Making It Sweet
I have been reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. I was meeting with a group of incredibly gifted educators and writers the other day and in our discussion they referenced Writing Down the Bones—clearly they considered Goldberg a huge influence in their professional lives—and sadly I had not yet discovered her work. Have you ever had one of those moments? I was a little embarrassed that she was new to me and very intrigued at the same time.
So, naturally, I ordered the book on Amazon that evening, and when it arrived two days later I devoured it. Writing Down the Bones (for those of you are who are like me and are late coming to Goldberg’s now 20 year-old classic) is an incredibly poetic, artistic and thoughtful collection of short essays about becoming a writer. Goldberg describes many important writing habits, even as simple as choosing a pen that is “a fast-writing pen because your thoughts are always much faster than your hand.” One essay that gave me pause was about the importance of “making learning sweet” for novice writers.
She describes a Jewish tradition of giving children a piece of candy when they are first learning Hebrew so the children associate the new learning with something sweet. She argues that all new learning should be associated with something sweet. Goldberg writes, “It should be the same with writing. Right from the beginning, know it is good and pleasant. Don’t battle with it. Make it your friend.”
I saw my husband do this with my 4-year old daughter the other day. She was throwing the lacrosse ball with him for the first time and no matter how aimless her throw was; he praised her for her efforts. I can’t tell you how many times I heard him say, “Good throw!” or “Nice try!”
Right now, my writing feels sweet for me. My colleagues and friends have made my initial forays very sweet indeed—I have received a tremendous amount of positive feedback and support with my work; I feel lucky. It makes me wonder, though—do we make sure our young writers experience success at their first attempts? Do we make the learning sweet for children in our schools?
Isabel McLean is a Senior Staff Developer at Developmental Studies Center.