The True Secret of Writing by Natalie Goldberg (2013)
The True Secret of Writing
by Natalie Goldberg
Atria Books, 2013
In a creative writing class during my formal education, one of the textbooks assigned to students was Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg. That book made an impact on me, even though I had to cut through some of the mysticism that Goldberg clings to in her style. When I saw that a new book was coming from the author this year, I was very excited. Unfortunately, her book The True Secret of Writing is more about Zen practice than actual writing.
There are some good exercises hidden within the chapters, and one of the four sections is all about writing. That is not to say that one cannot learn anything from the other three sections; learning to let go of what one cannot control is a good recommendation for anyone, Buddhist or not. Goldberg explains a lot of what she does during her “True Secret” retreats, and rambles obsessively about sitting. Much of the book lacks focus, jumping from thought to thought, many paragraphs unconnected—even disconnected—to those around it. Some of the activities suggested in “True Secret Retreat Essentials” I will not participate in because of my Christian faith, but there are other aspects that do not violate my principles.
From a writer’s standpoint, the most important section in The True Secret of Writing is “Elaborations.” The exercises Goldberg suggests will be helpful to those who are just starting to write as well as those who have been putting pen to paper for decades. Of course, there is no “True Secret of Writing” revealed in the book, as everyone takes different paths and attains different levels of success, and the author admits that the title is tongue-in-cheek. But writers can benefit from Goldberg’s suggestions, though they may have to do a little digging to find them.