If you are a writer, you have purchased, among other works, the three essential writing books: Writing Down the Bones, Bird by Bird and The Artist’s Way. But wait, you say, there are more essential books. Yes, the horary old Elements of Style, the OED, the APA, MLA, AWA, Chicago book of Style, Grammar books, vocabulary books. Ray Bradbury, Steven King, Virginia Woolf, there are few writers who have not penned a book on how to write.
My favorite is Natalie Goldberg.
I attended a book signing and talk to promote her most recent book, The True Secret of Writing.
Spoiler alert – I’ll share the true secret to writing.
The secret is – just write, actually it’s more complicated than that – according to Goldberg the true secret to writing is “Shut up and write.”
Since her break out book, Writing Down the Bones, Goldberg has promoted writing as an activity or practice that is as beneficial to the soul and mind as sitting or walking meditation. For her, writing has never been about the product – in 1986 the idea of all process but no product, was a radical. It still is, and she is still championing that central thesis.
In The True Secret of Writing Goldberg describes the process, schedule and activities behind her famous (if you slavishly follow her career as some writers here do) writing retreats at the Mabel Dodge House
Ever since I heard she offered to teach writing, in person, I was wild to go. But scheduling and finances always held me back.
I was thrilled to at least learn a bit about this magical retreat Friday night at Book Passages in Marin.
Goldberg did not disappoint. She read out loud, she explained that mediation is really three powerful things: Sitting, Walking and Writing. Then, as a special treat, she invited a retreat participant to sing the retreat song.
We were instructed to sit, close our eyes and feel the lovely song as we would if we were spending a week in beautiful New Mexico, sitting for days in companionable silence, or practicing slow walking meditation.
I did not close my eyes. I squirmed in my low slung plastic chair, jiggled my foot, and annoyed the woman in front of me and realized, as the singer’s voice cracked and wobbled, with complete clarity, that this was not my song, I do not have a propensity for silence and I have never walked slowly in my whole life.
I love Goldberg’ s work. I love her attitude and how she brought Zen and mediation to so many through writing practice. I own multiple copies of her books with my favorite an old wine stained Wild Mind.
But as I considered the reality of a week long retreat under her tutelage, it was clear I wanted no part of it. And I was pretty happy with that truth.
Is there a moral to this story? Natalie would say no, because Zen means that things are not good or bad but just are.
But I’m too western minded for that. The moral of the story is before spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars traveling to a writing retreat that looks fabulous on the web and transformational in your dreams, seek out that author or retreat leader during a book signing or conference, listen to them, make sure what you have in your head, and what comes out of their mouths and experience, match.
And it’s okay to toss a fish or two out of your bucket list.
Of course I bought the book, as long as that woman writes, I will buy her books.
If you want to create a writing retreat at home, check out The Cheap Retreat Workbook
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