Thursday, May 23, 2013

Author Spotlight [1]: Natalie Goldberg & words for beginning writers

I'm planning a series of posts: Author Spotlight, on my fave writers; and Fave Fictional Characters, for which I already have 1 post. 

wild mind, how to write, how to begin writing, natalie goldberg, free writing, writing practice, difficulty writing in school, writing adviceIn elementary and high school, writing was a foreign concept. I thought only those inherently talented in English could do it right (you know, those already in the school publication or sent to contests against other schools), and I wasn't that good in that subject then. Assignments and on-the-spot class activities on writing essays or poems was a nightmare. I would look at a blank piece of paper the whole class period and feel very helpless. English had us write in Formal Composition notebooks, where my half-assed essays written hurriedly at the last minute would return filled with teacher's corrections scrawled in red. The low grades didn't encourage me. My group of friends then were well-spoken in English, so articulate in their writing, already having intelligent discussions on Harry Potter... while I nodded along on the sidelines feeling out of place. Most of my school life is me trying to not draw any special attention to myself.

I picked up Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life by Natalie Goldberg sometime in high school. I bought it, thinking I would finally learn that elusive secret of writing. Instead, it contained things I didn't expect about writing. It wasn't a writing book at all, the author was just talking simply about her life and experiences. I first learned the concept of Zen from this book. The 'rules' in the book were really simple and I found it easy to follow. The book said: "These rules are the bottom line, the beginning of all writing, the foundation of learning to trust your own mind. Trusting your own mind is essential for writing. Words come out of the mind."

The Rules:
1. Keep your hand moving.
2. Lose control.
3. Be specific.
4. Don't think.
5. Don't worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar.
6. You are free to write the worst junk in the universe, galaxy, world, hemisphere, Sahara desert.
7. Go for the jugular. (Something scary comes up? Don't stop, that's where the energy is.)

I think I breathed with relief during that chapter. Until then, what I knew about writing was from English classes. We studied grammar rules, elements of literature, and diagramming sentences. For the life of me, I can never understand why we need to diagram sentences. I always thought it was silly. I would have found writing more interesting then if they taught it like this. It was simple freewriting as a start.

The first activity she suggested was to simply write for 10 minutes without stopping, starting on "I remember". Just write and keep your hand moving. The book says we each have the 'creator' who writes, and an 'editor' or the inner critic. The goal is to stop that inner critic from interfering with the creator, and tap the unlimited creative potential of our minds and unconscious.

The #4 rule is, Don't think. Goldberg calls her process writing practice, and not journaling. This rule is important because as she says: "We usually live in the realm of second or third thoughts, thoughts on thoughts, rather than the realm of first thoughts, the real way we flash on something. Stay with the first flash. Writing practice will help you contact first thoughts. Just practice and forget everything else."

This book taught me that I don't have to always be a good writer with perfect prose, but allow myself to be illogical, to be boring, to write what I want and what I really feel, to write complete nonsense replete with errors or expletives. I don't have to care, as I'm writing for myself and not for anyone else, not for a teacher I have to please for a high grade. I don't have to measure margins, to crumple paper when my handwriting goes bad or the erasures are too much.

What freedom!

And since then, I've probably written thousands of words. I have a lot of words to write still. I'm no longer scared of writing. It had no magical secret or anything. I just keep my hand writing.
- - - - -
One last quote from Wild Mind:
"So finally a writer must be willing to sit at the bottom of the pit, commit herself to stay there, and let all the wild animals approach, even call them up, then face them, write them down, and not run away."


  1. Al, this is good. Made me want to write stuff (stories and everything else) anywhere again. Guess I kinda lost that feeling.

