Tag Archives: writing process

The Monday Book: WRITING DOWN THE BONES by Natalie Goldberg

Yeah, it’s a classic. And it’s a classic for a reason.

One of the coolest things about Goldberg’s book is, even outdated, it updates itself in your mind. “Think about the pen and notebook you use.” She doesn’t mean a small laptop. She means paper. Remember paper?

But from choosing your tools carefully, through “don’t cross out”–which means don’t edit your first draft, just get it down, get it down, get it down–she’s giving great advice.

In fact, her advice lines up with Anne Lamott’s and Stephen King’s, so there’s an endorsement for you. And I have always loved the way her advice is chunked up into little two-page pieces: be specific, keep a notebook with lists of names of stuff, and use the real names, not just “fruit”; and she deals with the old procrastination trick of “making a writing room” very well. (I have never successfully had a writing room. Jack and I have made four, and I have used none. But I still get my writing done.)

In fact, my only beef with myself for choosing a “how to write” book for the Monday book is that reading about writing may take the place of you doing it. “Just one more how to, and then I’ll be ready.”

Nah. You’re ready now. That’s one of the things I love about Goldberg’s book. She makes sure you know you’re ready now, with advice that lets you know there’s no special fairy with a wand you need to wait for; just do things like “Use your senses as an animal does.” Or the section called “Claim your Writing,” where you’re allowed to believe in yourself ENOUGH TO CARVE OUT TIME TO DO THIS. I think that’s the thing I hear particularly from moms over and over again: I can’t find time; it’s not worth it while my kids need me. OK, but I never hear a guy say that. No, take that back – Neil Gaiman said something like that once. But he’s a nice guy.

The point is, we make time for what we feel we have to make time for: kids, words, whatever. And Goldberg’s very practical yet poetic advice makes it clear that, if we want to, we can not only find the time, but the ideas, the words, and the logistics to get our writing done.



Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

Don’t Look; Just Write

I’m tucking into my second book, finessing the proposal with the world’s most patient woman, literary agent Pamela Malpas and her sidekick, Louise. (Louise is a bunny; she has a killer kick.)

And I have discovered something about the process of writing. It requires more than discipline; we all know it takes that. What writing really demands is hardass blindness.

It requires ignoring dirty dishes in the sink, or eating off paper plates. It requires admitting the spice rack isn’t alphabetized, the car cleaned out, or your underwear folded before it gets stuffed in the drawer. Writing demands serious thought time; although some people can, I’ve never been able to work on a chapter for half an hour, then get up and go. If I can’t get a couple of hours in with some depth perception, it’s not worth it to open the laptop cover. Sort of like napping; what’s the point if you don’t get to REM?

Someone asked my hobbies the other day; I said crocheting, playing the harp, caning chair seats, and swimming. The person said, “And writing, right?” No, not any more. Writing is something to make time for, not do when I can find time.

It’s not just professionalism (read: a tight deadline) that’s shifted my priorities. Like exercise of any muscle, writing begets the desire to do more of it. H0bbies fall away as you clear time to write, but so does household tidiness, perfectionism, and deferring to the social obligations others want to demand of you. It all goes in the same un-emptied dumpster, overflowing with good intentions.

Someday, I’m going to put my good china in the upstairs cupboard and our everyday dishes in our downstairs bookstore kitchen. Feeding Valkyttie yesterday, I realized my Irish Waterford Crystal saucers had gone to the cat closet. That night I had soup from a plastic bowl with a very old decal of Snoopy on the bottom.

Where did we get a Snoopy bowl? I don’t remember buying a Snoopy bowl, and I haven’t had time to yard sale this summer, anyway.

Someday, I’m going to pick the delicious apples on our backyard trees. Meanwhile, we just keep calling neighbors to come get them. They’re lovely. The Golden ones are the size of my head. The neighbors who pick them always give us a couple; they’re great with peanut butter as a quick desk lunch.

