Book Category: Writing,

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, 2nd Edition (book summary)

Author: Natalie Goldberg
Life Changing Principles
Quality of Writing
Overall Value
pros: Great for all styles and skill levels
cons: Too general
overall rating


As the title implies, this book is more about getting started as a writer than really perfecting the craft. It’s a motivational book that encourages writers of all skill levels to build good writing habits by taking their craft outside of their office/house/classroom and taking it with them wherever they go.

Natalie Goldberg does a great job of motivating the reader to push forward on both personal and work-related projects. Her purpose, as found in the quotes below, is always “keep your hand moving.” She also takes an uncritical approach to many different styles of writing, and isn’t thinking about the work that you create becoming famous/published/etc. The goal is simply to use writing as a form of meditation, and to write towards personal goals.


  • Always start with a goal, or a list of goals, before you begin a project. It doesn’t have to be lofty, you just need a place to start.
  • Always be writing.
  • Spend more time offering up detail in writing, using adjectives and sensory detail, no matter the subject at hand.
  • Leave your house and your comfort zone to write: go to a cafe and find focus.


  • Work harder filling your content with rich detail; don’t skimp on the little things!
  • Some of the writing challenges in here, especially starting with a short prompt, are good exercises to try for your personal style development.
  • But a cheap notebook in order to keep with for fast thoughts and project planning/outlining before you dive into content itself. It’s nice to go device-free!


These are the rules. It is 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.

First thoughts are also unencumbered by ego, by that mechanism in us that tries to control, tries to prove the world is permanent and solid, enduring and logical.

Making a list is good. It makes you start noticing material for writing in your daily life, and your writing comes out of a relationship with your life and its texture.

Ego can be very creative and make up remarkable resistive tactics. My friend who was beginning her first novel said that she would sit at the typewriter for the first ten minutes and just write about what a terrible writer she was, what a jerk she was to even attempt a novel. Then she pulled out that sheet of paper, tore it up, and began on the task at hand–the next chapter of her novel.

Use original detail in your writing. Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else.

Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical. We live and die, age beautifully or full or wrinkles. We wake in the morning, buy yellow cheese, and hope we have enough money to pay for it. At the same instant we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters we are alive on earth. We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded.

Keep your hand moving.

“Be specific. Don’t say “fruit.” Tell what kind of fruit. “It is a pomegranate.” Give things the dignity of their names.

Sometimes you have to begin far away from the answer and then down-spiral back to it. Writing is the act of discovery. You want to discover your relationship with a topic, not the dictionary definition.