Monday, September 20, 2010

Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Tools

One of the books on my shelves is a 2005 reprint of Natalie Goldberg’s 1986 million seller, Writing Down the Bones. The book contains sixty-four short chapters designed to help and inspire writers, with reflections on dozens and dozens of thoughts, methods, disciplines, and places and things that might inspire. I am quick to admit that I find some of Ms Goldberg’s suggestions a tad odd, or overboard, but her goal is worthy, that writers ‘…come to know themselves, feel joy in expression, trust what they think.’

The first chapter in Writing Down the Bones is called, “Beginner’s Mind, Pen and Paper.” I won’t go into what Ms Goldberg means by ‘beginner’s mind’ here, but want instead to focus on the pen and paper part of her chapter. I found this paragraph interesting:

‘First, consider the pen you write with. It should be a fast-writing pen because your thoughts are always much faster than your hand. You don’t want to slow up your hand even more with a slow pen. A ballpoint, a pencil, a felt tip, for sure, are slow. Go to a stationery store and see what feels good to you. Try out different kinds. Don’t get too fancy and expensive. I mostly use a cheap Sheaffer fountain pen, about $1.95. It has replaceable cartridges. I’ve bought hundreds over the years. I’ve had every color; they often leak, but they are fast. The new roller pens that are out now are fast too, but there’s a slight loss of control. You want to be able to feel the connection and texture of the pen on paper.’

Well, despite what this paragraph suggests, my choice of writing tool for a first draft is always a pencil, and slowness related to that is never an issue. I wrote the first draft of this post with a pencil, very comfortable throughout, no feeling of it holding back my thoughts. As for a $1.95 Sheaffer fountain pen, is there really such a thing? I suspect this is a 1986 price, but even still seems low.

About paper or notebook the chapter continues…

‘Think, too, about your notebook. It is important. This is your equipment, like hammer and nails to a carpenter… Sometimes people buy expensive hardcover journals. They are bulky and heavy, and because they are fancy, you are compelled to write something good. Instead you should feel that you have permission to write the worst junk in the world and it would be okay. Give yourself a lot of space in which to explore writing. A cheap spiral notebook lets you feel that you can fill it quickly and afford another. Also, it is easy to carry…’

‘The size of your notebook matters too. A small notebook can be kept in your pocket, but then you have small thoughts. That’s okay. William Carlos Williams, the famous American poet who was also a children’s doctor, wrote many of his poems on prescription pads between office visits by his patients.’

I would like to introduce Natalie Goldberg to the Rhodia Webnotebook.

Writing Down the Bones at Amazon; and at BetterWorldBooks.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America