What the Meteorite Man Learned from Natalie Goldberg and John Thorndike

by Geoffrey Notkin

Author Geoff Notkin

I grew up in Greater London and attended a series of strict British public schools that were very heavy on English language and literature. As a result, I had writing skills literally beaten into me. At age thirty, after gaining extensive experience as a musician, artist and amateur scientist, I decided to pursue a writing career. Reading science fiction had always been an escape for me, during the oppressive British school years, so I initially started out in that genre. My first short story, “Return Post,” was published in the New York-based science fiction magazine “Off World” in early 1990s.

Natalie Goldberg’s book, “Writing Down the Bones,” was a great influence on me and I had the opportunity to study with her in Taos, New Mexico in 1995. Her advice to me was to employ a discipline similar to automatic writing, and quickly jot my thoughts down on paper without interruption. The purpose was to avoid becoming bogged down by worrying about form and construction while creating an initial draft. This was a revelation for me. My British school writing education had been stifling and detail oriented, with an emphasis on finding exactly the right word. As a result, I would get stumped, lose the flow, and become frustrated. In my writing I am still driven to find the perfect word, but now I typically obsess over such details during the editing phase, after the initial draft is complete. For me, writing is much like painting or playing music. There is an intuitive element, and it is vital to keep the mind open and receptive to the creative flow.

While studying with Natalie, I had the good fortune to meet novelist and memoir writer John Thorndike, who gave me some of the most important advice of my life. I felt an immediate connection with John, and he had, perhaps, the greatest influence upon me of any writer. John told me: “Everyone has a story to tell, everyone,” and by that he meant the personal narrative of one’s own life, rather than the invention of fictitious tales. John was intrigued by my life as a professional musician in the punk rock scenes of London, Boston and New York, and added: “But your story is more interesting than most. You should tell it.” I was so impressed by John’s passion as a speaker and writer that I immediately and permanently changed my direction. I never wrote another science fiction story.

John advised me to “Write about what you want to write about,” so my first published nonfiction pieces started appearing in a small press New York ’zine “Antimatters” in the 1990s. They chronicled my career as a musician in a series of lighthearted stories about the twilight world of struggling rock ’n’ rollers. I felt driven to describe the things I cared the most about, and so it was inevitable that I would also begin recording the international adventures that I embarked upon, in search of meteorites, fossils, and other wonders of the natural world. In 1998, my first science article was published in “Meteorite” magazine, and I realized that genre was my true calling. In such an arena, I could combine first person adventure narrative with my love of science. Having a venue for my articles only encouraged me to embark upon more and more challenging expeditions, so I would have something new and exciting for my readers.

Geoffrey Notkin is the author of “Rock Star: Adventures of a Meteorite Man” and “Meteorite Hunting: How to Find Treasure from Space.” A television host, professional meteorite hunter, science writer, photographer and owner of Aerolite Meteorites, Geoff stars on Science Channel’s award-winning TV show “Meteorite Men.” He has also made documentaries for National Geographic, Discovery, PBS, BBC, History Channel, A&E, and Travel Channel and has written more than 150 published articles on meteoritics, paleontology, adventure travel, history, and the arts.  The minor planet 132904, discovered at Mount Palomar, was named “Notkin” and approved by the Minor Planet Center in recognition of Geoffrey’s contributions to science and education.