50: Eric Maisel (Fearless Creating for Comedy Writers)

Danielle Krage interviews Dr Eric Maisel. Eric is the author of more than 50 books – many focused on creativity and the creative life – including Fearless Creating, Deep Writing, The Power of Daily Practice and The Magic of Sleep Thinking. He also writes the ‘Rethinking Mental Health’ blog for Psychology Today and is a regular contributor to Mad in America.

In this conversation, Eric shares insights and practical strategies for writers engaged in a creative process, that by its very nature is likely to include anxiety, doubt and uncertainty.


00:00 Introduction and Background

00:55 The Role of Anxiety in the Creative Process

06:19 Using Breathing and Incantations to Center and Ground

07:36 Accessing Flow State in Small Increments of Time

09:58 The Importance of a Morning Writing Practice

11:54 Harnessing the Power of Sleep Thinking

13:50 Embracing Mistakes and the Doubt in the Creative Process

15:17 Existential Intelligence and the Search for Meaning

25:44 Pushing Back Against Authoritarianism and Mental Health Labels

30:38 Overcoming Self-Censorship and Negative Thoughts

35:56 Strategic Goal Setting and Productivity

38:05 Upcoming Books and Projects




Danielle Krage (00:00.68)

Hey everyone. Today I am thrilled to have Eric Maisel with me. Eric has written over 50 books. So he really does put into practice what he teaches and coaches around to do with creativity and writing and getting the work done. And I have definitely benefited from reading Eric’s books, including Fearless Creating and Deep Writing.

They’ve really helped me. So lovely to be able to share Eric with you today and ask writing related questions. But before we dive in, Eric, is there anything else you’d love people to know about you and your work?


Nothing off the top of my head. I’m sure it’ll come along.


Okay. Amazing. So I’d love to ask you, I love Fearless Creating as a book. I find it really helpful, really practical. And one of the things that was really helpful for me was to think about how actually we might need to invite anxiety in. That it’s not about pretending that we don’t have fear or don’t have anxiety. It’s actually kind of inviting it in, which can sound kind of counterintuitive to people who might think, gosh, I want to get rid of it. I don’t want to feel anxiety. So I wondered if you wouldn’t mind just starting there by explaining kind of why you think we do need to invite it in as creatives and what that might look like.


It’s not so much that we need to invite it in, it’s that we can’t really avoid it because it threads itself through the creative process. And therefore the best we can do is manage it rather than trying to eradicate it. And there are some major reasons why it threads through the creative process. The most important one is one that folks don’t think about much and that is that the creative process is essentially one choice after another.

Put the cop in, take the cop out, send my character to Brazil, send my character to Portugal, one choice after another. And choosing provokes anxiety, just the act of choosing. So if you think about it, we’re faced with anxious points, choice points every second in the process. We can’t really get away from that. When we’re in the trance of working or what’s also called flow, we don’t notice that we’re choosing. We kind of choose without noticing and it’s easy. It doesn’t mean we make the right choices, but we’re not pestered by choosing. We just make one choice after another.

It’s especially when we’re not in flow that we experience the choosing as so hard. And most people, as they begin a writing session, are not in flow to begin with. So they sit there not in flow, a little anxious, resistant, a little blocked.

And so that’s when some anxiety management tool, some portable tool, would be really useful. It might just be some deep breathing. It might be some stretching. It might be some ceremony. It can be a small thing, but to allow ourselves to understand that there’s probably some ambient anxiety going on at that moment helps us know not to flee the encounter. That’s the number one thing you want to do when you feel anxious. What a human being wants to do is get out of there. So that’s why people, when they manage to show up to the computer, sit there for two or three minutes and then remember that the garden needs weeding or that they notice that their cat has wandered by and they go follow their cat. They’ll do anything except deal with those little tendrils, those few tendrils of anxiety.

So, that’s part of the story. There are other reasons why anxiety threads through the process. And another one is that whether we are conscious of it or not, we realize somewhere in our subconsciousness that by writing, we’re revealing ourselves. We’re showing how smart or stupid we are. We’re showing all of our warts. We’re showing whether or not we know where to put the comma. All of that stuff we know is happening, if we’re anticipating an audience down the road, then we’re already worried about them noticing who we are. So in order to deal with that, we again flee the encounter. In order to not have to deal with the reception of the work, we want to get out of there.

