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Writing Down the Bones

A few weeks ago Victor and I took a "field trip" to Blick Art Store in Oakland. Going into an art supply store is always a wonderful adventure for both of us. The parking angels must have been working overtime on our behalf, because we found a parking spot directly in front of the store. On our way home we decided to see if we could find a place close by to stop for lunch. Just a few blocks down the street we saw an promising restaurant called The Crepe Vine. We pulled into a narrow side street by the restaurant and just as we turned onto the street, a truck pulled out of a parking space right across the street from the restaurant. (Again... parking angels at work :). We ordered two delicious crepes and sat outside enjoying our lunch.

As we were crossing the street to get to our car we noticed that right on the corner, across the street from the restaurant, was a bookstore (Pegasus Books). Victor and I truly love to meander through bookstores (there are so very few of them left). The store sold both new and used books. We both went in opposite directions when we entered, each of us exploring different interests. I found myself looking at books about writing and came across a book that I had heard about for years but had never read: Writing Down the Bones. It was a used book and the only one available in the store. I decided it had to come home with me!

The original book was written in 1985 so much of its content about technology is rather dated. For instance, the author writes about how much more fulfilling it is to write with a pen on paper rather than on a typewriter. I really had to chuckle at that. However, as I am reading the book and following its advice, I know that this book is in the process of changing my life. The author suggests that you get yourself several inexpensive, spiral-bound notebooks (she says they cost about 25¢ -- another chuckle) rather than starting your writing process in a beautifully bound journal. Writing in an inexpensive notebook frees you from making everything you write "perfect." If you feel something you wrote is not something you want to keep, you just rip it out and throw it away. She advises you to use the first couple of pages of your notebook to make a list of "writing prompt" topics you might want to write about so if and when you are stuck, you can refer to your list to get you going again. If you can't think of any writing prompt topics, she provides you with a starter list. She also advises to write in a stream of consciousness manner without worrying about spelling or grammar. Just let it flow and get it down. Probably the most important thing she advises is to write EVERY DAY even if it's only for 10 minutes.

Two weeks ago I started the process. I decided that I would write as soon as I got out of bed every morning in our meditation room just off our bedroom. I had an old standard 8.5x11- inch spiral notebook that I used the first morning. I made my list, wrote on the first topic on my list (The Bravest Thing I've Ever Done) for over an hour and covered 9 pages. However, I found that it was an uncomfortable way to write because the notebook was flimsy and too large a size to fit easily on my lap. So that morning I went to the 99¢ Store down the street and picked up five thick 150-page spiral notebooks that were a nice 9x6-inch size. These were firm enough and just the right size to enable me to easily write on my lap.

What I've found, since I've been writing every day, is that topics I want to write about are showing up in my dreams. Every morning I add to my writing prompts list the topics I can remember from my dreams. My list has now grown to over 2 pages. The other thing that has happened to me is that I am recalling things from my past that I had long ago forgotten -- it is making me want to explore those memories more deeply by writing about them.

I encourage anyone who has a desire to do some writing to pick up Writing Down and Bones and start doing the exercises Natalie Goldberg suggests.

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