Sit. Walk. Write. These are the barest bones of Natalie Goldberg’s revolutionary writing and life practice, which she presents here in book form for the first time. A whole new slant on writing that she developed since the publication of her classic Writing Down the Bones, True Secret workshops have been limited until now to small, intensive groups at a remote center in the rural Southwest. In The True Secret of Writing, Goldberg makes this popular seminar available to any reader.
The True Secret is for everyone, like eating and sleeping. It allows you to discover something real about your life, to mine the rich awareness in your mind, and to ground and empower yourself. Goldberg guides you through your own personal or group retreat, illuminating the steps of sitting in silent open mind, walking anchored to the earth, and writing without criticism. Just as Goldberg cuts through her students’ resistance with her no-nonsense instruction—“Shut up and write”—the True Secret cuts to the core of realizing yourself and your world.
The capstone to forty years of teaching, The True Secret of Writing is Goldberg’s Zen boot camp, her legacy teaching. Stories of Natalie’s own search for truth and clarity and her students’ breakthroughs and insights give moving testament to how brilliantly her unique, tough-love method works. Beautiful homages to the work of other great teachers and observers of mind, life, and love provide further secrets and inspiration to which readers will return again and again.
In her inimitable way, Goldberg will inspire you to pick up the pen, get writing, and keep going. The True Secret of Writing will help you with your writing—and your life.
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: nataliegoldberg.com
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 tangledupinbob.com.
Goldberg has been a serious Zen practitioner since 1974 and studied with Katagiri Roshi from 1978 to 1984.
At first I thought this book was a bit to new-age zenny for me…was I wrong. The author talks about meditation, reading workshops, walking, sitting, authors she has worked with and everyday folks like you and me. She talks about writing and how it is in you and you need to get it out and write.
Writing can be therapeutic and cathartic. I feel that way about writing and was surprised how much I enjoyed reading about what another writer thinks and feels. You do not have to be published to be a writer. We all have something to say and even if we are the only ones who read it….write it….write it and love what you wrote. Write about life, love, hurts, dreams, whatever you want.
I think anyone who writes will love this book. So much information and so much to love about this book and writing, if you want to write…read this book. If you do write…read this book. I plan to share this book with other writers I know and I hope they enjoy it as much as I did.
Loved it. This is not a straight up writing book like Goldberg's excellent Writing Down the Bones. It is more like a conversation, a long ride across country with Goldberg and some of her friends. If you are a fan, you will tolerate and even adore some of her borderline stream of consciousness chapters. Zen, poetry, life, death. It's all here. And after the long road trip, you will need to stretch your legs. Then, get out your notebook and your special pens, or keyboard, and Shut up and write. So many lovely words that can be chiseled down to just four, Shut up and write.
Not really what I was looking for, but perhaps something I needed all the same. The book is in four sections.
1) Basic essentials: The ground of being
What Zen is; how Goldberg practices Zen; what practice is
2) True Secret Retreat Essentials
"the nitty gritty of a formal True Secret Retreat." i.e. the physicality, routine, and tasks of the Zen retreats Goldberg runs
Writing exercises from the retreats, with Goldberg's reflections. Examples are; six word memoirs, textual sketches of familiar things, writing in a cafe and writing overheard conversations, lists. These are thoughtful and creative exercises, and Goldberg's observations are fresh and intriguing.
4) Encounters and Teachers
Short essays about Goldberg's experiences as a writer, her thoughts on authors she has read, and students she has taught. Goldberg's student Gwen made me cry.
On first reading I only enjoyed the second half of the book, but the more I think about the idea of mindful practice the more I realize I can learn a lot from the first section, too.
This book is for "Goldbergians," those who have read all of her books and have attended workshops with her, none of which I've ever done. Her method sounds interesting: Sit (in meditation), walk (mindfully), write (in short 10-minute bursts of "free writing," responding to a prompt she comes up with). I felt like an "outsider," even a voyeur. It seems that almost all of her students are middle-aged (or older), rich white women. At points I was inspired, at other times bored. I was intrigued by her bringing zen into the craft of writing. But I was not brought into her circle. I'm glad that I read the book, but I wish that I had first read _Writing Down the Bones_.