And also just basically going into the unknown makes us a little anxious. And it’s a real unknown. If you’re actually creating as opposed to just repeating yourself, maybe you have some formula that you know how to repeat. But let’s say you’re not doing that. Let’s say you’re genuinely creating a new work. Then you’re going into the unknown and you may come back with nothing. Well, you may come back with something very strange that scares you.

So there’s a lot going on there that provokes anxiety. And from my point of view, there’s no way to eradicate that anxiety, except maybe by repeating ourselves, by having a formula and writing the same mystery or the same romance or the same this or the same that 100 times over. But that doesn’t really please us to do that. So we need some anxiety management tools.

One of my books is Mastering Creative Anxiety. And I think I have maybe 20 categories of anxiety management tools. So there are plenty of things to try, simple things like breathing. The best from my point of view, the simplest is the idea of dropping a useful thought into a deep breath. And I call those incantations. They’re essentially affirmations in a breath. And all you need to do is find a set of a few words, two or three or four words that are calming to you and then drop them into a breath and then incant them a few times.

The phrase that I suggested folks try first is ‘I’m completely’ on the inhale ‘stopping’ on the exhale. I’m completely stopping. And by that, I don’t mean just our everyday busyness or speediness. It’s not that kind of stopping. It’s stopping our need to get things right. That’s what paralyzes so many would-be writers is that they need to get things right as opposed to allow things to be as mediocre as they want to be on a given day.

You can’t go into the writing hoping for some guarantee that you’re going to have good words on that day. So you have to come in stopping your desire to get things right and allowing yourself to make any mistakes and messes that may happen on that day.

Danielle Krage (06:42.414)

Yeah, that’s so helpful. And, that breathing and incantation is one of my favourites and that I learned from you. I’d been aware of breathing techniques before, but actually combining it with a thought I find really powerful. And I’ve experimented with some of yours, and making ones up of my own. And I find just doing that one or two times is just such a lovely quick way to kind of centre, ground and slip into the work.


And the book that goes with that is called 10 Zen Seconds and in it I describe 12 of these incantations and how to use them and how to combine them so that one feels more centred and present for the writing.


Yeah, I love that. And I’d love to know, because you talked about flow, and you have lots of brilliant ways in deep writing to get into that real deep writing state. And that’s kind of my ideal state to operate in with regards to my writing. But I also love that you have this phrase about ‘creatives mustn’t scorn small increments of time’. And I really try to hang on to that too, because I’m sure like many creatives, we have a day with many different things going on too.

When you’re thinking about those small increments of time, do you think it’s possible to access a flow state? Or when you’re trying to use that 10 minutes, that 15 minutes, are you thinking about that in a different way for yourself?


It’s absolutely possible to acquire the flow state, even if you only have 10 minutes. What’s so hard, this is really hard, is to use those 10 minutes. Is to actually decide to make use of those 10 minutes as opposed to checking your email one more time, playing a computer game or something. And I think there’s a reason why it’s so difficult. And that is our everyday mind, what we’re supposed to be doing all day long is getting things right.

And that’s appropriate. Pick up our kids at three. We want to pick up our kids at three. We don’t want them standing there waiting for us. So it’s appropriate to do the right thing, to get things right. But then somehow we’re supposed to ceremonially make some bridge over to the creative mind where we have real permission to get things wrong. And it’s very hard to do that in the course of a busy day. It’s hard to make that change. So I think we need some kind of ceremony.

Some kind of gong going off, something that alerts us not just that 10 minutes have appeared, but that we want to make use of these 10 minutes and that we have permission to make mistakes and messes in these 10 minutes. That part’s not really easy. The movement from our everyday mind to a creative mind, that’s not easy. If you can make the movement, you could outline a whole book in 10 minutes.

You could do something very large in 10 minutes. You could solve the knotty plot problem in the middle of your novel in those 10 minutes. If you can get there, if you can get to those 10 minutes.


