Writing Down the Bones: Beginner's Mind (Natalie Goldberg)

To help us get a better understanding of what it means to "think like a writer," we are going to start with a classic. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones is older but still respected by professional and aspiring adult writers. 

After being good at writing mechanics in high school and swoony over poetry in college, Goldberg was working in a restaurant when she became aware that if she “cared about the muffins” she made, they would be good, and she didn’t need A’s in school to provide incentive to care. She also realized that she could write about ordinary things in her life. “I went home with resolve to write what I knew and to trust my own thoughts and feelings and to not look outside myself. I was not in school any more: I could say what I wanted.” 

This idea is exactly what we want to help our kids learn. We want “growth not grades” for writing because we want our kids to trust their thoughts and feelings, This trust leads not only to better writing, but more desire to write/less resistance to writing, and . . . trusting their thoughts and feelings! (That is what is known as a win-win-win!)

Goldberg talks about teaching the same writing methods over and over without tiring of them because “it is such basic information about trusting your own mind and creating a confidence in your experience . . . .” This is what we want to do for our kids with writing!

Goldberg also notes that learning to write is not a linear practice that unfolds smoothly or all at once. What that means is that different approaches work for different kids—or even the same kids—at different times. As we say in Brave Writer, it’s not “open and go”—applying a formula for writing to each kid to make them write correctly—it’s “open and grow.” 

In the next section, Goldberg talks about the beginner’s mind and the need for good tools to write with. About beginner’s mind, she reminds us that every time we start to write, everyone—from experienced writers to beginners—has a lack of confidence about being able to do this. It’s always like starting over. That’s how delicate the situation is! 

She then she talks about pens, paper, notebooks—the tools of writing. Today we might add keyboard and voice-to-text and parent-as-transcriptionist. Ultimately we can relate this to hygge—providing that good atmosphere for writing. Professional writers pay a lot of attention to this, and so should we! 

Thoughts to Ponder

  • How can you encourage your kids to trust their thoughts and feelings through writing? Can you think of examples of when this has happened, either for your kids or for yourself?
  • How user friendly are the tools your kids use for writing? Do their tools feel good to use? Have you considered the sensory aspects of your kids' writing tools?
  • What are some ideas you could try or that have worked in providing a positive atmosphere for your children to write?

Download Writing Down The Bones: Beginner’s Mind - Natalie Goldberg

Posted August 1st, 2019
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