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Writing Down the Bones

“Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg is one of my favourite books. I’ve read it several times and each time I re-read it, I seem to discover something new, exciting, and inspirational, while expanding my understanding of the writing process even further.

Natalie’s spiritual approach to writing resonates with me on so many levels; it feels spontaneous, organic, and accepting, which is very much in the spirit of my working practice.

I hardly ever plan what I’m going to write. I usually start my writing process by imagining a character’s detail, name, professional occupation, or visually strong image of the character/s.

I always give space to my characters to guide me and show me their story. Sometimes the process is long and laborious. But regardless of the difficulties, I push through.

Writing screenplays has always been a long process for me. The script requires careful layering, attention to details and breathing space, simultaneously allowing the story and the characters to grow and evolve. By giving my scripts and stories space, I discovered that I could make them better by tuning into the stories’ true meaning. With re-writes and time, the subtext becomes clear and takes shape on its own.

I’ve developed treatments for scripts in the past, and it makes writing a script much easier. However, once again, I don’t plan the direction my treatment should take me in. I go in with few elements that triggered my curiosity to write that story and an open heart and mind. I allow the story to guide me, and often I’m surprised with the outcome myself.

During the writing of the first couple of drafts, I usually channel the story and only start consciously influence the structure and plot when I know that the core of the story is already on paper.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that constraining my writing in any way doesn’t work for me. But plenty of writers are planners and plotters, which is excellent. When it comes to creativity, I believe in two things; you should be systematic in your approach to work and follow your creative instinct. If you need to plot the story, do so, but if the story doesn’t call for that, go on an adventure and explore the unknown.

“Writing Down the Bones” gives writers the permission; often creatives wait for permission to create, to just be your authentic self while connecting to your story in the most organic way. My favourite exercises from the book helping writers kickstart their writing journey:

  • Coming up with the list of topics for writing practice (I usually come up with titles for my blogs and stories and allow those to settle in before developing any). When you sit down for your writing practice, just choose one topic, and write whatever comes to you without judgment.
  • Be specific about minor things, events, and incidents in your life. Being clear and detailed as much as possible will allow you to translate that into your stories. You can have a separate notebook to keep all those specific details in one place.
  • Go to a coffee shop or any other place where everyday life won’t catch up with you and interrupt the writing process. Start with writing for at least ten minutes without stopping. Over a long period, it can create an astounding result. THIS SIMPLE EXERCISE GOT ME BACK TO MY WRITING PRACTICE when I was stuck and couldn’t write for eternity.

It’s worth picking up a copy of the book. Natalie Goldberg writes with intentional minimalism, which definitely speaks my creative language.

Filed under: screenwriting, writers, writing tips

About the Author

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Magda Olchawska is an award-winning independent filmmaker, writer and screenwriter. She writes not only about making films and writing but also about financially independent and sustainable lifestyle. Her current projects include Ecotopia Universe and School Runs.

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