Yeah, that’s really inspiring. I love it. And that’s something I still do. And I don’t know if it’s the best strategy, but I find probably one of the only ways I can really regularly do that it is to have a list of things to get to so that when I have that 10 minutes, I kind of know where to point my brain quickly. I think that helps.


But I don’t want folks to not understand that while small increments of time are wonderful, there’s nothing like a morning writing practice. That could be one’s main practice, not trying to catch 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there, but starting your day with the writing. If the writing is important to you. If the writing isn’t important to you, then you don’t need to start your day with the writing. But if it is important to you, then there are many reasons why first thing is the best time to be writing.

Some are obvious. If you started your day writing, you’d get writing done. That’s the most obvious. The second is that you get to make use of your sleep thinking, which people don’t understand very well. They don’t understand that the brain, everybody understands that we dream at night. And we’ve been focusing on dreams for 125 years. What we don’t understand so well is that we think while we sleep. We dream in REM sleep, we think in non -REM sleep, and our brain is working all night long. And if we were to give ourselves a sleep-thinking prompt inside our book, like I wonder what Mary wants to say to John in chapter three, as we go to bed, our brain will work on that.

And then if we turn to the writing first thing, then we can have the experience of taking dictation. It’ll all be there. Mary and John will have conversed all night. Now we just have to get it down. If you don’t make use of your morning time, you never get to make use of your sleep thinking, which is a shame. You’re throwing away an hour and a half or two hours of free creative time by not turning to your writing first thing.

And third, just as one more point as to why it should be morning. By having done something real first thing, something meaningful, by having built some meaning capital first thing, the rest of the day can be half meaningless and you won’t get depressed. It’s really important to get something real done first, rather than trying to catch something real sometime during the day to keep saying to ourselves, maybe I’ll get to my writing, maybe I’ll get to my writing, maybe I’ll get to my writing. That almost always goes to no. And it almost always goes to no, not just because we’re too tired at the end of the day, but we’re also a little blue by the end of the day. We’re a little down because we haven’t gotten to a real thing. We’ve gotten five million things done during the day, but we haven’t gotten a real thing done. So by the end of the day, we just want to turn on the TV or something like that. So I can’t really oversell the idea of a morning writing practice, even if it’s 12 minutes, even if it’s 20 minutes. This is not about carving out two new hours at five in the morning. This is just about starting your day with your writing for as many minutes as you have available. By doing that, you’ll stay in touch with your writing. You make use of your sleep thinking and you get an awful lot of work done.


And I love that. And I’ve found all your advice around daily practice really, really helpful. And the Magic of Sleep Thinking is actually the most recent one that I’ve been working on. And actually the one that I’m still struggling with the most, I feel like there was… at different points in my life, I’ve had very strong dreams. Like for years I had stress dreams about sitting my history A level or whatever it was. They were very vivid.

And then I feel like, once those went away, I don’t remember dreams, unless something big has happened. Like, you know, there’s been a pet bereavement,  or different things that are very strong. The rest of the time, I feel like my daytime is quite vivid, but my nighttime, I go out like a light and then just wake up. So I’m really engaging with the Magic of Sleep Thinking at the minute. I’ve been doing that the last month to see if I can start to make some progress.


Well, hope you can. And part of it is sort of the lightness of the wonder of the sleep thinking prompt. It’s a little hard to say in words, but if we go to bed worrying, which produces those kinds of anxiety dreams and pressure dreams, what have you, if you go to bed worrying, that doesn’t really support our sleep thinking. But if we can go to bed with a real wonder, real curiosity about what happens in chapter three, then hopefully over time you really will begin to get information or responses that help you understand what’s going on in chapter three. So hopefully it’ll work.


Yeah, it’s very fun to experiment with. I love having creative experiments, but I try not to rush through your books because I really like to implement them and really like feel like I’ve embedded it. So, and then I always definitely get benefits. So the Magic of Sleep Thinking is the most recent. I’m excited to see what happens.

