Thunder and Lightning:
Cracking Open the Writer's Craft

by Natalie Goldberg

Bantam, 2000. ISBN 0553095285.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 10/20/2004

Nonfiction: Creative Life

When I receive a gift, I feel an obligation to make use of it or enjoy it. So it was, when I received Thunder and Lightening. I have read two of her previous books and enjoyed them as well as learned from them. But this book, according to the dust jacket flap, was to help me "turn this raw material into finished stories, essays, poems, novels, memoirs." One side of me said, "But I don't want to!" while the other side said, "Yes, but Natalie Goldberg always writes of much more than the craft of writing." Indeed, she does.

By the time I closed Thunder and Lightning, I had learned inadvertently how important structure is, how important it is to let the wild me leap and soar within that structure, how hard it is to work with both inner and outer editor and, most important for me, how writing practice day after day reveals gems, opens closed memories and welcomes heart and spirit into one's work. Writing practice, she says, is kin to her Zen practice. And I find that if I apply the skills Goldberg teaches to my life practice, I, too, will have moments of wonder and moments of serenity. Much of what she writes dove-tails with my own Spiritual Eldering® practice.

Goldberg starts Thunder and Lightning with a warning that writing is hard. It takes discipline. There will be triumphs, and there will be times of doubt. She says one needs supporting friends and one must listen to that inner whisper. Sounds like life, doesn't it?

I particularly like what she says about memoir.

"We write memoir to free ourselves. Those people we love have gone on, one way or another--through death or aging, a second marriage, a move to a new state. Why should we hold on any longer than they did? Here's your chance to make your father alive one last time on the page before you let him go. What you do not write down will weigh down your father's journey. He needs to go on, he wants to fly. Give him a new life of words and let them take off like electric birds."

That is what I find most true about writing, whether it be about a dream last night or about a disturbing problem, or about the time I tried to interfere in a cat fight when I was a child. Writing it down clears a space inside of me for something new and exciting. Writing it down assures me that if needed, I can access it again. For the time being, I can let it go.

Is this, then, a serious book on how to solve life's problems? Yes, there is that, but Goldberg is also a funny, self-deprecating writer. Her chapter on the communications between her editors and herself while she was finishing her novel, Banana Rose, is hilarious. Goldberg writes about her experience of writing. She does not pontificate from on high. Late in the book, she writes of giving her advanced students a few sentences she had written early in her writing life along with the suggestions her editor made. Her students become giddy with the knowledge that Natalie Goldberg wrote correctable sentences, and she writes of becoming grumpy.

Will I ever go to one of her workshops? No. I have no desire to become a published author. Will I continue to read her books? Yes. I have a strong desire to grow and learn.

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