Customer Reviews: Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer's Craft
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on August 9, 2000
It took me a bit to connect with this book because the tone and style are so different from Natalie's previous books. I also found I had to read this a little bit at a time to give myself time to absorb what she was trying to say. But I was really shaken up by the book. After writing a terrible, terrible truly horrible and horribly boring novel myself, I had given up writing (after 35 years). In other words, I was in a similar place as Natalie was in the closing chapter of this book. How she dealt with that and what she relates about that are extraordinary and absolutely inspirational. It got me to pick up a pen again.
Natalie has always had a Zen slant to her writing and it is even more evident here. The connection between the disciplines of writing practice and meditation really struck home with me. Especially as it addresses the ultimate point of writing. While this book does deal with issues of structure (and I disagree strongly that this book is just for prose writers), it addresses more the spiritual and personal nature of writing. Why write? it dares us to ask. Why write at all? As usual, Natalie is challenging our basic beliefs of ourselves and particulary ourselves as writers. Why do *you* write? This book will inspire you to seek the answer to that fearsome question for yourself.
I am indebted to Natalie for constantly opening herself up to an unknown and naturally critical audience. She does sound older and wiser here and that gives me pause too. It goes back to the fundemental question -- why write? This is not a writing instruction book per se, you can visit her previous books for help in that area. This book is something beyond that. Something almost intangible. I was deeply moved by the book and tremendously inspired. Thank you Natalie for giving so fully yet once again.
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on August 2, 2000
While this book is essentially a memoir of Natalie's life as a writer, there are tangible, useful clues plus decent and practical advice about how to move your writing to a higher level. True fans should appreciate this book as it represents a deep meditation of a honest and hardworking writer's mind.
Like her earlier books on writing, this one again delivers in a series of essays, divided into three distinct sections. Considering the wide territory she attempts to cover, the chapters end up forming a more cohesive story than before.
Believe it or not, Natalie is on to something here. To find the roadmap that is the promise of this book, you have to read carefully and not skim the pages looking for them. I recommend highlighting or bookmarking these passages so you can go back to them. Just "Like Writing Down the Bones" and "Wild Mind," the ultimate lesson here is to take her advice and carve your own path.
What I liked best about "Thunder & Lightning" is how Natalie walks us through her journey as a writer. Like me, she started with no idea on how to write and made many attempts that lead nowhere. Although she occasionally covers old territory, there's a terrific and inspiring lesson here about what it takes to be a writer.
Natalie also reveals her internal dialogue in dealing with her editors and bravely shows us the editorial revisions to original sentences from her various manuscripts. This should give anyone struggling with the writing process some measure of hope and consolation.
I was a bit stymied when she advises *two* full years of regular writing practice to break through instead of the year she suggests in her second book. I wished she had explained why she's upped the ante.
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on May 15, 2001
I hear a lot of negative things about this book; mostly that it's not as good as her first two on writing. But I think it's just as strong--it just needs to be read from a certain perspective. Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind are wonderful books, especially for the beginning writer, who needs lots of exercises to get started. But I think it's equally wonderful to read Thunder & Lightning and see how Natalie Goldberg's thoughts on writing are changing as she grows as a writer. I read this book when it first came out, and I didn't really understand what she was trying to say. Recently I read it again and I understood perfectly her thoughts on writing within a structure and persevering despite the fears that writers come up against over and over, even after years of good writing. Don't be too quick to dismiss this book.
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on August 4, 2000
Natalie Goldberg fans will be very happy with this book! In true Natalie style, the book unfolds as part memoir, part writing manual, and part essay on writing. Natalie could've chosen to simply write in "textbook style". However, this book is better than that. She gives sage advice on what to do once you feel comfortable with writing practice. And she tells you where she is on the path to writing.
One thing I really love about the style of this book is that she doesn't simply lay the lessons out like you are back in grammar school learning everything by rote memorization. Instead, she takes you on the journey of how she learned each of the lessons herself -- which I think makes them more personal and more meaningful. She interviews her writer friends to learn how they find structure in their books as well as their methods of working. And you follow along as she struggles to understand plot.
It is a fascinating glimpse into the world of writing -- both the successes and failures. This is a book to come back to again and again. It's packed with rich insight and practical exercises. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves Natalie Goldberg!
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on August 3, 2000
I read Natalie Goldberg's Wild Mind in 1992 and it changed the way I wrote. Since I was an impressionable 17 she has had a huge influence in my writing and I have made sure to purchase each of her books as they come out. I ordered this book without really knowing that it was for novel writers (I'm a poet) and I found it dissapointing. Natalie sounds tired and unhappy throughout the book. She starts out with a warning about how writing will not bring happiness to your life. Gone is the voice that told us that through writing we could connect with our world differently and digest our lives and make ourselves whole. We don't hear about the energy in writing practice and in being awake and aware. In short, the whole thing was a real downer. Also, the book is 218 pages instead of the 384 that amazon says it is. A short book for the price. On the good side, writers of novels and stories may benefit from this book. It has some good info on character development and dealing with editors. I would recommend getting it from a library even if you are a big Goldberg fan like myself.
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on October 13, 2006
I'm not just a writer, I'm a reader and collector of books. And I've collected and read a lot of books on writing over the course of my almost forty years of life. It seems to me that books on writing generally fall into about three categories: 1) reference material, such as the classic _Elements of Style_ by Strunk and White, or _On Writing Well_ by William Zinsser; 2) Exercise books, that give you a short bit of instruction or inspiration and then have exercises to prompt your writing, such as _The Artist's Way_ by Julia Cameron, or _So You Want To Write A Novel_ by Lou Willet Stanek; and 3) Writers on writing, such as Anne Lamott's wonderful _Bird by Bird_ or Stephen King's _On Writing_ or Annie Dillard's _The Writing Life_ (all of which I recommend).