    Musta na gali ah? Sorry wala nako kaparamdam cmu for the past few months. Been busy with a number of things and occupied with a lot of thoughts - some of them still existent up until now. But I guess I'm doing okay, working na. How about you? Umm school? Hope to see soon. Tani makadto ka di sa Cebu liwat.. or ako makakadto dah. :)

  2. According to Goldberg, it's never too late to start again... Sometimes, nami na gani nga nag- time off ka sa pag-sulat, kay daw 'renewed energy' sa writing. I guess, it's nice to just "keep your hand moving." That lost feeling, may hope pa nga mabalik!

    Pat! I miss you and the old days nga we always exchanged blog comments. (Seriously. Abi ko anay akig ka sa'kon or something... haha, sorry! I know nga busy lang mga tawo subong.)

    OK lang ako, ikaw ya? starting my last school year na. Good luck lang sa work ah. Tani ikaw naman di kadto! Tulog di sa balay! (joke, pero welcome ka in case) In case makadto ko da mabal-an mo man. Pero... as in lost touch na gid ko sa HS classmates except sa mga taga-CPU.

    Feel free to share your thoughts! Kung feel mo lang eh. xD

  3. Gaaah!~ Yep2, currently thinking on what to write next. Hihi. Excited ko sa new thoughts.

    Ako dapat mag.sorry mu! the grid lang ko gulpi daad. Nagpakalunod man ko sa everyday life since last year - problems sa thesis, sa paper, sa family and stuff. Kag na.overwhelm kag pressure lang kay graduating. Dark Ages. Haha. Sorry gid wala nko kaparamdam. But I think I'm well off now, medyo steady na.

    TUOD?! Pwede ko da bala katulog? Remember ko pa bala kwarto mo! Hahahaha. May plans man ko makadto dah. Ga.wonder lang ko gani san-o ko makabakasyon. Good luck sa school mo! Hopefully kita man ko sa grad pics mo. Excited man ko mag.reunion ta tanan, pero mga 5yrs pa guro. :)

    Btw malain ko guro sang blog domain. Still thinking if ano name na subong and if kaya ko pa. Else mag.papel2 lng gid ako

  4. Heh, ako naman ang nag-late reply kay busy naman sa school stuff... ako naman ang graduating eh. OK lang, wala man gid dapat sang may ma-sorry!

    Yeah, indi joke! Classmates sang magulang ko gina-pasugtan man ni mother... OK man guro kung ikaw.
    Coincidence: sang last week, same date sang nag-reply ko, nag-kitaay kami ni Faye sa CPU, ga-Medicine sya to. Basi makakitaay man kami liwat, tane.

    Gane, I wonder kis-a kay indi ko ma-access site mo. Ako gane biskan damo ko ideas about kung ano i-post ko daw wala ko time. Once a month na lang kaya ko! Pero I write everyday... in paper. :D

  5. Yudeee, graduating. Nami mabalik swelahan ah, tsk. Sugtan ko bala sang parents ko makadto dah! Haha, ginchika ko na sa ila nga hambal mo nga pwede dah matulog, ok mn lang sila. Hehe. Excited! Kung medyo stable nako sa work ko, makadto ko guro one weekend dah ah. Ma-make gid ko ya sang plans kay okay na stay ko dah (c/o cmu). Miss ko man kanday Faye bala! Weird2 kay nadumduman ko gulpi si "Bob". Dumduman mo pa siya? Hahaha

    Ah, way klaro host to daan sang site ko, law-ay2 maintenance and stuff. I'm thinking i-import na lang gani mga posts ko or i-print sila para indi ko gid malipatan. Budlay na kun ma-drown sa trivialities sang everyday life/work.

  6. Anu work mo? Kag san-o mo plano magkadto di? Bob... hmm... indi ko na madumduman! Diba daw stuffed toy na sya sang 3rd year (am i right?) galing nalipat ko kung kay sin-o or ano chura ya.

    OK just tell me your planned plans! Pero indi ako nami nga events organizer... in case nga gusto mo mag-meet sa mga HS classmates. Daw damo ka pa contacts? Si Faye feeling ko damo. Damo di bag-o sa Iloilo, lagaw2 lang ta eh. :D