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Friday, February 11, 2011

Freeing the Writer Within

"The aim of writing practice is to burn through to first thoughts, to the place where energy is unobstructed by social politeness or the internal censor, to the place where you are writing what your mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see and feel."

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones 

Photo by Kevin Moul, Taos, New Mexico

Today, on this fearLESS Friday, I want to share something and someone very near and dear to my heart.  The something is writing practice, the someone is a woman who I consider to be one of my greatest teachers & mentors, Natalie Goldberg, author of the book, Writing Down the Bones.  A woman who gave me permission to keep my hand moving (despite the persistent, nagging fears about not being good enough) and showed me how writing can be a sacred spiritual practice.

If you haven't already read this incredibly freeing book, I highly recommend it-the ebook version is now available.  Below is a video that will give you a little taste of Natalie & writing practice.


And now for a little introduction to writing practice...

I was originally introduced to writing practice when I read Natalie Goldberg's book, Writing Down the Bones. This book changed the way I viewed writing and gave me permission to write, even when what I was writing really did feel like the "worst junk in America." Writing had always been a treasured part of my life; Natalie's way made it even more sacred. A few summers ago, I signed up for her five day writing workshop in Taos, New Mexico. It was an experience that solidified my love for writing and introduced me to a whole community of people who valued writing as much as I did. I have since returned to Taos twice to study with Natalie.  

I've learned that writing is something I can't not do. It's a part of me. I am so very grateful to Natalie for giving me the gift of her words and her teachings and for showing me how writing can be a sacred spiritual practice that can penetrate every part of my life.

*Writing practice is about getting out of the way so that writing does writing. It's about getting the words down before "monkey mind," the internal censor, has a chance to jump in and stop us in our tracks. Writing practice is raw, uncensored and free. It's not about good vs. bad or creating a polished, finished product. There is tremendous freedom in this kind of writing. It helps us learn to trust ourselves-to find our voice- not only as writers but as people. Once you have this kind of freedom that writing practice offers, you can apply it to any form of writing, any form of creating, really.  And to every part of your life.

How to Begin

Pick up your favorite fast-writing pen and a spiral notebook. Select a topic, a prompt, a word, or simply start writing from what's directly in front of you. Set a time limit. Ten minutes works nicely but often if you write for longer, you tend to go deeper. Then GO, keep your hand moving until the time is up.

Writing Practice "Rules"   (As developed by author, Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones.

*Keep your hand moving. Don’t stop until the time is up.
*No editing! Don't worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar.
*Lose control. Don't think. Stay with first thoughts; this is where the energy is.
*Be specific. Not fruit, but orange. Not tree, but Cottonwood.
*You are free to write the worst junk in America.
*Go for the jugular. If something scary comes up, go for it.

And now, since you know the basics, below is a prompt from Natalie's most recent book, Old Friend From Far Away and a 10 minute writing practice (raw & unedited) that I did in response.  

I'd love it if you joined me! And if you do & want to share, you can add a link to your response in the comment section.  

P.S:  If you scroll down to the very bottom of this page, there is a whole list of writing prompts..feel free to grab & write!  You can begin with absolutely any prompt...just remember to keep your hand moving!  No editing!  Just let it rip!    
Writing Practice: Prompt: What are the two places that pull you? 10 minutes 
Prompt:   Often we are pulled between two places. They can be where you were brought up versus where you live now; a country place versus a city place; the sea versus the plains. What are the two places that pull you? (Of course, there might be more, but for right now distill it to two.) Often they are projections of our inner psyche.

Tell us about them. Give us the pull, the conflict, the desire. Write.

Go. Ten minutes. 

I am pulled out of sleep this morning by a distant memory. There is snow on the ground. It has fallen thick through the night. I lie in bed and anticipate the day of fresh powder, fresh air, fresh laughter from young, exhilarated mouths.

There is no alarm clock next to my bed, no lunch packed full in a brown paper bag. There is no one to say good morning to. I stretch my arms above, way up, so they reach the white wall behind me. I stretch my feet and legs at the same time. I can take my time here, I can roll over when I‘m ready, eat slowly and deliberately.

I can take a long, hot, rejuvenating shower. There is no one that will follow. I do not have to save an ounce of hot water for anyone.

He does not wait for me to kiss him goodbye. I do not have to pretend I want to or that I care that he has not packed a lunch, that I have not packed one for him.

I do not have to make toast for the little ones, struggle to get tiny feet into tiny socks. I do not have to hold them to me, whining and wiggling, while I drag a thin comb through their tangled hair.

No, I do not. I allow the spray of water to soothe me as I hold my head up, mouth open, drinking in the moisture, the nourishment. I am in Fiji now, sitting in a warm pool, a waterfall massaging my shoulders, my neck, my back. I look beneath the surface. I see bright blue starfish there; they are still and silent and settled on the bottom. I sit in that warm Pacific until my body grows limp with relaxation, my mind grows silent with inactivity.

And then maybe I will crack open a pineapple, peel each layer of its hard skin and dive in, face first, to its juicy, sweet center. I will do this with my eyes closed and my body open. I am raw here on this island--raw and alive, raw and wide open.


  1. Ahh, freewriting--where it all began. I just love your freewrite visiting Fiji. I think I'll have to try traveling the world more like this!

    Sending love. Thank you, dear teacher.

  2. this ability for self-abandon is ESSENTIAL to the creative process. i'm so glad i discovered it as well. totally freed me up to paint and journal and write and create.

    the idea of letting go of thinking about results and focusing on the process. or simply letting the process be, also changed me.

  3. It's been a long time since I picked up Natalie's book. I had it for years before I read it, and then used it with others much more (teaching GED and ESL classes) than solo. Time to revisit it, and find my Fiji. :)


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♥ Julia