Writer’s Block — Back to the Bones (of Natalie Goldberg)

In her book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg recommends keeping a list of topics for you to focus on during your writing time.  (Page 26.)  If you have a list of subjects for your writing time, then when you have time to write you can pick up and begin instead of sitting around trying to find something to write about.  She adds random things to the list each day.

I’ve been struggling to find something to write about.  I dug up my list from last year to jump-start my fingers, and I found these words from my friend Natalie.

Natalie Goldberg also recommends gathering up your “first thoughts,” which are your unedited, original ideas at the first draft stage.  She suggests timed writing activities — you know, like the ones you did in that creative writing class, where you walked into the room and there was a quote or prompt or something written on the whiteboard that you had ten minutes to respond to, and if you were late to class you wouldn’t have time to finish — to practice getting the words out.  Just sit down for ten or fifteen minutes and write about something on that list, making sentences one after another.  Stay loose.  (Page somewhere around 24 to 29.)

Apparently, if you keep a list of writing topics and spend some time writing about those topics, your first-draft thoughts will become something worth sharing with others.  At least, that’s what Natalie Goldberg says.  Lately I’m struggling to find this.

I have never traveled so much as I have these last few weeks.  I’ve been chosen by the TSA Pre-Check Randomizer five times out of six in the last two weeks, which would be lovely if it didn’t mean that I’d taken six flights in the last fourteen days.  I have enjoyed hearing so many other people order McMuffins from the Burger King at the airport.  (There are no Mc-anythings at Burger King.)

I keep forgetting to search for the hotel receipt from my business trip.  I know where it is:  the outer zip pocket of my wheeled carry on bag.  But I haven’t yet found the time to unzip that pouch and pull it out.  The thing is, I could do it now, but my husband is asleep because we woke up at 3:30 a.m. today to fly home from Nashville.  I should be sleeping too, but I don’t feel tired, so much as numbish or empty.  I hope I remember to get the receipt tomorrow morning, but I won’t be surprised if I forget again.  Wednesday is the very last day or else my travel privileges could be suspended.

I might be maybe somewhere inside okay with that.

I think that Leo has forgotten that he loves me more than H.  I’m giving him a lot of treats so hopefully he will remember.

Somewhere between page 31 and page 44, Natalie Goldberg writes that the details of our lives are important, and that we should write them just as they are.  Not the beautiful pieces, but the real things of our life: whether we are a few (several?) pounds overweight, or the weather is grey, or whatever, we should just say yes to real life because there are too many noes already.  We should say “yes” to the lives we are living, so we can keep living them.

And so, in the spirit of Natalie Goldberg’s beautiful hilarious truth-telling, I am starting again, telling myself “Natalie MB, you planned to write.  Now write.  I don’t care if you feel nuts and lonely.”  (Page 105.)


I woke up at 3:30 a.m. this morning in Nashville, flew to Chicago, worked eight hours at my office, went to an office lunch-event to celebrate a coworker’s promotion, cooked dinner, ate dinner, watched the season finale of SNL (very disappointing Mr. Sandberg, and what in the world was that musical act thing?!), edited a friend’s 1000 word draft down to 825 words so she could get a fresh start, and then wrote this mess of words to you.  I brushed the cat and gave him four treats and am about to do the dishes and head to bed.

Tomorrow is Tuesday, and I’m going to eat breakfast and go to work like I do on every Tuesday.  Hopefully I’ll remember to find that hotel receipt so I can finish my expense report.

Or, whatever.


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