Thursday, July 4, 2013

"The True Secret of Writing," by Natalie Goldberg

Almost any writer, or would-be writer, of the past twenty-five years has read or at least knows of Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones.” That book is a guide for writers, but more than that, it is a guide for life. Goldberg has written many books since then; her new book, “The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language” (Atria, 2013), is a kind of update of her first book. The organizing structure of her book is recounting how she runs her “True Secret of Writing” intensive workshops, which are also retreats in the tradition of Zen Buddhism as interpreted by Goldberg, a longtime Zen student who is also influenced by her Jewish heritage. These retreats are held in Taos, New Mexico, and are Goldberg’s own amalgam of meditation, walking, hiking, doing simple chores, keeping silence for big lengths of time, reading, speaking, and of course writing. Two boiled-down summaries of Goldberg’s directions are “Sit. Walk. Write” and “Shut up and write” (stop putting it off, and do it – advice that I, for one, sorely need to follow!). There are many examples of how the days go, and stories of individual attendees, some of whom have become longtime friends of Goldberg’s. Along the way we get excerpts from some of the author’s favorite books and poetry (an eclectic selection, also listed in a useful appendix), as well as from her students’ writing. Although Goldberg’s students mainly write fiction or memoir, and I mainly write academic articles and books, I found much inspiration and even useful specific suggestions in this book. But more useful than anything specific was an immersion in the life of writers, and Goldberg’s bedrock belief in the power of writing. I am not tempted to do one of her workshops or retreats (all that sitting with my legs crossed and meditating…I admire those who do it, but it is probably not for me…), but I am glad I read the book, and feel I both learned from it and was inspired and energized by it.

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