This is not only a great book for the quality of the writing that captures the imagination from page one, it's also a rich source of inspiration and guidance to other writers. While Goldberg's previous books Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind opened up the actual process of writing and how to connect to the raw energy of our creative minds, Thunder & Lightning leads us on to the craft of channeling that energy to form structure and narrative.
The spirit of her earlier work is still very much in evidence however, as Goldberg refuses to offer an intellectual formula for churning out a novel, poem or memoir and remains true to her philosophy that writing has a life and a direction of its own, if only we get out of its way. "Don't think and plot too much. Surrender to the structure of the mind and it will give you much more freedom. We don't know where we're going: Trust the rise and fall." This liberating approach inspires confidence in me as a writer that I have the internal resources to "navigate the story as though it were a ship in deep water, a whale in the ocean currents, a dream under our sleep."
The appeal for me in Thunder and Lightning lies in Goldberg's talent for bringing her lessons home not through dry point-by-point instruction, but by sharing her personal experiences. Through anecdotes and reflections she recounts her internal struggles with the writing process, the knots she's encountered when writing books and how she managed to unravel them, the writers she has studied to deepen her own understanding of the art of writing, the people, places and situations that she has learned from. Her stories are delivered with such candour, depth and immediacy that they pulled me in by the guts. At times the writing is movingly soulful, at times it shook me awake with its high voltage intensity. It's also very funny in places. I didn't want to finish the book, but once I had I realised that as well as enjoying the journey, I'd also absorbed a lot of valuable insights about the process of writing and publishing, and about what it means to me personally to be a writer.
Three separate sections cover the subjects of Structure, Reading and Editing. The first plunges into the mysterious process of shaping plot and character, or rather letting them unfold organically from the material. Having been fired up by the ideas presented in the Structure section, I thought the Reading section might prove a little dull. I was wrong. Goldberg's descriptions of her relationship with books by writers like William Styron and Leslie Marmon Silko demonstrated how to get under the skin of other authors and learn from their work. It made me want to read or reread the books she discussed. The Editing section explores with gritty humour and pragmatism this important element of writing that many of us get unstuck on. How to refine the writing and stay receptive to necessary changes? How to take feedback and not get hung up on rejection or criticism? Goldberg doesn't pretend it's easy, and she's also realistic about the difficulties of getting published. But then she consistently approaches writing as a mirror of our spiritual and human path - we hit the same obstacles in writing that we hit as humans just trying to live our lives. Her passion for the task at hand and her compassionate encouragement for those of us compelled to attempt it is evident throughout.