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Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life

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Natalie Goldberg, author of the bestselling  Writing Down The Bones, teaches a method  of writing that can take you beyond craft to the  true source of creative power: The mind that is  "raw, full of energy, alive and  hungry."

Here is compassionate, practical, and often  humorous advice about how to find time to write,  how to discover your personal style, how to make  sentences come alive, and how to overcome  procrastination and writer's block -- including more than  thirty provocative "Try this" exercises to  get your pen moving.

And here also  is a larger vision of the writer's task:  balancing daily responsibilities with a commitment to  writing; knowing when to take risks as a writer and a  human being; coming to terms with success and  failure and loss; and learning self-acceptance -- both  in life and art.

Wild  Mind will change your way of writing. It  may also change your life.

238 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1990

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About the author

Natalie Goldberg

49 books1,091 followers
Natalie Goldberg lived in Brooklyn until she was six, when her family moved out to Farmingdale, Long Island, where her father owned the bar the Aero Tavern. From a young age, Goldberg was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Carson McCullers's The Ballad of the Sad Cafe , which she read in ninth grade. She thinks that single book led her eventually to put pen to paper when she was twenty-four years old. She received a BA in English literature from George Washington University and an MA in humanities from St. John's University.

Goldberg has painted for as long as she has written, and her paintings can be seen in Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World and Top of My Lungs: Poems and Paintings. They can also be viewed at the Ernesto Mayans Gallery on Canyon Road in Sante Fe.

A dedicated teacher, Goldberg has taught writing and literature for the last thirty-five years. She also leads national workshops and retreats, and her schedule can be accessed via her website: nataliegoldberg.com

In 2006, she completed with the filmmaker Mary Feidt a one-hour documentary, Tangled Up in Bob, about Bob Dylan's childhood on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota. The film can be obtained on Amazon or the website tangledupinbob.com.

Goldberg has been a serious Zen practitioner since 1974 and studied with Katagiri Roshi from 1978 to 1984.

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5 stars
2,728 (42%)
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79 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 315 reviews
Profile Image for Emma Sea.
2,191 reviews1,078 followers
September 23, 2015
I enjoyed this more than Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. I find Goldberg's writing infinitely relaxing. After I read The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language I even looked into doing a Vipassana meditation retreat. Beginners have to start with a 10-day retreat. That's 10 days of vegetarian food, including only fruit after midday. I decided just to keep reading Goldberg's books instead.
Profile Image for Dragos Pătraru.
51 reviews2,754 followers
October 11, 2020
Doamna asta scrie mișto și despre scris. Și are patru principii pe care le folosește și-n viața de zi cu zi. Se aplică, susține ea și eu îi dau dreptate, și la sex:
Țineți mâinile în mișcare
Fii specific
Pierde controlul
Nu gândi.
Mă rog, nu pentru gluma asta e interesantă cartea, ci pentru felul în care te provoacă. Din loc în loc ai o secțiune ”try this”, în care ți se cere să pleci de la o formulare (gen: ”îmi amintesc că”) și să faci de acolo o poveste despre ceva. Am încercat, e foarte tare, recomand.
Profile Image for Drew.
617 reviews27 followers
November 26, 2008
I just finished reading Natalie Goldberg’s book on writing. I don’t know how the book ended up in my hands but now that I’m writing, I was intrigued. Overall, I was disappointed. Parts of the book I found classist and other parts bordered on racist. The book is part of Bantam’s New Age collection, so there’s a lot the author tries to convey in a spiritual/philosophical vein. However, her tone seems to conflict with the message she says she wants to convey. As for the book’s structure, I don’t think there was any. There was no flow between sections, no organization, no building upon previous lessons. This work should have been edited down by about 100 pages and forged into a coherent progression.