Well, _Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer's Craft_ combines the best elements of 2) and 3) in that it is very much Natalie Goldberg writing about how Natalie Goldberg writes, and yet it is also an exploration of techniques and structures and elements of fiction. While there aren't any specific exercises or writing prompts, one could certainly sit down after reading any chapter and do some "writing practice" on the subject talked about in that chapter. Topics covered include structure in fiction, plot, getting inside your character's skin, not distancing yourself emotionally from your fiction, the importance of writing practice in writing fiction, how having a mentor and other writing friends can be helpful in moving you forward and keeping you going when you want to give up.

I found this book to be enormously helpful, and frankly much more useful than some of her other work on writing. Although I do own a copy of _Writing Down the Bones_, it was a bit too spacey for me to really digest. And though I tried to read _Wild Mind_, it also was a bit too far out for me. But this book, _Thunder and Lightning_, really struck me almost like the title. Clear, bright, and grounded, this book is amazing and I highly recommend it.
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I really loved Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, and I like this newest Natalie Goldberg book, too. But something's changed, and the subtitle her publishers have used ("Cracking Open the Writer's Craft") is misleading, to say the least.
One of my favourite things about Goldberg's writing, especially in Writing Down the Bones, was the way she -- unlike most authors on writing -- refused to either mince or waste words.
In that book, her approach to each chapter was one of "get in, make your point, get out." When you take a Flintstones vitamin, it doesn't matter if you get Wilma or Barney, or orange or purple -- you're still getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. Same thing with Writing Down the Bones. Crack it open at any point, read any chapter, and you'll still come away immeasurably enriched.
Don't get me wrong -- I still enjoy Goldberg's writing. But I don't get that "enriched" feeling from Thunder and Lightning. She doesn't really spend as much time on "the writer's craft" as she does on her often rambling reminiscences.
If you're interested in the journey of one particular writer, this is an excellent book. But it shouldn't be billed as a book on craft. For that, there are better books out there, perhaps foremost among them Goldberg's own earlier work.
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on October 24, 2006
I love this book! I love Natalie Goldberg! I have listened to "Thunder and Lightening" two times already while taking my afternoon walks (what luxury), and I can't wait to get that headset on.

