Deep Writing: Seven Principles that Bring Ideas to Life by Eric Maisel

Book Review by Ruth Folit

Eric Maisel understands the minds of writers. He has counseled writers for years and is currently involved in creativity coaching. In 1997 he wrote Deep Writing for people who want to write. The book is about how to go from being a non-writer to writer, and how to write more deeply and more passionately about things that really matter.
Within the book are exercises, “case studies” of five could-be writers, and personal anecdotes about the writing life. The chapter titles give you the seven principles that Dr. Maisel discusses:

1. Hushing the Mind
2. Holding the Intention
3. Making Choices
4. Honoring the Process
5. Befriending the Work
6. Evaluating the Work
7. Doing What’s Required

I think all writers who choose to write deeply, whether they are journal writers or professional writers must begin with # 1, hushing the mind. In order to write deeply, you have to pass through the landmine of internal critics, to a quiet and peaceful place where you can hear yourself. Maisel contends that “a certain kind of inner silence is a prerequisite for writing.” Eric Maisel has a brilliant exercise that I would like to introduce to you that takes you to this inner place. I have received his permission to quote the following two-three pages from Deep Meaning with the exercise he calls “The Bedlam Walk” (27-30):

“We can’t fully participate in the mystery of life if, as soon as we approach the depths where ideas reside, our own anxiety, negativity, and self-doubt make breathing difficult. If the depths unnerve us, we’ll search for answers in safe places, where the air is plentiful and the sun scares demons away. But the answers we seek can’t be found in those sun-drenched places. We really must dive.

We’re unused to diving and afraid of diving. Intense thinking, like intense living, unnerves. Therefore, we create categories–“geniuses” and ourselves, “real writer” and ourselves, “artists” and ourselves-and let our brain off the hook. Every would-be writer is a real writer with a head full of inner demons that prevent him or her from diving.

To say that these are not literal demons but “only” anxiety and negative self-talk is to misunderstand the drama of the situation. These, our own fears and doubts, cause the wildest inner dramas and perpetrate on us the greatest inner crimes. They really do come from hell, and they really do possess what one can’t help but call aliveness. They are alive, they are demons, and they reside in that most private sanctuary of all, one’s mind.

. . .These demons infiltrated your mind a long time ago. They must be exorcised now, and you are the one who must do it. But how can you look into your own mind if that inquiry makes you break out in a sweat? Here’s the answer: you meet your inner demons while also holding them at bay. You look them in the eye but without risk, and only when the time is right do you decide which demons to embrace and which to exorcise. The budding deep writer begins by meeting his inner demons in a safe, guarded way.

Imagine a room in an insane asylum. It is a harshly lit room with fifteen beds on each side and an aisle running down the middle. Each bed is occupied by a madman or a madwoman. Some of the inmates are only children. Some are hags, some homeless men, some witches. Some look entirely presentable in their business suits and sports clothes. One or two are chubby and Dickensian: smiling, kite-flying psychotics. Several look seriously normal. These are the worst!

At the far end of the room is a door, and beyond the door is a courtyard. Beyond the courtyard is a beautiful study. The study is its own self-contained building, a one-room lodge with tall windows and sunlight streaming in. Inside is a fireplace, a Persian rug, and lots of gleaming wood. Picture it however you like, but do picture it. This is your ideal study, a place where adventures of the mind can be played out from beginning to end without interruption. It is a place where fantastic questions get asked and answered. Here you write books. Here you smile that dreamy smile that plays on a writer’s lips when a fine sentence gets moving, turns this way and that, and comes to a happy end.

Here you can write.

However, to get to that study you must walk down the aisle of that asylum. You must walk through bedlam. The demons are shouting and screaming at you. No matter. Just walk down the aisle. They can’t harm you. They can’t pounce. They can’t get off their beds. They are shrieking, impotent bastards! Yes, their words hurt. But their words are also meaningless. Since you aren’t stopping to investigate their charges, you might just as well consider them false. Why not consider them false rather than true? Why not laugh and cry out, “I’m none of those things!”

Here is what they’re saying, and here you are managing to walk right past them.

No-talent fool!                             Stupid, incompetent dodo!
Worthless piece of snot!              Dumbass!
Weakling!                                   No nothing!
Greatest living writer-ha!              Fraud!
Spineless doormat!                     Cockroach!
Total emotional mess!                 Real writer’s caddy!
Shithead!                                   Empty-headed idiot!
Absolute, utter failure!                 Ridiculous imposter!
Complete illiterate!                      Monster!
Intellectual midget!                      Zero! Nada! Rien!

Just walk down the aisle. It doesn’t matter how you get from one end to the other. No way is more heroic or more humiliating than the next. It doesn’t matter if you have to crawl on your hands and knees or whistle a tune to drown out the screaming. All that matters is that you do not let these demons, who can’t get off their beds and attack you, who can only rant and rave, stop you from writing. Yes, they’ll make some wild leaps at you! Yes, they’ll curdle your blood with their shrieking! Just practice your hushing and keeping on walking.

Open the door and leave the asylum. Isn’t the courtyard’s silence amazing? This is sacred silence! Enter your study. Go to the desk. Boot up the computer. If a demon’s voice intrudes, say to yourself, “You’re locked away back in the asylum!” Hush and affirm that demons have no place in your study. Orient toward your work. Engage your mind. Thrive in this right silence.

Practice this exercise until you can enter right silence at will.”

Those of you interested in learning more about Eric Maisel can visit his website,www.ericmaisel.com, subscribe to his creativity newsletter creativitynewsletter-subscribe@yahoogroups.com, and read his book Deep Writing.