There are two things I’ll take away from this book that are incredibly useful. First, she gives four things you must do in order to be a writer and do writing: (1) keep your hand moving; (2) lose control; (3) be specific; and (4) don’t think. I liked these so much I printed them on an index card I keep in front of me while I write. Second, her advice to would-be writers: “If you want to write, write. This is your life. You are responsible for it. You will not live forever. Don’t wait” (p. 45).
Profile Image for Violeta Nedkova.
59 reviews741 followers
June 20, 2011
Most writers refer to Writing Down the Bones as a good book to read, but I'd have to say that I enjoyed the sequel better. Wild Mind promotes what Goldberg calls Writing Practice, which is when you free-write until the nonsense turns into sense. It's a collection of essays that touch on life and art issues and it is truly one of my favorite books on writing to date.
July 28, 2009
I hate writing and I hate to read much. So when I had to read a book about writing I was not excited at all. When I got the copy of Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life and started to read it, I caught myself wanting to read more and trying all the "Try This" that I could. Natalie Goldberg approach to writing is completely different from what most people are taught. She breaks down the 238 page book into 62 chapters and 35 "Try This" exercises. Each chapter is very short usually about two or three pages in length and focuses on a certain aspect of writing. Wild Mind also focuses on getting rid of what Goldberg calls "Monkey Mind." It's that little critic that says I stink at writing. "So our job as writers is to not diddle around our whole lives in the [monkey mind:] but to take one big step out of it and sink into the big sky and write from there. Let yourself live in something that is already rightfully yours-your own wild mind" (33). Throughout the book Goldberg teaches us to throw out the conventional way of writing and to just let our pen move on the paper and wait for our wild mind to just write. Throughout the book Goldberg gives 35 different exercises to try to help understand and develop the concepts that she talks about. As a student going through school I always struggled to write papers because I could never get what was in my mind onto the paper because of the editor in me wanted to correct everything from the start. With this book and all the exercises that are included in it, my writing as become better and easier. I have learned many new things that I will carry with me the rest of my life.
Profile Image for Nicole.
12 reviews3 followers
August 22, 2008
Natalie Goldberg has definitely been a writing guru and true inspiration for me over the years. This book, along with her other book, Writing Down the Bones, sit on my desk as books I can open I be reminded why I write and how to get into the meat of how to write.

"You have to let writing eat your life and follow it where it takes you. You fit into it; it doesn't fit neatly into your life. It makes you wild..." she writes.

Her books morphed me from writing as a "lust" into writing being a "passion" for me. She also taught me how to write 'as though taking a friend's hand and showing him or her the pleasure you have in something and then writing as though you were sharing it.'

Her words have moved me and transformed me as a writer.
Profile Image for Erica Chang.
117 reviews81 followers
August 17, 2011
the best book i've read about writing so far. not a lot of technical instructions but rather soulful and that's what writing's really about in my opinion
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 32 books128k followers
February 26, 2008
Nice book about writing, short essays, inspirational. Not my favorite writing book, but had some moments.
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books237 followers
April 16, 2023
Many short chapters, each only 2 or 3 or 4 pages long, maybe with an exercise at the end: Try this.

The result is a bit scattershot but also profound. Depends on one's mood, the advice one is craving, how much the impulse —to write, to keep busy, to distract, to self-sabotage— is in full bloom. There is much helpful writing advice, especially the kind of advice you don't even know you need, as well as many writing exercises. Accept Ourselves is one chapter, and this book is built upon such fundamental advice.

This is also a memoir of sorts, written persistently in the present tense, which makes the stories are blur together into a mushy continuous present.

I was bored, and thrilled, and my star rating waffled between a "meh" and a "Yeah!". Goldberg suggests there are no excuses for not writing, but skips over the reality of being hungry and homeless because of poverty—and a writing addiction. There is a "writing industry" which is touched upon in this book, tangentially, but not critiqued—a whole industrial complex feeding on the ego and frustrations of writers who feel they just need to take another course, read another writing book, pay for the right workshop, pay for this, pay for that, attend conferences and network like crazy. Ka-ching!

Enough with the cynicism. This is the sort of book that people will get different things from, according to where they are, what they are looking for and what they are ready to hear.
Profile Image for Marlena Frank.
Author 33 books231 followers
March 10, 2011
This is very much a book that is difficult to rate for me. At times I was annoyed with Natalie (affectionately called Nat in the piece), and at other times I completely sympathized with her. She is both the wise sage seeming to know more about the art of writing than you ever guessed, and at other times she seems very distant and naive.

At one point she talks about how she had a job that required her to go in once a week, and found that this was too much for her to handle and got in the way of her writing. So she quit the job and spent the rest of her time focusing on her piece. Not many people I believe are able to make such a choice so casually, and I would wager that most writers have people in their lives that rely on their day job paycheck. It's naive to think that everybody could do this on a whim, but at the same time I have to admire Natalie for not beating around the bush here. She comes right out and tells you this even though it might come across negative to the readers. That's fine bravery there.

Although I don't always agree with Natalie, I found her book be quite inspiring. She gets you to think about writing in new ways, and she gets you to feel more comfortable writing. At one point she says that writing is just like mastering any other skill such as running. You get better at it with practice, and as they always say with experts, the better you get the more difficult it becomes to instruct beginners. You're with Natalie through her ups and downs, though her questioning search for identity, and her beautiful mix of zen and writing. I would certainly be interested in reading her other novel, Writing Down the Bones, since it's typically seen as a better guide for writers than this book. However I highly recommend reading this. Her prose is calm and smooth, and you feel like she's chatting to you across a cafe table sipping some herbal tea.

