24 Lessons for Writers, Painters, Musicians & Actors from America’s Foremost Creativity Coach
By Eric Maisel
New World Library
Paperback: 256 pages, March 1, 2011, ISBN-13: 978-1577319320
I’ve been reading this book on my Kindle and I’ve decided that I like it. Not everything about it, mind you. I don’t demand that of books. There are even a few features that I find too cutesy. If a self-help book gives me a couple of really useful nuggets, I figure I got my money’s worth. After all, how much useful advice can you get on an average day for $15-$20?
You get a lot more than a few nuggets from this Mastering Creative Anxiety. If you put them to work for you, this book is practically priceless. In the words of Eric Maisel, the author of this and dozens of other creativity titles,
None of the techniques in the book will be available to you when you need them simply because you read about them and nod your head. You have to practice them and use them…. If you want the results, you will have to do the work.
This may seem obvious but I know people who read books or listen to CDs and expect this passive act alone to transform their lives. It can transform your thinking but transforming your life requires some participation on your part.
“It doesn’t work,” they say. Well, no, it doesn’t. You have to do the work. One of my mottoes is “emotion provides devotion but action provides the traction.” You got to actually do the work to get the results you are hoping for. ‘Nuf said, hey?
“Anxiety is the number one problem that creative people face,” says Maisel, “and yet few even realize it.” I’m not sure I would use the word anxiety to describe all the times I’ve procrastinated or gotten a slow start on a project. His use of the term is perhaps a little broad; but, just because I might use a different word for some of the experiences he describes does not detract of the value of the book. It is clear that something inexplicable is going on and I am willing to call it anxiety and move on rather than quibble about it and continue dawdling while I find a more acceptable descriptor.
Maisel’s point is that the life of the creative has long been a stressful one but especially in contemporary times where we are socialized to think that a meaningful life can only be had by occupying a cubicle an important company. Our personal prestige and status is a corporate fringe benefit.
Unfortunately or happily, depending on your viewpoint, cubicle farmers have shown little interest in harnessing the energy of creative types. I’m one reason is that it is so much like herding cats. Consequently, creative jobs are near as scarce as hen’s teeth. That means the creative life is often a hand-to-mouth existence.
There are lots of other self-employed people, you may say. Surely, they must have similar problems. True, and certainly many of the worries discussed in this book do apply to them as well. But … a plumber or a carpenter is not required to (re)invent their product to stay in business. The demands of producing a never-ending stream of one-off performances and innovations can produce unique fears related to “mattering” and “meaning” and “finishing” that routinely erode the peace of creatives.
Some 24 chapters cover a multitude of situations in which creative people find themselves at the precipice of dread, meaninglessness and failure. To his credit, Maisel does not sugar coat the difficulties of such a life or offer irksome platitudes about the inevitability of success if you only apply yourself and his recipe for success. His “recipes” are for coping with moments when your worst fears may come true: are moments of failure, compromise, ego bruising and despair. There will be times when you should have left well enough alone; but, hoping for a breakthrough, you pushed a little further and ruined the work. That is part of the stretch that goes into attempting to make meaning through your work.
Failure will happen. Disappointment will ensue. Anticipatory performance anxiety will materialize from nowhere. Crises of meaning will turn up when least expected. How can you go on? This is where Mastering Creative Anxiety shines and Eric Maisel is to be congratulated for not succumbing to the easy path of schmaltzy answers.
Even fear of success can produce anxiety. Certainly, the lack of progress that often results from both fear of success and fear of failure can produce anxiety.
I found the Ari and Phoebe tales a tad too cute and not altogether necessary. Incongruously enough, I read every one! I guess they appeal to the right brain and balance the more pedantic.
The Mastery of Anxiety practices are powerful and versatile, useful in circumstance other than the one described in a specific lesson. It would be a mistake to dismiss any of them based on their apparent simplicity; relaxation exercises, deep breathing, redirecting attention, preparatory rituals and mindfulness being only a few among them are easy to learn.
This book can help you to strip away those excuses for not progressing. It can help you accept the inevitability of anxiety in the creative life. It can help your learn new coping strategies that make it more tolerable. It might even be transformative with time and practice, if you are willing to allow it.