I wanted to ask you, because you have written over 50 books, and you said that we really need to learn that we can’t always get things right – that embracing mistakes too. At this point, do you still feel like you make mistakes? Or do things that don’t work? Or have projects that fail, that don’t work? Or do you think that actually, your practice is so embedded now that you are on a more sure footing? I guess I’m asking, does the doubt ever go away?


Practice doesn’t inoculate one against writing whole books that don’t work. I have a completely solid practice, but that does not spare me from mistakes. But I think what’s true is that more of what I want to write about is available to me now than it was previously, which helps.

prevent some big mistakes. And what I mean by that is, I’ll give you one example. In my mid-thirties, I did a series of pretty well-received books with Tarcher, Fearless Creating being one of them, Deep Writing, Affirmations for Artists, a couple of others in a row. And so my publisher there, Jeremy Tarcher, who was an actual person, gave me carte blanche to do any next book I wanted to do, which, probably you should never quite give an author, but….

And so I wanted to do a book on meaning. I’d always be interested in meaning as a subject. And so I wrote the strangest book on meaning that’s ever been written that captured…no, it was not strange in a good sense. It was strange in an incoherent, not understanding its subject matter sense.

So what I needed to know about meaning wasn’t available to me yet. I didn’t know enough about meaning to write a book about meaning at that moment. So I wrote a book that was completely unpublishable and they couldn’t publish it and didn’t publish it. They were very sweet about it. I think the editor-in-chief said something like… this is a very interesting philosophy, but there’s no chance we can publish this.

But so now, 45 years later, I can pretty much say what I want to say about meaning, concisely and sensibly, so to speak.

By the way, strange segue, but let me go there for a second. One of the struggles that writers have that they don’t understand they have is they need the experience of writing to feel meaningful. And there’s no reason why it should.

I’m saying a big thing in a few words, but there’s no reason why it should feel meaningful because meaning is just a feeling, that’s my point of view. Subjective psychological experience, comes and goes, like joy, like wonder.  You would not expect every moment to be joyful as you write. No reason to expect every moment to feel meaningful as you write. But people kind of expect that if they’re doing something that’s important to them, it should also feel meaningful.

And that’s not how meaning works. Meaning does not necessarily attach to the things we do that match our life purpose choices. So that’s a long way of saying you might only get two seconds of the experience of meaning three days after you finish writing your book. That may be all the sense of meaning you get from this whole year project. And that’s not a lot of meaning experience. That’s not a lot of payoff in the realm of meaning.

So to say that a little differently, people need to show up and do their work because the writing is for us, one of our life purposes. Not our only one, but one of our life purposes. And that we are living one of our life purposes is more important than we’re acquiring the experience of meaning from that writing.


Yeah. And I love that you talk about life purposes. And I wanted to ask you, because lots of the listeners are writers and specifically comedy writers. And you have a concept that I think they might be particularly interested in, because I certainly hadn’t seen it before, around thinking about existential intelligence. And I’d never seen that term used before. And when I saw it and how you described it as something that can be sort of both a blessing and a curse if you’re that way inclined. I think it might be helpful for listeners to hear a little bit about that concept, because they might recognize themselves in it and why actually they’re drawn to writing comedy and wrangling with some of those questions.


There’s a lot to say there. So Howard Gardner brought up the idea of multiple intelligences and identified many different kinds of intelligences, the mathematical intelligence, and kinesthetic intelligence, and relational intelligence, and other kinds of intelligence. And he came to a point and he said…Probably there’s something also that we might call existential intelligence. I just don’t know really how to talk about it or what it is. So he let that go and it really hasn’t been followed up upon.

But there has to be an overarching intelligence that makes sense of all the other intelligences. Because how would we know to make use of our mathematical abilities or our painting abilities or any other abilities if there wasn’t some intelligence trying to coordinate all of that or trying to make sense of all of that. So that’s what I’m calling existential intelligence. And it’s the intelligence that concerns itself with two ideas, both of which we’ve pretty much gotten wrong.

