What I Learned From Reading ‘Living Color’ by Natalie Goldberg


Last week, Wednesday, I am pulling books from my studio shelves. Preparation to lead a writing workshop on Friday.

I pull down Living Color by Natalie Goldberg. I have had this book since 1997. Have read it through at least four times, and thumbed through it many times more. Inspiration, from writer to writer, from artist to artist.

I open the book and a piece of folded, loose leaf paper falls to the floor. I pick it up, open the page. In pencil, all caps, printed across the top margin, underlined, in my hand—what I learned from Natalie’s book ‘Living Color’.

Mystified. I don’t recall writing this. I did, obviously. After the first reading of Nat’s book, or the fourth. I sit down and read.

Here is Natalie’s wisdom distilled through mine, writer to writer, artist to artist:

‘Finish every piece, even when I think I just doomed it with my last marks or words. Take off from there into a different relationship with the drawing or the writing.

Nothing I ever create will hold that same intensity of joy I feel while I am creating it. The joy is inside me.

Trust and act on how I feel (my artist’s instinct).

Slow down and look.

If I really know a thing, it is there in my work whether I can see it or not.

Trust what comes out in the work. Sometimes the feelings in my body translate to the marks and words in my hand without thought in between.

When something has gone horribly wrong and I think I will never draw or write again because it is just too painful—do one more tiny piece without thinking, just because. Because I know this is my one true love, after all, anyways.

My writing feeds my drawing and vice versa. (My reading feeds both.) I need to play with one to do the work with the other.

Put in a piece of something, do it really well, and the audience will know the whole object, the whole story.

Looking at another artist’s drawing, and finding what calls to me, teaches me about myself (if I’m listening). This works for writing too.

Be willing to draw and write the worst junk in the Universe.

Go for the jugular, the scary, empty, cold, black space inside of me. That’s where the energy is.

Read Chapter 12 Beyond Form again.

Give all of it, empty myself, every time I create.

Always from my heart, not my head.’

And there it is. All that wisdom pencilled onto one piece of dog-eared loose leaf paper, folded into a book, I don’t remember when, and put away on the shelf. And then last week, in time for the workshop I will lead on Friday, this wisdom falls into my hand to remind me what it is that I love and how to love it. So that I can remind the writers in my workshop on Friday what it is that they love, too, and how to love it. Thank you Natalie.

Now I am going to go do one of the things I wrote to myself on that sheet of paper. I am going to read Chapter 12 Beyond Form. Again


In this post:

Natalie Goldberg, Living Color: Painting, Writing, and the Bones of Seeing, published by ABRAMS, NY, 2014.  I  also have (yes, I have both editions) an earlier edition of this book, published in 1997 by Bantam , titled Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World.  This 1997 edition is the one that held my folded paper, and it’s the one I have read four times.  I am reading my new edition for the first time.     http://nataliegoldberg.com/

Let's talk.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.