Natalie writing in the coffee shops- eating chocolate, hanging out at the library and bookstores--Natalie's valuable insights into the writing life is electifying and invigorating and inspiring; she actually makes us believe we can all write--

Natalie thought writing would give her everything--but she admits it did not. One needs to incorporate something more, and for Natalie, that something more was the teaching of Zen. I have yet to know a writer who does not have "that something more." Because after all, the writing flows from something other than the mind--doesn't it?

Writing Practice---Writing Practice---Writing Practice

Will this make us essayists, poets, novelists? Natalie Goldberg says it will. If you don't believe it, stop writing. If you do believe it, write until you crack open, and the words flow into the world like a gift.

NOW GO ON YOUR WALK and become inspired. Forget walking with a friend and walk with Natalie! You will not be disappointed!!!!
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Natalie Goldberg has published one novel, a book of poems, and half a dozen books about writing. Is she case of "those who can't do, teach?" I wondered myself, until I listened to audiotapes of this book on a long cross-country drive. Once I got past the author's accent, which deterred even this ex-New Yorker, I found sparkling gems of wisdom that shone more brightly on a second read-around. The hardcover edition was even better.
Like all Goldberg's nonfiction, this book is a series of short essays and memoirs, which can be read randomly, but I recommend taking the chapters in order. Goldberg begins by throwing cold water on a dream. Writing won't bring you a living, a solution to life's problems, a bowl of raspberries. Writing is, after all, just writing.
Natalie herself was not an overnight success. The author's mother encouraged her to get a teaching credential because "you can write in the summers." Young Natalie taught elementary school, worked in a restaurant, and briefly ran a catering business. At twenty-six she discovered zen practice, which transformed her life and literally gave shape to her writing. After thirteen years of "writing practice," she published her first book, a small-press release that became an unlikely best-seller.
Thunder and Lightning offers wonderful glimpses of Goldberg's famous writing workshops as well as the way she wrote her one novel, Banana Rose. Anyone who has tried to create can understand the need for a practice, getting past a "block" and taking criticism in stride. You have to find a way to go on and if you do, the work takes on a life of its own.
As Goldberg says, in perhaps the most important insight of this book, readers are fascinated by process. Books about writing often out-sell the products of writing -- novels and poems. And that is why her own books are so successful.

Thunder and Lightning is the real deal. Zen practice gives the author a genuine spiritual foundation, not a cosmetic cover-up. In writing about writing she touches on careers, vocation, family, opening up the self to growth. In the end, Thunder and Lightning is not about writing. It's about life.
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on July 11, 2004
I have read one other of Natalie's books and at one point during that first book, I was a bit put off by the journal-style, flow-of-consciousness writing. At the time, I was searching for a quick fix or perhaps I just wanted nuts-and-bolts direction. And sometimes, encountering a lot of chatter over a writer's psyche, I do want to say, "Oh what's with all the melodrama? Just tell the wanna-be that they need to be damned good story-tellers and be done with it!"
But then, Natalie Goldberg practices Zen meditation. She grew up in the 60s, too, a time when inner musings were given their due in the public forum of Hippie-dom. And if you know anything about Eastern philosophies, you should at least garner that patience is a virtue and that you are not reading Strunk and White.
Anyway, after a chapter or two, Natalie began to discuss exactly the problem I was having with my novel, a problem I'd just begun to point out to myself but still wasn't quite sure what it entailed. And then Natalie described herself in the same place at one time. Problem: stalling in one's story because the writer is trying too damned hard to control the characters, who they are, etc. It helped, exceedingly, to learn her explanation for it.
The same thing occurred in the next chapter, and the next.
I've read many how-to writing books over the years ( you can put off writing indefinitely so long as you got something to read) and that I came across this book at this time could be deemed one of those little coincidences. These may have been some obscure how-to questions; not every writer may ask and another author might have brushed past them.
So don't knock the Zen. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
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