This is not really a book about writing, it leans more in the direction of memoir. I like Natalie Goldberg, however I wasn't crazy about this book. There is a lot of white space on the pages; one word lists, meaningless schedules and quotes by authors. In other words a lot of filler. The book starts out by stressing the importance of consistent practice and discipline(a good thing). In Part 2 the focus shifts to Natalie's True Secret of Writing Workshops. She talks about writing exercises, but mostly about her writing. In the chapter about a week of writing in a cafe, she includes her daily attempts at non-judgmental observation. I hate to be judgmental, but I guess you had to be there...very boring. We get biographies of the participants and some thoughts on Japanese poets, Hemingway and zen practice. Towards the end of the book a few good things emerge, such as questions about the importance of writing. There is a lot of meandering in this book. I had to push myself to finish reading. It took a very long time to get to Natalie's most adamant piece of advice, which is "shut up and write".
Another book by the wonderful Natalie Goldberg on writing. Many interesting exercises and her usual blend of the creative process combined with Zen practice. And as always, I felt inspired by Goldberg and frequently stopped my reading to go write.
"Shut up, and write," her four words of wisdom and advice to writers. I hope I can put this into practice on a more regular basis.
Her sharing about the death of a friend and student, her sharing of thoughts about death and Zen writings about it, were unsettling, painful, and also oddly hopeful.
Like her classic Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (which it is definitely time for me to re-read), this is a book I feel I can turn to for inspiration and comfort. Reading Goldberg is like listening to a very wise and loving friend.
Also, I romanticize New Mexico incredibly anyway (only increased by my visits there) so that part of her books further enhances the experience for me.
I think Natalie Goldberg really wanted to write a book about how to practice Buddhism and lead a Zen-filled life, but thought that since her claim to fame is for writing books about writing she had to tie this book to writing as well. As someone who is interested in the art of writing but not so much in Buddhism, this is the worst sort of navel-gazing and I am disappointed and feel like I was conned.
Just bought hardcopy of Natalie Goldberg's The True Secret of Writing. I love every word! A treasure! I don't know what it is about Natalie Goldberg's writing but there is just something in her words that triggers a need in me to pick up a pen and write stuff down. Whatever the magic is, it works for me. Thanks Natalie!
I enjoyed reading this, though reading it after Writing Down the Bones, it pales a bit. Still, I appreciated the nuts and bolts information about how Goldberg organizes writing retreats based on meditation retreats. I definitely want to try such an approach to both meditation and writing.
Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones, was the first book I read about writing. How easy this is! I thought. It set me on the road to daily writing, a road I’ve walked every day for over thirty years.
How could I resist Goldberg’s latest, The True Secret of Writing? I could not. And I’m glad I couldn’t. Chatty, with the same confident voice as Writing Down the Bones, and filled with little anecdotes that emphasize the ease and worth of writing, The True Secret of Writing is an excellent book for anyone who writes.
Lovely, earnest, peaceful. Excellent reading guide in Appendix I. I've been flirting with meditation as a way to address anxiety and claustrophobia - I hadn't considered how it may benefit me as a writer. I loved her exploration of Hemingway's value as a writer. It seems fashionable nowadays to diss his writing. More's the pity. Don't look for any great revelations here-this isn't a writing how-to. It's a meditation on the writing life.
There is so much good in Natalie's work and being. I enjoyed her voice and ideas in this book, and loved reading about Mabel Dodge where I have also taught writing for 11 years, and in the end I was left a bit underwhelmed by the book. If you are a huge fan, read this, if not, read her earlier works especially Writing Down the Bones and Long Quiet Highway. If you wish to retreat with Natalie, read this to get an idea of the tone of her retreats and what to expect.