Someday, I’m going to go back to playing Celtic harp, and pick up my Arabic language lessons again. Someday. I still swim once a week because it’s good for me, and I’ve lessened the exercise slack by walking to the grocery store. It’s just a half mile from our house; I use the time to think about narrative structure. Or what’s not getting done at the bookstore.

Someday, I’m going to make Christmas tree angels from old hymnals, create bath bombs with the kit I bought two years ago, and cane the rest of the chairs in our garage.

Someday I’m going to say to Jack, “No, honey; you cooked last night. Let me do it” and make something that won’t frighten him with its swiftness, use of leftovers, and microwaved edges. Someday.

Meanwhile, I’m writing a book. Someone call me when it’s Thanksgiving Dinner, okay?


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, crafting, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, Uncategorized, writing


So the blog was quiet this week because it was the Final Push. St. Martin’s Press wanted the manuscript “as close to finished as possible” by the Friday just past. My friend Cami Ostman (author of the running memoir Second Wind) comes out from Seattle every year for a writing retreat, and this visit coincided with the big editing job.

Just so we’re clear, this isn’t the last time I’ll see the ms. before it’s published, just the last time any big edits can be done. From here on out, it’s tweaking, typos and punctuation debates. The galleys will arrive soon.

Knowing it was the last time to make anything creative in a big way,  Cami and I disappeared to my cabin in the woods (it’s where I lived while in graduate school, and I managed to buy it once I graduated) and wrote our little asses off, our hearts out, and our fingers to numb stumps. (Insert additional cliches here.) Cami, my friend since high school, was working on a novel, and very kindly told me, “Stop me at any point you need a reader.” I wrote two additional chapters and edited one that was a dog’s breakfast, plus read the entire work through again for flow, continuity, timeline, and–yes–the dreaded Narrative Arc.

It’s funny to read something for the last time before you can’t change it. I’ve enjoyed every minute of the editing process–well, okay, except for that horrible week with chapter five that my friends had to basically haul me out of. (Thanks, Elissa, Pamela, Nichole, Jodi, Cami, Kathy, Heather and anyone else I am momentarily forgetting.) I’m not the kind of writer who gets writer’s block so much as writer’s box.

In my attempt to explain everything clearly but in a pithy way and without pissing anyone off, I create walls of words that climb ever higher; ignoring every writer’s good advice about brevity and simplicity, I keep trundling down the canyon until I reach the death-trap end, have to admit the whole thing is a wash, and call in the ‘dozers to tear down the walls and dig me out. I wind up ripping the whole thing out. It wastes time in terms of actual production, but even those blind canyons are kind of fun–and useful–in the writing process.

If you have time.

But that’s what we no longer had, that week in the cabin. Instead, a deadline loomed. A dead line. A marker in the chronological pattern after which “this” could no longer be “that.” What was written would stay written. No more “I could just revamp Chapter 12 a little…”

And for the first time in my writing life, I panicked. After this, nothing could change! After this, it HAD to be perfect! After this, the sky would turn green and the grass would grow purple and fish would carry hand guns ….

Not. After this, life would go on as normal. I would need to do the dishes and catch up on the week of work waiting at my day job while I was on “holiday.” After this, friends would call and we would go out to eat, or keep each other company doing household chores.

Life doesn’t change that much, the day after “this” becomes “that” permanently. As Anne Lamott says (paraphrased here) whatever you’re expecting after you write what you meant to say and turn it in, don’t. Just move on.

We write what we mean to say, as well as we can, with sincerity and adjectives and perhaps a sense of humor, and then we go on living. I’ve got a bookstore to run, and a bunch of friends to hang with, and some laundry that is long overdue. My husband is still a sweetheart and our upstairs kitchen is still overrun with foster kittens waiting to be adopted. I can go back to practicing my harp, which I’ve missed.

79,116 words and two loads of towels later, life still looks sweet.


Filed under humor, Uncategorized