June 11, 2012
Getting Back to Basics
One of my favorite books on writing is Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. It was the first book I picked up years ago when I decided to return to writing – back when graduate school and a full time job had resulted in mental paralysis. I couldn’t focus. I was burned out. Bereft of energy and enthusiasm for pretty much anything, I longed for release.
Writing Down the Bones was recommended by a friend of mine. I picked up a pocket size copy and took it with me to Starbucks. I had no journal, nothing to write with, no computer. I hadn’t any real belief that this book would get me back to writing, but I knew I had to start somewhere. So with a big dose of skepticism and an even greater dose of hope, I turned to the first page and began to read.
It took only a few paragraphs to hook me. Goldberg seemed to speak directly to me, and I realized that I was not alone. I felt excited again … and anxious to begin. No intimidation, no fear, no belief that I’m not good enough. Just the realization that one must start somewhere, and keep practicing. Whatever it takes. Whatever the result.
I went out that same evening and purchased a journal (my favorite kind – a lightweight moleskin with lined pages). I found a pen I loved to write with – one that rolled easily over the page without smudging,and felt easy in my hand. I held it loosely. Let it guide me.
Soon, words flowed from mind to hand to paper without any conscious thought on my part. I did not worry about grammar, style, punctuation. I ignored the lines, as Goldberg taught me. I wrote in large, swooping letters – sometimes filling a page with only a single sentence. It wasn’t poetry. It wasn’t technically perfect. But it was inspired. It was mine.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this process. Each time I get back to these basics, I’m surprised by what lurks in my depths – the creativity and emotion I’ve bottled up. It’s far from perfect … far from good … but there’s something freeing in knowing that what will emerge will be just that: not perfect. Not good. For the writer who is more editor than creator … who lives for the tweaking and fixing and correcting … this is a major departure. Ignoring the technical dos and don’ts, scrapping the formatting, the lines, the precision of typed words on a virtual page …
It’s comforting, in its way. It allows room for movement, for growth. It allows inspiration to flow without hindrance. And every now and then, from the muck my brain expunges in great, angry bursts, emerges a jewel of an idea. An image. A blossom. A rainbow.
I encourage all artists to try this. Take yourselves away from the computer (or your usual medium, whatever it may be). Focus on the basics. Don’t paint, sketch. Don’t sculpt, knead. Don’t act, improvise. Free yourself from the confines of your art. Don’t think about it. Just let it happen.
And keep practicing. Over and over and over.
You won’t regret it.
For more works by Natalie Goldberg, go her website: http://www.nataliegoldberg.com/