"Life is not a commodity and is not singular but full of diversity." (p.ix)
"Including writing practice in your daily life cits through repetitious, obsessive thinking. Writing down those scenarios, pouring out your immediate thoughts on the page, either wipes them out- they're said, done, expressed- or helps you make sense of them, integrating them into your synapses and muscles." (p.xii)
"'When we listen to each other read, we are studying mind. Not good or bad,' I say. We get to hear the burning, roving thoughts of the people we are sitting with. Reading and listening brings us out of ourselves and we feel relief. We are not crazy. Others have all these wild thoughts, too. Sharing opens compassion and alleviates isolation. I am not alone." (p.xiii)
"Literature tells us something real about our lives and reveals an aspect of awake, alive mind." (p.xiv)
"To find your writer's voice is to find your spine; it is to connect your breath of inspiration to the world's breath." (p.xvi)
"It is lay Zen; sitting and then stepping out into the suffering of the world- of Auschwitz, the Congo, Native Americans, your friends and family. It is also catching a taste of joy- and lucky fun- that are possible." (p.xvii)
"I know the important part is to keep showing up, not the 'where' I get to. To slow walk, to keep meditation practice. Most of all I am reminded to let go. To let go of self-judgement. All people have something of value to voice." (p.xvii)
"We think of it as no big deal, we who are lucky to be literate. Slaves were forbidden to learn to read or write. Slave owners were afraid to think of these people as human. To read and to write is to be empowered. No shackle can ultimately hold you." (p.3)
"Some people know at an early age they want to write; for some it is obvious to everyone else- usually they are mad for reading- but it takes a long time for the understanding to bleed through to them." (p.6)
"To know this groundless truth and yet not to become desolate, disillusioned, fatalistic. To come right up against the emptiness of the notion of a solid self, a solid existence, a solid thought, and be willing to taste its true transitory nature. There is nothing to hold on to." (p.13)
"Death comes to all of us. Each situation is different, but it comes. The suffering comes when we don't accept death. The pain is real...the suffering comes when we fight the naked ache, try to push it away, make it different than it is." (p.15)
"We don't know when our death will come. To understand this is to make our breath more vital. We are alive now. How good it is to breathe." (p.15)
"Let the world come home to you." (p.18)
"It's good to do ridiculous things. Please, not on the highway." (p.19)
"Take encouragement from whatever is around you." (p.25)
"You don't *do* happiness. You receive it. It's like a water table under the earth. Available to everyone but we can only tap it, have it run up through us, with our stillness. A well that darted around could never draw water." (p.32)
"...her therapist said 'Enjoy your grief. You'll miss it when it's gone.' Can you imagine that? To be in the heart of your life whatever your heart holds." (p.34)
"Our lives are not linear. We get lost, then we get found. Patience is important, and a large tolerance for our mistakes. We don't become anything overnight." (p.38)
"Struggling with something, failing has great effect- a gap opens, you realize you don't know everything- a little emptiness forms where you can receive something." (p.40)
"...we established a different slant to practice other than "practice makes perfect": It's something you choose on a regular basis with no vision of an outcome; the aim is not improvement, not getting somewhere. You do it because you do it. You show up whether you want to or not....That's ultimately what practice is: arriving at the front-and back door- of yourself. You set up to do something consistently over a long period of time- and simply watch what happens with no idea of good or bad, gain or loss. No applause-and no criticism." (p.41)
"But always remember as you learn this specific practice, that it is ot only for us. It is also beyond us- to stretch and extend us in service to the world." (p.57)
"You can fill your whole house with praise, with remembering, honoring, accepting, forgiving. No room anymore? We have to go live outside in nature, its own great altar." (p.61)
"Meditating is not an opportunity to be holy or to zone out, but to wake up even if it's to awaken to the ache of the world..." (p.69)
"Concentrate on your own peace, then no one can disturb it." (p.79)
"You follow the trail of your life and eventually the path reveals itself." (p.90)
"You breathe the author's breath when you read the words aloud and you swim in their minds. That is how writing is passed on." (p.97)
"What is around you that can be seen? Look. Don't miss it. Right now in early autumn everything is giving itself up, ripe raspberries, last tomatoes, sunflowers, cosmos, squash, chilies, soft air, a slight twtch of cold in the early morning hour before the sun rises, a smell of winter if you turn your head quickly at the corner, vines clinging for the last moment. Everything rising up to meet us. Don't turn your back. Be here, even when it aches. Acknowledge what has been given." (p.104)
"For most of us, 'awake' isn't even a quality we look for. We are busy with earning a living, getting good grades, anticipating spring break. Awake is another country; yet it's our job to recognize that country, to realize love of place can be a beginning point, a reflecting back, a map of our longing and hope." (p.113)
"There are many ways to meditate. Whatever opens us, softens the heart, makes us alive to this human world and helps us to bear it is our path." (p.172)
"Freedom is not rejection, a getting away, but rather a resolution, the sand of our cells settles right down where we are." (p.184)
"One heart, two gates. When you touch the depths, your life opens in two directions: personal liberation and a need to help the world." (p.188)
"That's how we learn writing, not through intellectualization, but we write through the whole body. Practice is transmitted physically." (p.189)
"What was I doing? Living harder for both of us. But nothing helped. Because I wanted to help her, not myself. What else can one do when someone is dying? It's the hardest of all to sit there and let life and death happen no matter how hard you rail or what you cook." (p.199)
"I have been pregnant with zero and because of that I could not write." (p.219)
"Please, join the ranks of the tried and true. Become a person of peace. When you practice, you stop causing trouble for everyone else." (p.223)
Maybe it is age, but the older I get the more Natalie Goldberg's books about writing agree with me. While I suggest her _Writing Down the Bones_ to young writers who are looking for inspiration, this one I would recommend to older writers or older would-be writers who have been putting writing off for later. In this book, Goldberg talks a lot about impermanence and the need not to postpone the things you really want to do because life is short.
