Finding an old friend in the attic

As part of my weekly purge of books (which started back in June) I have been reclaiming boxes from the attic and rediscovering books I had forgotten I had once bought along with those I had been saving for some imagined future when I might find the time to read them again.

Among the former — those I had forgotten — I found Natalie Goldberg’s Long Quiet Highway on my last foray into the dark and dusty loft space. Quite why it was up there in a box I don’t know. This was Goldberg’s third book and I had her earlier books — Writing Down The Bones and Wild Mind still on my shelves downstairs.

Bones and Mind I bought while living in Singapore in the 1990s. The sticker on the back of Highway shows I bought it in a Borders, which I imagine was on Long Island somewhere when I was working there in the late 1990s. In the last few months I’ve bought and read a couple of Goldberg’s more recent books. I came close to buying Highway, too, thinking I didn’t have it.

This is a long way of saying I’ve started reading Long Quiet Highway and I’m loving it as much as the other Goldberg books I have. I’m not far in but already I’m comforted by her voice and her clear simple sentences that speak of the spiritual side of writing. Not in any woo woo sense but in the simple sense of using writing as a process of self-discovery.

She also makes her usual good points about society’s relationship to writers — and artists in general. Here’s a perfect quotation from her introduction to the book:

There is a proliferation of writing books in America. They are very popular. People would rather read about how to become a writer than read the actual products of writing: poems, novels, short stories.

She wrote that in 1993. Just think how many more writing books have been added to that proliferation since then.

And not only books but blogs and podcasts and online courses and workshops and creative writing degrees. Not just in America, either. Sometimes it feels like the writing world is divided into those who want to write and those who are teaching writing.

There is a sweet spot that lies somewhere in the middle. A place where we get on with writing while acknowledging there is more to learn, there are writers to learn from, and, most importantly, lots of great stuff to read on the bedside table.