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The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language Hardcover – March 19, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


“Many years ago my older brother gave me Writing Down the Bones with the inscription, ‘So write already!’ It was for me and for many readers a novel and fresh way to approach writing. I have delighted in Natalie’s books ever since and in her method, having had the chance to see her at work in Taos. The True Secret of Writing is a rich voyage, a priceless distillation of her accumulated wisdom and experience as a writer, coach, and instructor on mindfulness. This lovely volume will have a permanent place on my writing shelf.” (Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone)

"Heartfelt, funny, wise, pleading, calm, and ferocious, Natalie just makes you want to write!" (Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart)

“Natalie Goldberg has done the unthinkable, she has shared the secret teaching. The buddhas of time immemorial are rejoicing and the literary bodhisattvas are smiling in silent approval. Read this book, then write a revolutionary manifesto!” (Noah Levine, author of Dharma Punx)

"Beautifully written, informative, intriguing, and passionate, The True Secret of Writing is a book to be appreciated, read, and reread by the beginning writer as well as the published professional. Natalie captures the pulse and spirit of the writing life with pristine clarity." (Lee Gutkind, Editor, Creative Nonfiction, Author of You Can't Make This Stuff Up)

"A uniquely delivered Eastern Zen approach to writing....A pleasantly meditative intuitive writing guide." (Kirkus Reviews)

"A fresh practice for writing... rooted in the Zen tradition." -- Shambhala Sun (---)

“Goldberg’s observations — and guidance on how to conduct a sit, walk, write workshop on your own (with as few as two people) — are inspiring. Readers will be eager to find a café or a quiet room and get down to the business of knowing their writing, and by doing so knowing themselves more deeply.” (Santa Fe New Mexican)

About the Author

Natalie Goldberg is a poet, painter, teacher, and the author of twelve books, including her classic, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (which has sold more than 1.5 million copies) and Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. She has been teaching seminars for thirty-five years to people from around the world and lives in New Mexico. 

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; 1St Edition edition (March 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451641249
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451641240
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #329,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Natalie Goldberg lived in Brooklyn until she was six, when her family moved out to Farmingdale, Long Island, where her father owned the bar the Aero Tavern. From a young age, Goldberg was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Carson McCullers's The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, which she read in ninth grade. She thinks that single book led her eventually to put pen to paper when she was twenty-four years old. She received a BA in English literature from George Washington University and an MA in humanities from St. John's University.

Goldberg has painted for as long as she has written, and her paintings can be seen in Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World and Top of My Lungs: Poems and Paintings. They can also be viewed at the Ernesto Mayans Gallery on Canyon Road in Sante Fe.

A dedicated teacher, Goldberg has taught writing and literature for the last thirty-five years. She also leads national workshops and retreats, and her schedule can be accessed via her website:

In 2006, she completed with the filmmaker Mary Feidt a one-hour documentary, Tangled Up in Bob, about Bob Dylan's childhood on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota. The film can be obtained on Amazon or the website

Goldberg has been a serious Zen practitioner since 1974 and studied with Katagiri Roshi from 1978 to 1984.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Bill Gallagher on March 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As with Brenda Ueland's 1938 classic "If You Want to Write," The True Secret of Writing is a very accessible and inspiring guide for both novice and established writers. After forty years of teaching writing workshops, The True Secret of Writing is Natalie Goldberg's effort to recreate her workshop (which was previously only available to small groups) on the printed page. Like Ueland's work, Goldberg stresses that writing is first and foremost for the pleasure and satisfaction of the writer; how the reader receives it is secondary. Goldberg firmly believes that we all have the ability to be "real" writers. What we need to overcome is our resistance or as she puts it: "shut up and write."

Unlike Ueland's work, there is a spiritual element to Goldberg's approach. Echoing meditation retreats, her workshop participants take a vow of silence that eliminates idle chatter. Talking is for instructions and reading work out loud. But the overall silent background let's "our thoughts, memories, and feelings have a chance to come home to us." If you've done a meditation retreat before, the truth of this will immediately resonate with you.

The title of the book is something of a double entendre with a wink. That is no single secret to writing well, but yes, there also is--which is seeking the truth. And that's where the bigger spiritual piece comes in: using writing as a vehicle to help us find the truth, both our own and truth with a capital T. While Zen is a powerful influence on Goldberg's approach, she is clear this is not a sectarian affair. "This Book is Zen and Not Zen" (<which is of course very Zen). That said, I assume those who aren't interested in Buddhism will not so drawn to The True Secret of Writing.
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By John Thorndike on March 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've often thought of writing a book about my mother. (Among Natalie Goldberg's readers, I am surely not alone.) But I've been tossing the idea around without knowing where to start, what to cover, how to get moving. Here, in The True Secret of Writing, I discover the solution, delivered on a hundred platters and on the point of a hundred swords: Start writing and find out.

The practice of writing, Natalie Goldberg keeps telling us, is bound up with the practice of our lives. There is much about Zen Buddhism in these pages, about sitting and walking meditation---but all of it is tied to writing. From the first page of the Introduction I felt engaged. On p. 34 I found this quote from a therapist, counseling a woman whose husband had died: "Enjoy your grief. You'll miss it when it's gone." After that I thought about my mother on every page. "Try this," Goldberg says. "Write ten, ten-minute timed writings about your mother during a week's time." She said father, actually, but I instantly transposed it---and I knew then how I would start my project.

The True Secret of Writing is practical. There's something of a guidebook to it. The entire book drew me in, but the chapters at the end, in which the author pulls a friend's death around her like a robe, are transfixing. Like many others of my age, my parents have died, and now my friends are dying. Here is a book that explains what it means, that -shows- what it means, to write about this and every vital topic.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Hope Irvin Marston on June 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Through the years I've read several of Goldberg's how-to-think-and-write books. They are heavy on Zen Buddhism, but still give plenty of food for thought about the writing process for those of us who do not embrace Buddha. Though much of what Goldberg stresses is pretty intense for beginning writers, we all can profit by practicing her Big Three: Sit, Walk and Write prior to beginning a major project. The healthy dose of writing practices that are given will help us writers get onto the paper the same stories we have inside our heads.

I especially appreciated the chapter, "What is Practice?" as well as the reminder that we need to prepare well before beginning our first or thirty-first novel. I think she wrote in an earlier book that one should do writing practices for at least two years before attempting a major writing project. Too many self-published books appear to be closer to first drafts rather than refined manuscripts. Their authors have yet to learn to "shut up and write!"
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28 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on April 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are a follower or interested in Zen you will find this book interesting. For those of you who are not this book is not for you. The author provides almost no "nuts & bolts" advice on writing itself, but concentrates rather on Zen techniques to awaken creativity and expounds at length about her Zen based "True Secret of Writing" retreats held in various locations.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By RAMON MARTIN on May 30, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Natalie puts her life on the line in this book: her father, her teacher Katagiri, her dear town Taos, her love of chocolate, her seventy year old students, her friend who was about to die in a ranch, ... After I read the book, I started again to do zazen and I plan to do timed writing. I specially liked the chapters on the practice in general,on Ikkyu - a unusual monk, and on Dogen. The message I got from the book is that anybody can write, that I can also write as a practice.

This book is definitely a Jewel!!! Today I star to read it again!!!
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