I recommend this book for anyone looking for a reason to write sooner rather than later.
This is one of my favorite Natalie Goldberg books. She discusses the essentials of retreats - silence, sitting, slow walking, and writing. In this collection of essays, she gives suggestions for reaching deeper and shares some of the writers who have influenced her. The chapter which affected me the most was the one about Gwen, a former student, who was dying of cancer. In Gwen's last few months, she started writing which gave her energy and peace. Gwen's advice to all was - "live every single minute" and "if there is something you want to do, do it now." When I finished this book, I was energized and eager to pick up my pen again.
Based on the book jacket blurb, I had different expectations for the content of this book. It states: "The True Secret is for everyone, like eating and sleeping. It allows you to discover something real about your life, to mine the rich awareness in your mind, and to ground and empower yourself." The basis of Goldberg's system is a silent Zen-based retreat in which you "sit, walk, write". The focus of the retreats is on delving into your inner mind to decide how to write about it. There seems to be little or no nuts and bolts advice on how to write, i.e. how to structure your story, how to organize transitions, how to write dialogue, etc.
Goldberg believes that everyone should write and that her job is to spread the writing gospel. In the chapter titled "What is Writing Practice", she lists what to do: 1) keep your hand moving, 2) feel free to write the worst junk in America, 3) be specific, and 4) lose control. This as close as she comes to giving pragmatic writing advice in this book.
Goldberg also states that "practice awakens the force in us." She believes that through a commitment to the continuous practice of writing, we can awaken the inner muse and perfect the craft of writing. A lot of the book is devoted to describing how her retreats work - the zen-like practice of "sit, walk, write". Apparently, this system really works for some, as she claims to have many return customers. I'm just not convinced that it would work for me, and found most of those sections of the book rather boring, so I skimmed through. In the chapter titled "Write with the Whole Body", she says "...in the middle of a silent retreat, where we had been sitting for a good part of the morning,..." This isn't writing, this is just silent meditation. By this point in the book (p. 189), I had concluded that the book is more about meditation than writing. If I wanted to learn about meditation practices, I would have sought out a book on that subject !
I've been reading "how to" writing books off and on for years, and from each I'm usually draw a few tidbits of practical advice. I did get a bit of advice from this book, but certainly didn't find my "true secret". Nevertheless, I'm sure this system of retreats based on sitting, walking and writing will work for some. There are many ways to unleash the writer within all of us, which is why there are so many writing guides out there. Comment Comment | Permalink
I could not put this down. It actually inspired me to acquire some notebooks and start writing my thoughts in them. I've wanted to write a memoir for a long time, but more importantly I need space in my mind to think again. A lifetime of trauma has changed me and I know I have things to say that could help others navigate their own traumatic experiences. But I'm not ready to put it all together, which is why this book is so important to me. It provides a method which will, over time, allow our thoughts to find their way to the page and in turn heal us. Or me. The basic premise is sit, walk, write. Be present, reduce noise or consider practicing silence. Listen to the natural world, pay attention. Sitting means to meditate, something I've done in the past but stopped doing as my world fell apart. My thoughts are too painful and I did not want to think them. Walking means to get up, and walk mindfully, gently, feeling each step and focusing on the movement. It's like meditation but in motion. Write is exactly what it sounds like. Just write. Write about anything and everything.
Written 25 years after “writing down the bones’ it is far more concerned with death and growing old, which is understandable as the author is in her sixties now. She lost her mentor a long time ago but now she writes of her experience losing family, friends, lovers and students. Typically, one student leaves it until she is dying of cancer to write her book. [My procrastination hears that, I tell ya.] It’s filled with beautiful writing, short zen poems and small bubbles of her life. The second part details the steps (one in each section) that she puts a class through in her ‘true secret’ writing retreats. They are zen based - it is the central tenet of her life. Along with words of course. The third part lists writing exercises. The six word memoirs really hit me.
