As a writer, I am consistently curious about how other writers live and work, how they contemplate the writing process, incorporate their artistic profession into other aspects of their lives, and how it is they continue to show up at the writing desk day after day.
Whether as a profession or a hobby, writing is an art that requires dedication. Not every day arrives with inspiration. Not every story forms easily. In The True Secret of Writing, Natalie Goldberg says the determination to see things through on the page is as much a determination in living with intent.
Goldberg offers this advice: Sit. Walk. Write.
Begin with meditative sitting where the mind is cleared of distraction. Follow that with slow walking, allowing the body to connect with the mind. Now receiving full attention from body and mind, writing should become a natural third step in the process. Practice these disciplines with a mindfulness akin to yoga, Goldberg says.
The overarching theme of The True Secret of Writing is this: practice. Meditation, walking slowly, and putting pen to paper. Again and again, daily, perhaps. Goldberg echoes that these tasks become a ritual practice, a habit as necessary as breathing and sleeping.
The secret to excelling at anything is time and effort. Making writing a part of one’s regularly scheduled activities declares to others, and to yourself, that writing is protected time. No one else will carve the time for you. No one else will insist you clear your mind of distractions and sit down with a pen or keyboard.
Commitment met with practice fuels determination. That determination, then, can lead to satisfaction in triumphing over distractions, in accomplishing what we set out to do.
Life is full of distraction. The beach tempts us on a sunny afternoon; the dishes pile high and remind us of so-called productive tasks we must tend to as adults. Stealing time to put words on a page is often weighed against these distractions, but Goldberg’s guidance in mindfulness can translate intent into commitment.
In my own writing practice, I haven’t quite mastered Goldberg’s curriculum, or at least not in the order she suggests. My day best begins at my desk, my mind clearest at dawn. Then, after a writing session, I walk, I stretch, I breathe. I pause to listen to my body’s needs while further clearing the mind before returning to the desk. My adaptation of Goldberg’s plan works for me and has become a necessary habit.
In this book, Goldberg shares specific ideas for introducing practice into one’s daily schedule, and she offers practical exercises based on her in-person True Secret retreats. Her writing is not prescriptive. Instead, she shares her own path by example and incorporates anecdotal experiences of her students. Goldberg lays out a sample plan to follow, but leaves it up to readers to turn their passion into practice.
Lori A. May is the author of The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship and the Writing Life.
Love this review? For more reviews of narrative nonfiction, check out The Art of Writing and the Art of Life on Stephen King’s On Writing, or What Really Happens When We Go Into Space on Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars.