"Living the Writer's Life: A Complete Self-Help Guide," Eric Maisel

Pros: Helpful, hopeful, reassuring. Puts things in perspective.
Cons: You might have to get past the fact that it’s a self-help book.
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 5/14/2002

I tend to be skeptical about both writing books and self-help books. For writing books, it’s because what works for one person probably won’t work for most. For self-help books, it’s for a number of reasons. Many of them seem like transparent attempts to make a quick buck. Many of them pander to the misguided desire for an instant cure-all, a simple thing you can do to make everything in your life better. They pander to the fact that many people don’t want to have to work at improving themselves.

So it was with some trepidation that I purchased “Living the Writer’s Life: A Complete Self-Help Guide,” by Eric Maisel, a writer and psychotherapist who has seen many writers. The problem is that I’m trying to work my way through a thorough case of freelancer burnout, and I decided that maybe the best way to approach it (besides not doing any more freelancing, and taking a vacation when my last contract is over in a month or two) was to read lots of books. Mostly to get me inspired and interested again, but partly just to see what I could learn about my problems and how I might start fixing them.

Oh, the Shame!

Maisel talks a lot about the typical problems writers face, and I certainly saw a lot of myself in this book. He’s eerily accurate and knowledgeable in his subject. You can tell that he really has counseled quite a few writers and developed a good feel for their problems. I learned a lot about myself, and that wasn’t entirely comfortable. I could talk a lot about the wisdom in this book (like the idea that failure is a normal part of the creative process, and thus not to be feared as a terrible, awful thing), but I don’t think I could get it across with the same conviction. You’d be more likely to believe it from him, anyway, because it’s obvious that he knows what he’s talking about.

He discusses everything, from relationships (intimate relationships and business relationships) to the definition of a writing “career,” your education, your craft, drug addictions, your personality, your challenges, your strengths, and so on. Finally he ends up with the “nine Cs,” a framework for thinking about the various issues you face. I found myself underlining pretty much everything.

He doesn’t have solutions for everything (and doesn’t pretend to), but he does have some ideas to get you started. He also helps you to see where the problems are, which alone can make a huge difference. He presents plenty of interesting quotes by writers, and guest essays by various people with interesting and useful perspectives to present. Even if you don’t think you have big problems this book can still be useful. It puts a lot of things in perspective, and you can see the ways in which you aren’t as broken as many other writers, which can be rather reassuring!

Who This Book Is For

Maisel has several goals for this book. One is to help writers who have problems. Another is to let would-be writers know the stark truths about the industry they’re thinking of entering. Yet another is to help people who have trouble sitting down to write do so – whether they’re veterans suffering from burnout or psychological blocks, or would-be writers who haven’t written a single word yet.

Read this before deciding to become a writer! I think the world would be a better place if more people knew what they were getting themselves into up front. Also read this if you’re a writer and your life is anything less than perfect – like me, you might find that it helps in surprising ways.

The Details

This is not an overly large book, yet it takes a little time to digest, read through, and deal with. The author has an easy-to-read and -comprehend writing style. He mixes amusing anecdotes with frightening statistics and inspirational messages. While there is some stuff in here about “affirmations” and other psychological pep-talk that some people might shy away from, it’s a solidly practical book that anyone could benefit from.

Posted in Reviews, Writing

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