN’T START WITH YOU to my “want to read” list. Thank you for the recommendation.

  6. I just finished Molly Ringle’s The Goblins of Bellwater and loved it. It takes place in the Pacific Northwest, an area I love. I haven’t decided what I will read next, but my list is long. I need to read every day too and like to mix up the genres.

  7. What a creative mind you have Laurie!
    I’m still reading, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against. Ageism by Ashton Applewhite (2016 Influencer of the Year/influencer on aging). Ashton starts her biography on Amazon with this quote to your point Laurie, “I didn’t set out to become a writer. I went into publishing because I loved to read and didn’t have any better ideas.”
    And still slowly savoring The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks, by Terry Tempest Williams (author, conservationist, activist). One reviewer on The Hour of Land wrote, “A collection of essays that’s a personal journey as much as a meditation on the purpose and relevance of national parks in the 21st century . . . Williams’s language has its own visceral beauty . . . The Hour of Land is one of the best nature books I’ve read in years, filled with seductive prose . . . It’s impossible to do Williams’s thought-provoking insights and evocative images justice in a short review.”
    Both books appeal to my activist heart, (Hmmm, “My Activist Heart” doest that sound like a good title for my memoir? I would add a descriptive sub-title of course).

  8. I completely understand this connection between writing and reading practices Laurie. Oddly enough, to paint at my highest potential, writing and reading are an integral part of anchoring art ideas as well.

    Currently I am reading LETTERS SUMMER 1926 Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva, Rain Maria Rilke (preface by Susan Sontag with three editors and three translators, edition 2001). During this last year of Rilke’s life, the three poets wrote three-way letters exposing their creative processes and influences on each other. It is a fascinating read not only because of the specific historical time and structure of the writing but also because I am reading a translation of letters that seem to have been written originally in Russian and German and frequently in a mix of both and interspersed with bits of poetry (and commentary from the editors without which I would be frequently lost) where the contents are one brilliant work completed by three great poets during the span of a summer. Though Pasternak, at his father’s side, had met Rilke briefly on a train platform when he was 10 years old in Russian, the three poets really only new each other through their work and life circumstances. They were essentially “online” colleagues and friends before their was an “online” and letters were a serious matter to exchange complex thoughts, ideas and friendship. I am only about a quarter of the way through the book but highly recommend it as a summer read or something to linger over during the long nights of winter when time seems to lengthen into infinity.

    • Terrill — Oh my gosh, Letters, Summer 1926 by Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetaeva, and Rainer Maria Rilke sounds fascinating. I just found it on Goodreads and marked it as “want to read.”

      I like your poetic suggestion: “…something to linger over during the long nights of winter when time seems to lengthen into infinity.”

  9. I too have a daily commitment to read, Laurie.
    Having just finished reading The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue, I’m now reading Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan. These are both MG (middle grade: for children ages 9 to 12 years of age) novels. I’ve started planning an MG novel and reading other authors’ work is a very helpful way to learn the ins and outs of this new-to-me genre.

  10. I now read strictly for entertainment – or nearly always strictly for entertainment. I just started a book by Elin Hildebrand yesterday – it would be nice if I could remember titles, but I rarely do, of either books or songs or movies. Reading is a must when I am eating lunch – that started when I was a child – and often before bed. I love having my Kindle app on my iPad, because then when I doze and drop my “book”, my place is saved with no effort on my part. And when I travel, I can take as many books as I like with me. I cannot imagine a life without books.

    • Carol — Just yesterday I mailed Elin Hildebrand’s “Barefoot” to my friend Sandi.

      And while I love reading from a physical book, I wouldn’t travel without my Kindle. I can take hundreds of books for half the weight of a single book—no muss, no fuss!

  11. Laurie, I love to read. Reading is my reward for a job well done, and often the reward is taken before the job has been finished. I have a passion for the modern Southern writers, especially the ones from the Low-Country of the Coastal Carolinas and Georgia. I am currently reading Beach Town by Mary Kay Andrews. If the book has “beach” in the title, all the better!

  12. “Writing Down the Bones” is on every writer’s “must read” list! Right now I am reading “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson for my Hadassah book club and “The Rainbow Comes and Goes” by Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt for my Non- Fiction book club. Being a voracious reader has always added joy and knowledge to my life and my writing. Happy Reading!

    • Sheila — My book club read “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.” If you like it, BE SURE to read, “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry” — I loved it!

      Thank you for recommending “The Rainbow Comes and Goes.” I just added it to my list 🙂

      • You are welcome, Laurie. I will look for “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.” Sorry, that my comments and sharing have been intermittent. My “healing broken leg” continues to teach me copious life lessons. I am diligently working at being an excellent student. 🙂

  13. I love to read too and before I sleep I read a few more chapters in the current book, which is now Hand of Evil by J.A. Jance. I read Jance’s J.P. Beaumont series in the past so am focusing on her Ali Reynolds and Sheriff Joanne Brady series – there are three of them on hold waiting for me to pick up at the library. I also have to buy MacBooks for Dummies as I’m currently switching over from PC to Mac so that is my excuse for any typo here.

