In House: Eric Maisel on Criticism & Creativity in Writing
Eric Maisel is a Creativity Coach and author who’s been working with writers for 30 years. This summer, he hosted the Deep Writing Workshop at the Art of Living Retreat Center, where writers of all experience levels relearned how to prioritize and develop their creativity in a supportive, quiet space.
A different kind of writing group
The Deep Writing Retreat is very simple in structure. Eric provides a series of lessons, as well as a safe space — there’s no critiquing or sharing of the writing that is created.
“A lot of people come for that reason alone,” Eric says. “They know they’re not going to have their writing shredded by somebody else on the spot. There’s also plenty of time to write, and not on writing exercises that go nowhere, but on their own projects. Many attendees have a project that they’re working on. This is an opportunity to get a lot of writing done in a safe environment, and also learn lessons that they can take back and continue to implement when they’re back home.”
About 15 years ago, Eric was invited to teach a writer’s workshop, and his group shared the space with another writer’s course. He noticed how much critiquing and unhappiness was happening in the other group; tears and feuds and everything he knew he didn’t want in a writing workshop. Observing that group, Eric saw how the idea of sharing and critiquing in the moment doesn’t really support one’s intention to have a good experience and get a lot of writing done.
According to Eric, many writers don’t understand the extent to which anxiety and existential despair gets in the way of writing, especially when they feel blocked. He crafted his workshops with this in mind, and has been leading groups with compassion, respect, and space for over 15 years.
What is deep writing?
Deep writing is simply getting quiet enough to write. “If we get quiet enough, we go deep from a physiological standpoint, and we get our whole brain back,” Eric says. Our minds are always on the go, and not just figuratively. Each thought takes up thousands of neurons, and when you’ve got a lot of your mind, it’s very difficult to find the brain space in which to be creative.
“One of the main things I help writers understand is why they want to get quiet. This is different from meditating, but not unrelated. This is quiet for the sake of generating ideas; it’s quiet with the purpose of allowing something to bubble up. When you get quiet, you have that experience of silence in which ideas are born, and that’s the depth of the workshop.”
Deepening your writing practice often has the effect of deepening your life as well. If you’re a writer, and you’re not making time for your writing, it’s easy to become disappointed in yourself and with life in general. Joining a workshop, especially one in which you can give your writing a depth of attention that’s almost impossible in the business of day to day life, helps you do the wonderful, existential work of living your life’s purpose.
Letting your voice ring out
Most people have a voice, or wish they had a voice with which to express themselves. Most of blockage, according to Eric, is self-censorship. Speaking your truth is difficult, whether you’re a writer, an activist, a teacher, or even just initiating a difficult conversation. This is all the same process. The process by which we can let our voice ring out involves getting quiet, being courageous, preparing ourselves, and then actually speaking.
“A lot of the workshop is about eliminating excuses that people have. I think many find it to be a profound experience, a life-changing experience. I very often get mail from a person long after they’ve taken the workshop, telling me their book is finished or that it’s been published, and that it was the workshop that made the difference.”
Are your thoughts serving you?
Eric also tells us that we need to think the thoughts that will serve us. The biggest creative blocker is the way we talk to ourselves. If we say “I’m not talented”, or “there’s too much competition,” or even things like “I’m too tired to write, I’m too busy”, we won’t get our creative purpose off the ground, or our other purposes as well. The most important element is the cognitive work of making sure that you think thoughts that serve you.