Tag Archives: Natalie Goldberg

How to Keep a Journal

First, let’s establish some guidelines:

1) Natalie Goldberg says to get a fast writing pen because your thoughts are always much faster than your pen.

2) Everyone says a cheap notebook is a better choice than a beautiful blank book. Why? You’re going to feel compelled to write something good in that fancy journal—and if you can’t think of anything, you’re not going to write. I currently have 16 beautiful blank books of varying sizes in a drawer. And how many started, messed up, ink blotted, crossed out and never finished because they’re spoiled? And size does matter. That tiny pocket-sized notebook is probably too small for the big thoughts you’re going to have.

3) Julie Cameron says write three pages first thing every morning. Ruth, my meditation teacher says meditate first. I say, have a cup of coffee before you do anything and pick a time and place that is comfortable for you—after all, we’re grownups, aren’t we? Just write in your notebook every day!

I write in a wide ruled, 100 sheet, Composition Book—three pages, thirty minutes with my cup of coffee (well, that’s two cups) every day except Sunday.
I follow Natalie Goldberg’s rules presented in chapter one of Writing Down the Bones:
1. Keep your hand moving
2. Don’t cross out (I’m not very good at following directions—I do cross out)
3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation and grammar (I’m getting better at this)
4. Lose control (Local author, Janell Moon in her book, Stirring the Waters—Writing to find your Spirit, says Through the process of letting go of control we become more a part of things.)
5. Don’t think, don’t get logical
6. Go for the jugular

Natalie says, It’s important to adhere to them because the aim 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 or feel…. Give the paper the colorful coleslaw of your consciousness.

But does this mean you only free write and can’t use a prompt? Heck no! I’m all for prompts. Currently, I’m exploring my relationship with my sister in my journal. I want to explore its evolution, come to terms with it, write about it, and perhaps find it within my heart to forgive. My prompt was a comment made in a class about how memory can throw us right back into the mental and physical states of the event remembered.

My first thoughts:
Time marches (cliché!), slides, glides, walks, runs, ticks, slips, inches, passes on inexorably—a man-made concept…to guilt trip us when we haven’t done what we think we should…Time, that yoke, that feckless lover, that raptor flying ever forward into the mythical land of yet to come. Maybe my peace is here now and now and now and—walking my path with me. Maybe in this moment I can forgive those who have trespassed against me. Maybe my sister doesn’t matter, or maybe she is the lesson in letting go that I must learn anew in each moment. It’s the grasping, the saying: I am naught unless you say so, the: I have naught unless I have your blessing. This grasping is the pain that dogs my heels, a village cur, half-wolf, half-dog, lapping up scraps from my middens. He nips at my ankles, my outstretched fingers, and growls—how his tiny sharp teeth gleam in the dull morning light as he jealously guards his prize. And me? I cajole him, entice him with scraps of food; I open my heart and say never leave me.
I hear the pack howl in the distance.

Was I remembering an event? I don’t think so. Did I get to something meaningful for me? Yes. Have I made a step toward my goal of deeper understanding of my relationship with my sister? You bet. And I have images I can use later in a poem, a memoir, or even a novel. How lucky is that?

Class Prompt: from Room to Write by Bonnie Goldberg: Memory is Imagination

Begin with the phrase “I remember” and start writing. It doesn’t matter whether you stick with one memory or list several. You can retrieve memories from as far back as childhood (or past lives!) to as recently as yesterday. If you get stuck just keep repeating the phrase “I remember,” in writing, until something else forms in your consciousness. Don’t even be concerned with authenticity of memory. Just record whatever comes to you. Don’t stop until you have filled [your] pages.

Class assignment:

Look over your list of memories. Which ones stand out? Which ones give you a sense of energy or excitement? Those are the memories to consider for expansion. Pick the memory that resonates the most deeply and expand it into a story with a beginning, middle and end. Your story may be fiction or creative non-fiction, a narrative poem, or you may shape your memory into a scene for your novel.

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Outgrowing your Guru

I am a long time fan of Natalie Goldberg. But I fear I have outgrown her. As I review my favorite of her books, Wild Mind, I realize that focusing on drinking a glass of water or on Zen breathing is not only tedious but doesn’t help my work at all.

One of the things I admire most about Natalie is she not afraid to change. From her complete embrace of Zen practice in Writing Down the Bones to the discovery that her Zen instructor was not all she thought him to be, revealed in The Great Failure, she writes with truth and clarity. But I actually have advanced beyond her advice.

It is possible to outgrow our Gurus. We learn everything we can, then move onto to another person, another message or a new author who is just a few steps ahead of us in enlightenment or skill. And we follow her.

How do you know you’ve moved on? Pull out your favorite books and read those original pieces that encouraged you to try writing or trapeze or accounting. Is the advice still relevant? Then great, read it and get a jolt of your original mojo. If the advice and language seems dated, then you know you’ve moved on, congratulations on your growth!

I am still a fan of Goldberg’s. What now inspires me is not her advice for writing practice but her complete willingness to live out loud and share her wild mind, great failures, and all with the rest of us.

~Catharine Bramkamp

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