24 addresses but still no home
Ouch. Inspiring, touching and heartfelt, it was a lovely read. And the list of books to read before retreats is a power list of literature. 5 stars
I will preface this review by saying that I really enjoyed Natalie Goldberg's book "Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within" and have recommended it to other friends that write. This book left me with a completely different feeling. I think the moment when I really wanted to stop reading was the moment I read the line:
"Each week that I teach I place on the altar a photo of Shiki, the great Haiku writer, an invalid, who dragged himself to the the edge of the tatami mat, overlooking his garden, where he sat all day wating to receive a Haiku"
The jarring use of the word "invalid" in a book published in 2013 which purports to be about both the importance of writing (and by extension language use) mixed with Zen Buddhism left me suddenly cold. I persevered to extract any useful writing activities but as a person with a disability there is something intensely offensive about the term and put me off the book entirely.
Not a writing manual in the way of the classic Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, but I find Goldberg's voice like a cool cloth on a fevered brow. I read a chapter each day at lunch and felt my blood pressure drop as I was reminded why I do this writing thing.
Natalie Goldberg has a way of making you feel like you've attended a therapy session and a creative writing class in one sitting. She has so many useful, freeing insights on life and how to capture your existence. The Zen aspect of the book was hit or miss with me depending on the chapter. Sometimes her message was lost on me, but she assures the reader that the evasive nature of Zen practice is normal and it's only human of us not to feel "it" at all times--and it's the same with writing. She just wants to open your mind to the possibility of that moment of magic, when your inner, real self suddenly steps into the light.
One of the main things I'm taking from this book is breaking through the resistance. Natalie says, "Do it. In the face of all inner--and outer--resistance and opposition, just write. Pick up the pen and face yourself." It's that hard and that easy. This goes along with my breakthrough I had about the term "writing practice". Natalie sums it up, "It's something you choose to do on a regular basis with no vision of an outcome; the aim is not improvement, not getting somewhere. You do it because you do it. You show up whether you want to or not". How freeing is that? How inconsequential yet momentous. She's so convincing. If anything, Natalie has made me realize that devotion is will over emotion (I view religion the same way). You do not write only when you feel like it, just as you should not worship God and pray only when you feel like it. If you are devoted to your craft, to your God, to your mind, to your religion, you will show up and practice regardless of your emotions or your laziness or your appetite. You do it because you've committed to it. So here's to breaking through the laziness of being a human being and holding tight to the glimmering, brighter things inside us and around us.
I should have known better after reading Writing Down the Bones. This book did not offer much different. It was also a mix of stream of consciousness and zen and contained tales of the author's writing retreats. Whilst it is always good to be mindful of what you are writing and how you get to your writing head space, this felt like 250 pages of repetition. I found it very boring and skimmed a lot of it because I simply was not interested in reading about the author's health problems or digestion issues, or that they managed to sit down and write for 20 mins each day for x amount of days, quoted like this for over a page:
Date: wrote for 20 mins. Date: skipped. Date: skipped. Date: wrote for 20 mins in a coffee shop. Date: went for a walk, sat and wrote for 25 mins. Date: skipped.
There were several scattered portions with examples of student's work during retreats, which I also found boring and a blab of words on a page. The kind of stuff you write during a practice and generally keep to yourself or to a class, not expect to see published. I did not enjoy reading about a random person's 5 min exercise writing about the word 'spoon' or a sardine tin. I suppose I should not be too judgmental, some people may enjoy that kind of thing, it just wasn't for me...again.
First of all, I LOVED "Old Friend from Far Away" by Natalie Goldberg. This one was really hard to get through. I guess ZEN isn't my thing. I walk down another path as a writer. My problem here was that the author was just too present. It felt like "look at me" or "look at how I do this" when her way was ambiguous to me and not very helpful (like in her other book). I don't feel like I learned a single thing. Rather, I read about how she tries to teach (without including the instruction part), so it was a pretty pointless read for me. I came away from the book feeling that this author leads a solitary and lonely life. It made me sad. It seems to me that if your identity is in writing alone. you forget to live and your words try too hard. I think living must come first, before you have something to write. This book felt empty to me, words for the sake of words.
I’m not sure that I gleaned much that was new, despite the promise on the back cover that the book reveals “a whole new method of writing.” If you’ve read Writing Down the Bones, I’m pretty sure you’ve got a handle on Goldberg’s core approach to writing. In this book, she adds sitting, walking and reading. I don’t tend to respond well to people structuring my life for me, so I ignored most of the info about how to organize a retreat, what to read, how to do slow walking, etc.
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the book. The new prompts are motivating, and I enjoy the sense of camaraderie I get from Goldberg’s anecdotes about writing. As always, I appreciated Goldberg’s thoughtful Buddhist-inspired way of looking at the transitory nature of everything and how much it matters anyway.