Thoughts On Writing And Life

The Seven Elements of Practice Group

Dear Writing Friends,

Potential students are always asking for more information about my classes. But how to describe the stripped down elements of practice, the shifts that occur mainly in the mind?  I usually refer people to Natalie Goldberg's books, especially her latest, The True Secret of Writing, because my classes are based on the retreats described therein. I've thought of writing an FAQ sheet, something to explain what we do in class and why my students have come to value it.…

Why Bother Writing

Why bother writing? Hasn’t it all been said before? What’s the point of putting my story on paper?

 One of my students asked this series of questions during the last session of Write From the Bottom of Your Mind. It was the second week of class and I wanted to know where my students were stuck, or if they had any questions about practice. I enjoy this part of class when individual questions open up broader issues of writing and practice that benefit everyone. I’m good at it.  But the “why…

What does it take?

Dear Writing Friends,

 I first heard of Natalie Goldberg when I was in graduate school. I was having lunch with my friend Lisa, a fellow art history student, and we were discussing our dissertation progress. I told her that I had been stuck in the writing and one of my advisers had suggested I read Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. She thought the chapter on “shitty first drafts” would help me loosen up. “I like that book,” said Lisa, “but I like Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg,…

Who's In?

For the past eight years, I have traveled to and from Taos, New Mexico, to study with Natalie Goldberg. I have attended 18 silent retreats, serving as assistant for seven of them, including one in France and another in Italy. I intended to return to France this summer as Natalie’s assistant. We were going to fly to Paris together and spend time on the farm before the students arrived. We had our own retreat planned afterwards, in the Dordogne, writing in the mornings and hiking in the…

Don't feel like writing?

Creative Habit #1

Dear Writing Friends,

 I am writing this on May 31, four days after Memorial Day, the traditional kickoff to summer. While the temperatures are nowhere near what the weather service is predicting this year, the sky in Austin is already thick with humidity. I feel it in my hands and feet, in the small joints in my fingers and toes. I was recently diagnosed with an amorphous autoimmune condition that has a number but no official diagnosis. In a nutshell, I’m suffering from joint pain and…

Ideal Conditions for Writing

 “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.” E. B. White

I rediscovered the above quotation in a recent installment of Brain Pickings, Maria Popova’s online cornucopia of all things interesting. It made me think about my constant complaining about working at home amongst the clutter of my life, which I share with a husband who often mistakes his side of the bed for the laundry bin; a daughter, who mistakes the entire house for a laundry…

Cracking Open

Dear Writing Friends,

It is Monday and I am in my studio, sneaking in a few moments for writing before finishing my preparations for Passover. I have a brisket in the oven and two Pyrex dishes piled with roasted vegetables. I spent the better part of yesterday complaining that I didn’t want to chop them. My right thumb hurt from repetitive stress – between the iPhone and writing by hand, I’ve been asking a lot of it lately – and my shoulders were sore from sitting in bad theater seats on…

What are your deepest questions?

Dear Writing Friends,

I managed to spend the better part of last Saturday at the Texas Book Festival, which takes place every year at the State Capitol in Austin. It was a glorious fall day, cool and sunny, and the grounds were crawling with glitterati. Attendees stood in lines winding around the Capitol rotunda and into its halls, sometimes for an hour, to get into sessions.

The three events I attended took place in the Texas House Chamber, which is quite grand with its gold and white,…

Five Books to Boost Creativity

The following appeared in the October 2012 issue of Drash Pit. Thanks to editor, Neena Husid, for allowing me to reprint it here. Drash Pit is accepting submissions for its next issue. The theme is "Act." For more information, go to www.drashpit.com.

In all the years I studied art history – as an undergraduate, as an M.A. student, and as a doctoral candidate; at U.C. Santa Barbara, at U.C. Berkeley, and at U.T. Austin – no one ever mentioned the creative process or that such a thing existed.…

The Writing Barn 

Dear Writing Friends,

When I visited the Writing Barn for the first time last December, I was immediately overcome with jealousy. Bethany Hegedus had managed to make a life for herself on a spacious piece of property in South Austin, converting an old barn into a wood-paneled writing studio with floor to ceiling bookshelves and a screened-in porch, writing there during the week and renting it out on the weekends for workshops, retreats, and signings. As we sat down in the comfy armchairs in the…

My Summer Vacation

Dear Writing Friends,

I am sitting in my air-conditioned office on the white couch where I like to write. I’ve got less than an hour to get something done. Shira and Steve are home making t-shirt transfers from Shira’s drawings—until 10:00, when I revert back to the Mommy Pumpkin.  I’ve spent more time than not as the Mommy Pumpkin this summer.

My daughter’s school – which I adore and feel privileged to send her to – takes summer vacation the old-fashioned way, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.…

Grammar Geek

Dear Writing Friends,
I’m sitting on the deck of Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, overlooking Ladybird Lake in Austin. Shira and I hang here most weekend mornings, reading, writing, and enjoying the relatively cool temperatures. It won’t be long before the heat hits in full force here. A few moments ago a family of swans swam by. Shira and I watched the two adults swoop their undulating necks in and out of the water, while their baby practiced paddling nearby. Before they left, the mother spread her…

Think Not

Dear Writing Friends:            

 I was walking at Town Lake a few weeks ago when I spotted a familiar face coming around the bend. The woman shot me a look of recognition, but I couldn’t quite place her. Maybe it was the striped hat and dark glasses. Not wanting to be rude, I smiled back. But who was she? A member of my husband’s congregation? Someone I knew from my days as an art critic? As she came toward me, she removed her glasses and there were those deep, black eyes and regal…

Ten Things To Do When You're Running On Empty

Dear Writing Friends,

For the past two years I have been sending out newsletters to students, clients, and fellow writers in the hope that my experience will inspire their writing. My practice has been to write from my daily life and find some small wisdom about writing and life therein. But lately I’m coming up empty. My daily life is consumed with administering to my daughter’s “special needs,” which at times feel overwhelming. I’m stressed and depleted and, until a few days ago, struggling…

(C) 2011 Saundra Goldman