Just be prepared to accept Natalie as who she is and keep an open mind. You'll be greatly rewarded if you do.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Erasmo Guerra.
Author 10 books30 followers
November 6, 2012
Wild Mind is Natalie Goldberg's follow up to the classic how-to book Writing Down the Bones. I'd read both books in the early '90s, Bones on a long bus ride from South Texas to New York, and Wild Mind soon after when Goldberg was doing a reading in the city. I'd always meant to dip back into it for a re-read. Finally, after more than a decade, while feeling a bit aimless in my writing life, I pulled it off the shelf.

The book not only reintroduced me to the rules of writing practice, but it also relaxed my soul with its grounded prose and Goldberg's knack for bringing a reader into the present--not just waking me up to the words on the page, but to everything going on around me. This time around, while I still highlighted wonderful "Try This" exercises interspersed between the short, anecdotal chapters, I was also able to see the narrative threads of Goldberg's Zen teacher's failing health, her migrations between Minnesota and New Mexico, and stories of her early life in suburban Long Island.

I was also able to appreciate the story of Goldberg's own journey while writing her first novel Banana Rose. She generously allows readers to witness human moments of both creative euphoria and post-book emptiness.

This is one book I recommend for would-be writers and those looking for a literary tune-up. It took me more than a decade to give this book another read. I hope I don't take nearly as long until returning to it again.

Profile Image for Amber.
55 reviews8 followers
February 27, 2010
This is a great book if you want to write. I love reading and writing, so this book amazed me, even as a high school student. Natalie Goldberg has a way of teaching you to pull out everything inside of you and slap it caty-whampus on a page. It is , very simply, a book on how to find your inner writer, whether you have any intentions of being a writer professionally or not. It has you start out with morning pages ( although I think that's what they call them in "the Artist's Way") and then gives you a "try this". It gets you writing in a theraputic way. A must-read for anyone who is experiencing writers block, or who simply wants to write more often!

Side Note: recently heard a speaker at a conference on writing, and HE also recommended this book. It's old but good! No offense, but I'm not willing to loan out my tattered copy. You could probably find it on amazon for a penny though :)
Profile Image for Debbie Petersen Wolven.
257 reviews103 followers
September 3, 2009
Since I read Wild Mind and Writing Down the Bones practically at the same time, I have them in my head as one book. One bit of advice helped me with my morning pages, when I am stuck and sitting there knowing I have to write three pages longhand before I get up and feeling completely blank and distracted by everything else I have to get done today (wow...run on sentence!) Simply start with "I remember"...before this, my morning pages were really just daily journaling of complaints and worries, but with "I remember" I was suddenly writing about climbing a tree to read Nancy Drew and how much I hated swim lessons. While I was writing, several deer appeared in my yard looking for food, so I wrote about that. Before I knew it, I was out of Monkey Mind and in full-fledged Wild Mind. I got my copy from the library, but I may have to buy it.
Profile Image for Lyn.
Author 1 book7 followers
March 21, 2015
Natalie's writing is so refreshing and full of enthusiam about writing. I love how she broke each chapter with a try this, made you feel like you had your cheerleader encouraging you to take the next step. There are lots of good writing tips for all levels of writers and poets alike.
I never thought about how a writer feels when they reach the ending of a story. A good author lives with their character day in day out and then closes the door. It's got to be like losing a best friend.
I feel like she is not just another author but a friend helping me take the plunge into the writing world with my eyes wide open.
Profile Image for Ruth Charchian.
220 reviews
October 12, 2012
Wow! Natalie Goldberg is phenominal. This is a remarkable book. Her approach is significantly different from other books on writing and much more suited to my style of "just do it." She gets you started with topics to prime the writer's writing pump. It is amazing what you know that you don't know you know. I dare anyone who reads this book to read it and not be compelled, inspired, and stimulated to pick up a pen and write like crazy.
Profile Image for J.F. Penn.
Author 45 books2,150 followers
December 27, 2013
I need to read Natalie Goldberg several times a year. She helps me tap into why I write and that it's ok to be a little crazy.
Profile Image for K.M. Weiland.
Author 33 books2,333 followers
July 11, 2021
Lots of inspiration in beautiful, bite-sized chapters. An insightful and honest look at the down and dirty of the daily writing life and all its many paradoxical challenges.
Profile Image for One.
339 reviews6 followers
October 8, 2011
I love reading books on writing and came across this Kindle one. I purchased and read it in a week. I think it's a good book, well worth reading. It has many good writing exercises throughout. I grew tired of a few of the stories by the end (the drug taking, the rant about not needing a degree, etc.). The bit about getting a degree being a waste seemed ridiculous to me, especially since early on she made a point via Hemingway in say that "...if a writer knows something, even if he doesn't write it, it is present in his work." So that seems to contradict her rant about not needing and never using her degrees. Overall this is a good book and worth reading.
Profile Image for Pilar.
159 reviews7 followers
September 20, 2012
This morning, I read five chapters and finished Wild Mind. I was immersed in Natalie Goldberg's writing. I love this woman. Her writing is rich and beautiful.She is really a gifted writer. Each chapter brought to life an analogy or personal reflection. I enjoyed gleaning the nuggets she shared throughout the book.

