Once in a while a book comes along that has a profound influence on you. So much so that the experience of reading it actually compels you to make changes in your life. Personally, this has only ever happened to me a handful of times, but just last week I finished a book that left me feeling empowered and ready to tackle some of my own demons. I'm talking about a little pocket classic titled Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. This delightful nugget of wisdom was originally published in 1986 and at the time created a mini revolution in the way people approached the art of writing. I purchased the book from a paranormal romance author on one of my fortnightly book buying jaunts for my second hand bookstore. It immediately went into my satchel and I've been carrying it around with me, reading a chapter here and there, for the last month. Last week I finished it, and after years of arguing back and forth within my own mind about whether to attempt to write, and usually losing, I finally put pen to paper in and honest and real way.
Writing Down the Bones is not a manual on how to write. It's something much more. It's about being honest enough to free the writer hidden within yourself. It's also about leaving yourself enough room to explore the craft fully and breathe your own life into it without censorship. It talks of the physicality of writing and the importance of total immersion. It teaches you to embrace your failures as much as your successes, and to that end it's not just teaching you about writing but also about how to approach life in general.
I could go on and on about the things I've learned from this book, but there is one quote in particular that resonated the most - "I used to think freedom meant doing whatever you want. It means knowing who you are, what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, and then simply doing it" ( pp71). This is a truth that I've only recently come to grips with myself. Reading it in print elicited a physical reaction, as it helped me to not only understand what I was good at, but to accept these things as gifts, and to embrace them fully rather than fighting them. I can now say with conviction and contentment that I'm a leader, a teacher, and a writer, and those are the things I want to pursue in my life.
To say that this book alone got me to this point would be naive. The reality is that this book found me at the right time and helped push me over the edge of a cliff that I was already leaning over. It may not have the same impact on you. However, it is my belief that writers of all sorts will find some, if not many, gems of wisdom in this book. Its' short, punchy chapters also lends itself to re-reading. I can easily picture myself picking it up every now and then in years to come when I'm struggling for inspiration.
If you've read this book I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. I'd also love to hear what books have impacted on you so much that they've made you take steps to change your life, no matter how big or small.