Posts Tagged With: The true Secret of Writing

Tossing Out 29 Years

A young lady asked Natalie Goldberg, “What do I do? I lost all my journals and now I feel part of me is irretrievably gone.”

Just before I wrote more than I needed toNatalie  sympathized,  she herself had never recovered a dozen paintings she created and lost during a trip to Paris. But remember, Goldberg is a student of Zen, non-attachment.  Her response  was to shrug and suggest that it was really okay that  the journals were gone.  “You aren’t going to ever read them anyway. “ Natalie said.

That single answer, as harsh as it sounds, was the permission I needed to dump years of journals: specifically 1970 − 1999. I was finally able to ask if I really, ever, wanted to  revisit Junior High.  Should I continue to lug the the past from house to house, ever sealed, never read?


As I chucked hundreds of pages into the recycling bin, Goldberg’s True Secret To Writing emerged again.  The True Secret it writing is that  it really is just about  the process. Writing is its own best means – not to an end, but rather  to your mind, your next story, your soul.

I don’t meditate for very long (about a minute, I call it speed meditation).  When I walk, I walk fast.  But writing every day?  I’ve been practicing that forever.

In this context, what is produced  is immaterial.  Anything decent is lifted from those pages of beginner words, wild ideas and complaints about the weather and  transferred into another, more permanent, workable file.  The process work is not revisited.

I rescued  5 poems from the 70’s that I thought I could rework in honor of National Poetry Month.  And that was all.

Some writers feel that every word they put to paper is great, deathless prose, but not me.  Everyday writing, journal writing, is about the process, it’s practice writing. And we all  need to practice so when it is time to perform: we’re flawless.


You are welcome to re-post this article in your own blog or newsletter – please include this entire statement, “Catharine Bramkamp is a Writing Coach and podcaster, find out if you’re ready to go from  Newbie to Known visit or for a complimentary consultation.”

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The True Secret Of Writing

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.

Natalie Goldberg's BooksAnd I have many of them.

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

You are welcome to re-post this article in your own blog or newsletter – please include this entire statement, “Catharine Bramkamp is a Writing Coach and podcaster, find out if you’re ready to go from  Newbie to Known visit or for a complimentary consultation.”

Categories: Newbie Guide Notes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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