kellyrfineman (kellyrfineman) wrote,

The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language by Natalie Goldberg

Over the past couple of months, I've been reading The True Secret of Writing by Natalie Goldberg, perhaps most famous for her book, Writing Down the Bones, which is on my bookshelf, but thus far unread. (I know, I know . . . I'm getting there.) It's not that the book requires that much time, but I had a habit of dipping into it before bed each night, reading a chapter or less each night. It was a good way to go, in my opinion.

In addition to writing memoir and writing books, Goldberg runs a lot of writing retreats, some of which she calls "True Secret" retreats. This book talks about a lot of things: what her workshops are like, what some of the people in those workshops are like, which poets Goldberg finds inspirational, what writing exercises she recommends (not in full, obviously, but there are a few in the book), and what it feels like to be Goldberg (there's a lot of it; it's hard for memoirists not to share, I think).

As Goldberg notes in the introduction while talking about the book's title, "Of course, no one possesses the one single true secret. If someone says he does, run for the hills. It's a dangerous idea. Life is not a commodity and is not singular but full of diversity." Interestingly, while Goldberg begins the book by admitting that the phrase "The True Secret of Writing" was something she came up with in a tongue-in-cheek way to tweak people who arrived late to her sessions, she does eventually share what she feels is the true secret, and it's communicated in just four words: "Shut up and write."

It's that simple, and that hard. As Goldberg explains, both in summary at the end and throughout the book, to get there, you have to put aside lots of things: fears and distractions, hubris and self-doubt. You have to know how to write, too - not just finding the right words, but waiting through any delay in their coming, sharing things that you might prefer to keep hidden, and more.

There were parts of the book for which I had little patience, such as the chapter with the heading "Dogen", and the title "Write with the Whole Body", and yet somewhere in there, after working through the parts that made me roll my eyes, which was largely quotes from Zen Master Dogen. He may be right, and I don't doubt it, but I couldn't handle it. And yet. She later shares a poem by Peter Levitt, a poet and Zen teacher, that made me catch my breath and want to write like that.

Definitely worthwhile overall, even if not every part of the book works well for you. Especially valuable is the reminder given by a dying friend to "live every single minute. You don't know how long you have." And "Two: if there is something you want to do, do it now, don't wait."

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Tags: book reviews, goldberg, writing, writing tips
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