“Know that writing is born from the ache of contraries, polarities in search of peace, of unity. But not the unity of making mush. You want to live in the country. Your husband is an urban boy. You compromise and both live in the suburbs. What a squash of desire and energy.”

“But writing has this quality where all the effort and desire in the world doesn’t do shit. It’s hard to comprehend. All our lives we’ve been taught to try hard. That’s good, important to writing, too, but then in the middle of it, you have to be willing to jump off a hundred-foot pole with no net to catch you, no assurances. To let wind take you or the day or time or love. Writing’s essential nature asks you not to go forward, not to be productive, not to be logical. In the middle of all your conservative striving, it asks you to take a step backward into the dark unknown—actually back into your real self, which has never been explored and you are not sure how to get there.”

“You have to find your own set of coincidences. You make your own great—and crooked—path and at the same time be open for something to come to you. A meeting is involved—you and the large unknown. Let the mountains walk into your living room. Listen to the squawking yellow cabs. This is beginning to sound like a child’s fantasy. You do need a child’s mind. Something half innocent, and naïve, but also watchful, observant. Sophistication gets in the way, too complicated for finding your true home.”

“Everyone has this [critical inner] voice. Even if you had the ultimate in supportive parents and encouraging teachers, the human mind generates this old survival technique. Can you imagine if cave people had decided to wander off and contemplate their past? They wouldn’t have gotten meat on the table. But this inheritance is not obsolete. We still have fear of our inner world. Will we survive if we take time to think, to examine, to understand? Instead we prefer to go hurtling from one war to another, from one marriage to another, from one painful situation smack-dab into one more. We think that if we stay blind, ignorant, and keep going, we will make it through. And plop!—in the middle of all this you decide you want to write a memoir, to look back, to ponder. Of course, your deep survival mechanism, old monkey mind, is going to go bananas. . . . Eventually monkey mind’s concern with survival transforms. You finally hold the jewels. You rule now. Monkey mind becomes the guardian at your gate. She’s not a squawker anymore. She pays silent vigil, has joined your forces.”

“There are no great answers for who we are. Don’t wait for them. Pick up the pen right now and in ten furious minutes tell the story of your life. I’m not kidding. Ten minutes of continuous writing is much more expedient than ten years of musing and getting nowhere.”

From Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg.


  • John says:

    These blogs keep me going.

  • Shirley says:

    Thanks, Richard, for sharing some real gold from Natalie Goldberg’s memoir, a book that has been on my shelf since I attended a Natalie Goldberg workshop last year. I now will read it in preparation for another opportunity to be with the author later this year–and because your post brought it into the field of my “monkey mind.” These passages you selected are vintage Goldberg. Like John says above, these blogs keep me going. Now all I have to do is get quiet enough and slow enough to write my life story in ten minutes.

    • Shirley,

      For the most concise life story, I recommend a series of six-word memoir sentences. I did one in 96 words. But it took a heck of a lot longer than ten minutes. More like three months . . .

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