    I’m familiar with Writing down the Bones and also one by Julia Cameron – The Artist’s Way. Reading is learning and pleasure and a big distraction from all the crap in life. The latter because in a novel there is usually resolution and you can close the book. Life’s problems seem to keep on keeping on.

    • Sharon — I switched from a PC to a MAC about seven years ago. The change has been a distinct pleasure.

      I love Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY. Thank you for letting me know about author J.A. Jance.

  14. I’m reading two nonfiction books. I’m almost done with F*ck Love. A friend loaned it to me since I’m at the phase where I wonder if I ever care to really pursue a full-fledged partnership again given how fantastically the first one exploded despite it being a good partnership for many years. The other book is called Selling Sex in the Silver Valley: A Business Doing Pleasure. It’s about prostitution in my hometown of Wallace, Idaho. The author has a PhD in women’s studies and rhetoric and comp, so I’m excited to see what she came up with. I’m also listening to Nevermore. I’m going through a Neil Gaiman phase on Audible right now.

    • Jeri — One of the authors at the Vortext Writers Workshop I attended earlier this month had been in what she called, “The Sex Trade.” Her debut novel sounds like it’s going to be fascinating! Right up there with the one about prostitution in Wallace, Idaho.

      I’m a huge Neil Gaiman fan. I just picked up his NORSE MYTHOLOGY at Rediscovered Books. I can hardly wait to dive into the pages, but there are three other books waiting patiently in line ahead of it.

    • Michele — I just checked in out on Goodreads. It says:

      “…a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel.”

      Another book added to my must-read list. Thank you!

  15. Reading has been instrumental in getting me though tough periods thoughout my life . Libraries are wonderful places where you can find solitude if you need it or someone who speaks your language in equal measure.
    Just like you have said in your blog Laurie reading is therapeutic, and l belive , should be on prescription.
    We are currently enjoying a series here in the U.K. Called ‘The Durrells ‘ that has been adapted from Gerald Durrell ‘s book ‘My family and other animals’ . I’m reading a new book I picked up in Cardigan Library yesterday ‘The Durrells of Corfu ‘ 📚📚❤️ Now where was I ? Do excuse me whilst I get back to it 😀

    • Arlene — I just checked BORN A CRIME out on Goodreads. The “hook” is definitely enticing:

      “The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.”

      Thank you for letting me know about this book!

  16. I’ve got a small Maya Angelou memoir on my Kindle for nighttime reading, a paperback, “human natures” next to my rocking chair in the living room. I’m also beta reading two memoirs. I never used to have more than one book going at a time. The last few years, this is always the case.

    Are you a one book at a time kind of person?

    • Janet — The bookS (plural) you’re currently reading sound interesting. I admire people who read multiple books at a time.

      My one track mind dives into the deep end of a single book and doesn’t come up for air until the last page has been turned. Then I write a brief review and dive into the next one.

  17. Haha… what room am I in…. what mood am in….I think im like most avid readers and struggling writers, i carry books w me everywhere and blank paper too…so here i sit in the houston airport reading and writing. Oh the boom is Healing States, about spiritual healing and shamanism…a little light reading 😉

  18. “The subtle art of not giving a fuck”.
    A book my son gave me to read, and it has some very interesting points.
    There is power in choosing carefully what one gives attention to.

    And I am also always conscious of the power of the fully random search, so it doesn’t pay to get too constrained into any set of habits at any level, and there is a certain degree of constraint required to sustain complexity (at all levels) – so it is a very subtle art.

    And sometime the book has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

    • Ted — The title of the book your son loaned you is definitely an eye catcher! It brings to mind a book I recently read that has two chapters:

      Chapter 1 – “Don’t be a dick.”

      Chapter 2 – “Recognize when it’s you who’s being the asshole.”

  19. I am currently reading several books simultaneously, a habit of mine. Among the currently ongoing are a few very different ones, like “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben, “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, Mary Oliver’s “Upstream” and “Mind over Medicine” by Lissa Rankin. In addition, I have many on the ‘waiting list’ in my Kindle 🙂

    • Tiny — I love your current reading list. I’ve read “The Hidden Life of Trees,” and I’m a huge fan of Mary Oliver (I got to see her in person in Chicago several years ago). I’m incredibly intrigued by the title, “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” — thank you for pointing me in that direction.

  20. Love Natalie Goldberg’s books. I use her book ‘Old Friend from Far Away’ for writing prompts. Reading? Lol, I’m reading 3 books, The Sleeping Serpent by Luna St. Claire, Vampyrie by Tina Frisco and The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. 🙂

    • Chris — I read Heather’s SAVING ARCADIA, loved it, and have since sent it along to my friend Kathy Drue who lives in that neck of the woods.

      You’ve piqued my interest with THE BLACK BOX. I’m going to have to check that out 🙂

  21. Hi, Laurie! Since you just visited my blog (thanks!) you know what I books I have enjoyed and plan to read. After looking at your readers’ comments and yours I will have to add some to my list. I read “Writing Down the Bones” years ago and it was encouraging. I have to read every night in bed before I can go to sleep. If I finish one, I have to have another one ready to start even if it is late. Generally, I read one book at a time and alternate between fiction and non-fiction.

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