In The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language,Natalie Goldberg expands on her writing concepts first presented in Writing Down the Bones. Her advice is simple:
Sit. Walk. Write.
Shut up and write.
The second idea is much easier to grasp as a writer than the first. Writers love to procrastinate and invent fantastic reasons not to write. Research that must be completed. Editing of yesterday’s writing must occur before new words are written today. Dishes. Laundry. Dinner.
We writers need to shut up and write. Got it.
But the sitting, walking and writing? That’s a little deeper, especially in context of The True Secret of Writing. In it Goldberg details her writing retreats in New Mexico which include Zen sitting and walking meditation.
Sitting is more than just sitting down to write. That’s one aspect but Goldberg wants more. Sit in your life, sit in your world, sit in a coffee shop and see what is going on around you. Sit and listen to the chatter in your brain until something true rings louder than the rest.
Walking is a reference to the ‘slow’ walking in her Zen practice, a purposeful walk in which you feel the bottom of your foot on the ground. “This is a chance to receive the world.” I suppose writers could ‘receive the world’ in many different ways. It could be a walking meditation. It could be any active meditation. It is about being so present in the moment that you feel the individual bubbles between your fingers as you wash those dishes that must be done before you begin to write. The benefit? Now you can describe the effervescent feeling of bubbles on the webbing between your fingers with alarming accuracy.
Writing. Ah, yes, writing. Probably the hardest of them all because the mere act of writing forces us to ask why. Why do we write? To what end? For fame, money, success? For a mere act of storytelling? To make art? To bare our souls? Confess a truth? Find a truth? Tell a lie? So many reasons to write.
I don’t know exactly why I write. I know why I think I do. I have amusing stories that I want to play out. I have characters I want to follow around and learn about. But when I dig a little deeper, go beyond plot and whether or not my protagonist should have a limp, I sometimes – really, just once a year, maybe – sometimes realize I write because I have something that needs learning and by saying it out loud the lesson might be heard.
Goldberg offers many anecdotes from her decades of devotion to her writing and her Zen practice. Some chapters are mini writing classes to be returned to when writers’ block has built her fickle, tall wall. Other chapters are koan-sized lessons on life which happen to be related to writing. These should be returned to as well, to remember.
The True Secret of Writing has recalled my commitment to push myself in my art, to actually acknowledge it is art (possibly capital A art). It will sit on my shelf of books by writers I admire when I need a page or two of inspiration. Thank you, Natalie.