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The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language Paperback – February 11, 2014
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“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)
“Goldberg does everything she can to get across what needs to be conveyed to others. Time and mortality perfume her writing, as well as the sweetest kind of perseverance, not just with teaching but with life itself. As I read, I kept thinking of the old Chan teachers: 'If you didn't get it that way, what about this? Or this? Or this?' That bottomless generosity flows through Goldberg’s instruction even during the times of doubt.” (Joan Sutherland)
“This is Goldberg at her quintessential best, sharing her deep personal history and lifelong experience with writing and teaching… Goldberg doesn’t shy away from the human condition…urges the writer to use all this as fodder… Again and again she pins the reader in the moment with sensuous details of the physical world… She showers us with a cornucopia of words that all point to one essential thing: the silence out of which they were born…” (Book Chat)
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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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.
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.
To truly judge this book, one has to do the exercises, which at this point I have mostly just read about. To really do it right, you need to set aside days for a mix of meditation and writing. She even gives the writing retreat workshop schedule, which starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 9 p.m. I doubt few people will actually end up doing this on their own. If you're like me, it more makes you want to take one of her retreats. There are, however, plenty of shorter exercises you can do. Some examples:
> For warm up, she has workshop participants sketch some everyday objects, as illustrator might do--except using words.
> Writing six word memoirs (for example (p 126 "My singing voice was never heard.")
> Exercises in observation, such as writing about the same café visited at the same time every day for a week.
But exercises or no exercises, I find the greatest value of The True Secret of Writing is from the inspiration and overall outlook the book offers. I believe approaching writing as a vehicle for truth seeking is the ultimate reason to write. Connecting that to a deeper practice and well of practices and thought is helpful for bolstering that dedication.
If you are looking for a formula to get rich quick by writing, then this is not the book for you. However, if writing is a habit you take with you throughout your life as a means of satisfaction and coping, then you will appreciate this addition to your library.