I'm eager to start her first book called Writing Down The Bones.

Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg is a great book which I highly recommend to all writers on any level. There is something for everyone in this book.

To read more of this review, please visit http://www.ordinaryservant.com/?p=1077
Profile Image for Literary Mama.
415 reviews41 followers
January 24, 2012
Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind. The first was given to me around 2000 as I tried to infuse my academic prose with life. This book gave me the freedom to scribble outside the lines. Don't doubt, just trust yourself and go, she seems to say. I bought Wild Mind shortly afterward, and off I went.
Read Literary Mama's full review here: http://www.literarymama.com/reviews/a...
Profile Image for Amelia.
11 reviews4 followers
July 4, 2011
Five years of HE has given me both a horror of writing and an appreciation of its necessity. I'm reading this in an attempt to get over the horror. Natalie G is ever-so-slightly *woo*, but in a good, proper zen way rather than a bullshit way. She writes beautifully. And she inspires me to get on with writing like no-one else.
Profile Image for Desiree.
279 reviews11 followers
December 30, 2011
A good read. I will come back to it when I have writer's block or feel like I need to explore things that I haven't. I especially enjoyed it given that I'm from New Mexico, where the author resides. It's a little bit odd, of course, but I suppose you wouldn't pick up a book called Wild Mind expecting it to be tame.
Profile Image for Rainey.
43 reviews
September 5, 2008
I found that this book gave me great creative sparks. At the time my engine wasn't really turning over but I think it could be a good read when you're stuck.
August 18, 2009
I have read and reread this book 4 times since buying it in July. What I learned was how fine tune my writing practice everyday and find time to write through out the day!
Profile Image for Maranda (addlebrained_reader).
110 reviews18 followers
November 4, 2008
A few weeks ago I posted a blog on my livejournal and myspace pages about how I was in the mood to write…which a rare occurrence for me. A friend suggested I read a book called “Wild Mind” by Natalie Goldberg. Naturally, me being the book addict I am, automatically flipped to bn.com to research this title. I found out that the book was about ‘living the writer’s life” and included tips and practice techniques for writing. I purchased the book within a week.

I love books…I love going to bookstores and walking through the aisles. I love the smells, textures, colors, and feelings that accompany a trip to a bookstore. This book, however, I ordered online. There is a feeling of anticipation and excitement that transpires as soon as I click the submit button and I receive the confirmation e-mail. I tend to check the mail everyday hoping the package of goodies will arrive. When this book finally came, because waiting three days for a book is an eternity for me, I opened it and started reading immediately.

As I began reading this book, I quickly found sentences and passages that inspired me. Natalie details bits and pieces of her life, her past, her discovery of writing, and her journey through her first novel.

This book came to me empty of human touch. Yes, it contained human words and emotions, but it had not been handled. The book was a front and back cover, pages, numbers, letters, words, black and white type. My copy has now felt the stroke of human fingers along its pages. My copy is now full of color. Yellow highlights caress the sentences and neon pink post-its hug the pages. My copy has learned what it means to feel.

I’m not sure this book inspired me to write. In a way it did and in a way it didn’t. I think about the act of writing. The idea is in the back of my mind…I just haven’t picked up my notebook and started moving my hand across the page yet.

This book was not a waste though. It may not have inspired me to write, but it did reiterate my love for literature and the written word. At one point Natalie compares literature to a symphony. Each letter is a musical note, each word a chord, every sentence is a musical piece, every paragraph a different instrument. The syntax, alliteration, every piece of a passage crashes and booms, every line sings. This was my favorite concept in the entire book. The written word is just as beautiful as an orchestra, the reader just needs to listen to the melody and appreciate the passion of the piece.

Not only did I rediscover my love of reading, I found a building, burning desire to run. I used to run in high school. Not track or anything. But my favorite time in gym was when we would go running through different neighborhoods, or even the school track. When Otty was deployed for four months, I began running again. I find a special freedom and peace when I run. Natalie found this as well. She tells the reader about the desire to run, the feelings of inability, and finally the freedom that is gained from running like an animal.

