Goldberg’s Quiet Highway

A copy of Natalie Goldberg’s memoir, Long Quiet Highway, is on top of my current stack of books and it will stay there, I suspect, for quite a while. I don’t know how long it’s been since I first read it, but this copy now has many, many underlined passages and marginal notes. I did not want it to end. If you’re not familiar with the book, a quick look: Natalie was a “nerdy” child. She did not write her first poem until she was in her twenties, and discovered by experimentation a writing process that works for her and probably thousands of others. The poet who organized our free writing group in Denver, calls it Goldbergian, a name almost longer than the “rules.” The #1 rule is to accept whatever prompt is offered, set a timer and write non-stop till the bell rings or the phone buzzes, whatever signals that time is up. That’s really the only rule. She suggests keeping a list of topics at the back of the notebook, just to get a kick start when you need it.

What inspired me the most, though, is Natalie’s repeated references to writing just to write, not to publish, not to create new and startling prose or poetry. Just write. And in the process, meet yourself on the page. So I’m practicing by letting go of my old process. For years I have followed Julia Cameron’s morning pages plan, three pages every morning. It has worked pretty well. But three pages is an artificial limit. Today when I went on to page five (my current journal is small), I felt a twinge of guilt. This was too indulgent, I had chores to do, this blog to write, a list of emails to deal with. But I kept writing, just for the pleasure of seeing words appear. And of course, to see what I had to say.

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