I find this a little funny as well. Reading this book seemed to reinforce some of the ideas I have been having for a while. For months I have been considering taking up meditating. I would like to find an inner peace. Natalie relates her experiences with Zen practice and meditation. She describes the connectedness that accompanies a Zen state of mind. I definitely want to read into this practice.

The last thing I gained from this book (for now) is a longing for creativity. I may not be a writer or an artist, but within the last year I have taken up drawing again after a ten year hiatus. I am motivated to continue these creative endeavors and to expand on my abilities. Maybe one day I will consider myself an artist, but for now I just aspire to be decent.

I do not find myself thinking or yearning to be a writer. I do not wish to write a book or poetry…although that would be kind of cool. I am not unhappy in my life without writing. Maybe if I use the writing practices Natalie suggests I will one day discover an idea buried deep within my imagination that will transform into a world and a tale that I can lead other’s through. Until then…I will travel through the realms that are created by another author’s mind and live within the music performed by these literary composers…

Profile Image for Olga.
166 reviews30 followers
October 13, 2011
Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down The Bones, has been sitting on my shelf for a while, started but not finished. There were so many references to Zen Buddhism and Ms. Goldberg's Zen teacher that she lost me before even really capturing my interest so I never got very far. This volume started out the same way but since I got it from NetGalley I felt obligated to review it and so kept reading. I'm glad I did because there is a lot of very good advice in it, such as to slow down and notice things we don't usually notice, to write regularly and no matter what, to learn to differentiate between procrastination and productive waiting, to remember that our writing isn't who we are and to live a life outside of it too and Ms. Goldberg's personal motto of "Shut up and write".
I really enjoyed her 7 rules of writing practice which are essentially what every other writer tells you to do: keep your hand moving, lose control, be specific, don't think, don't worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar, you're free to write junk and go for the jugular. I liked the chapters on writing the truth and what to do with it if by publishing it you'll hurt your loved ones, on the value of reading your writing aloud and on cutting through all the extraneous noise to the heart of the matter. There were a lot of personal examples which kept me interested because I felt that the author was a real person, not some abstract entity who I knew nothing about (which is actually one of Natalie's recommendations to writers) and there were plenty of exercises to try and I've actually jotted down quite a few to use myself.
This book isn't only about writing, a lot of the things covered in it are about life and the challenges a writer, and any other person, faces every day. The chapters on stepping forward with your life, living your life for yourself and not for someone else, and making a positive effort are like that and I liked that they were included.
As you see there are a lot of good things about this book but when I turned the last page and thought about it I felt overwhelmed. There didn't seem to be a particular rhyme or reason to the order in which the chapters appeared. Moreover, pretty much every chapter felt like Ms. Goldberg sat down for her writing practice, gave herself a topic and said "Go". Setting one's wild mind free is wonderful for being creative and authentic but if the first word that comes to mind when one thinks about the resulting work is "scatterbrained" I think some editing is in order.
Profile Image for Cara Meredith.
1,066 reviews26 followers
May 27, 2022
Slow (and I’m talking 8 months here) is the only way to read Wild Mind. That, and with a notebook beside you.
Profile Image for Lacey Louwagie.
Author 7 books60 followers
September 20, 2016
Around the Year Reading Challenge Item #21: A book from the Goodreads recommendations page

The philosophy behind this book is pretty much the same as that powering Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, but I found this book to be a lot more enjoyable. Goldberg's tone is a bit less pretentious and her advice, overall, feels more grounded and less self-involved. The writing prompts vary from the whimsical to the thoughtful to the practical, and I felt a little smug to see her recommending several practices that I already incorporate. The book is full of analogies to the writing life to make it seem a little less mystical, and it includes a healthy dose of author humility. While less exuberant than "Bones," the advice in this book is both inspiring and sustainable.

A couple things did bug me about the book. I felt that Goldberg included far more examples of her own writing than were needed to convey the sense of what she was advising; these felt self-indulgent. I also can't help notice that in many of these, "free yourself and write" advice books, the authors do not have traditional employment -- either they are supporting themselves with their writing, or they have some mysterious source of income squirreled away somewhere, and the advice about letting writing permeate every part of your life can feel unattainable when you are squeezing it in around the rest of your life. Goldberg does address this in several places, but there's a sense that she doesn't feel it down in her bones when she writes about quitting her one-day-a-week paid gig because it interferes with her writing mojo. Yup, jobs are hella inconvenient.
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