One is it concerned itself with the idea of life purpose. And I believe that we need a paradigm shift from the idea of life purpose to multiple life purpose choices. To the idea of life purpose choices. I don’t believe there is a purpose to life, but rather lots of things are important to us. So people get stuck there and also get very down there. They keep looking for the purpose to life, traveling 17 ,000 miles to some guru’s hut to see if purpose might be there. Or switching religions, or going from new age to Jewish to atheism to this, to that, to this over the course of a lifetime, still trying to get that purpose piece settled when it can’t be settled because there isn’t a purpose to life.

Purpose is a choice. So that’s what I think our existential intelligence can get us to. It can get us to that point of understanding that we have choices to make around what’s important to us. So that’s A.

And B is similar and that’s the idea that we are seekers of meaning. For thousands of years, we’ve used that expression, time to stop that and time to understand that we ought to make meaning rather than seek meaning. And that’s what this enterprise is for comedy writers, for all writers, for all creatives, this attempt to make meaning. Except it doesn’t actually work. All we can try to do is coax meaning into existence. We can’t actually make it like we can make a painting or make a pot or something. We can’t make it in that sense.

All we can do is to do those things that cultivate the experience of meaning. So I’m just going around the block here with these ideas, but if you are the kind of person who’s popped out of the womb concerned with these questions, you’re always going to find only sort of half-unsatisfactory answers to them because you won’t find a purpose to life and you won’t find the meaning of life. You won’t find either of those things since one is about choosing and one is

just about a certain kind of feeling that comes and goes.


Yeah, I love that. And I do think that it does sort of integrate with some of the absurdity that people who are writing comedy, including myself, feel or felt at different points. Yeah, when we’re sort of looking at the world and things that are supposed to deliver a certain something to humans, they’re supposed to… like I’ve talked to other writers who’ve gone through…you know, if there’s marriage or religion or these different things…there’s things that are supposed to just deliver the meaning to you. But I think quite a lot of people who are interested in comedy, like myself, who are looking at things feel a lot of mismatches. Feel a lot of the sense that we can only, like you say, half answer some of these questions. And there is so much that is absurd and futile. But I think comedy often gives a fun lens of looking at it, rather than being nihilistic about there being no purpose or no meaning.


That’s right. And it’s, it’s absurd that we decide to put the world on our shoulders as if we have much influence or control. And yet, and yet I think that we understand that that is our job, as absurd as that is. Even though I believe in multiple life purposes, that doesn’t mean that we can’t collapse those life purposes into a useful statement.

And for me, my life purpose statement is do the next right thing, which for me captures how I want to live my life. And it’s absurd to set the bar there. Why set the bar doing right things? Why not do wrong things or bad things or things that are self -aggrandizing or what have you? Because we don’t like that. For whatever reason, we don’t really like not doing the right thing. So that may be absurd and some remnant of conscience that maybe we could get a lobotomy and not have that conscience. But we don’t want that from ourselves. We really want to keep civilization afloat somehow.


Totally. And I think that’s where the writing can be really freeing and fun because we can have characters doing the wrong thing all the time without the consequences. Whereas in life, actually, I have a very strong conscience and do want to do the right thing. But I do think it’s fun to then be in that play space to create those characters and set those characters rolling. Particularly in comedy they are often doing the wrong thing, or they’re trying to do the right thing but with the wrong skills, or there’s always a mismatch.


Yep. There’s a phrase out of existential thought, which I’m sure you know, and that’s… absurd rebellion. And so it’s not just doing absurd things, but it’s fighting the forces that be, that rebelling against all the different elements of society that we know are not okay.

For me, I was born right after World War II and in the neighbourhood in Brooklyn where I grew up, which was primarily Jewish and Italian, World War II was still very present. Many people in the neighbourhood had tattoos from the concentration camps. And the phrase resistance fighter got embedded in me at a very early age, which was an idea, of course, from the Second World War. You just picture sort of French cells in cellars somewhere ready to pop out and blow up some Nazi train or something.

And I think that’s been one of the motivational fuels for me over all these years is not just making interesting or pretty things, but rather to be using writing in some resistance against Humbug. Some resistance against all the nonsense that’s out there. The particular resistance that I’m experiencing these days has to do with the mental disorder paradigm and how psychiatry owns a certain view of what mental health and what mental disorder looks like. And I’m doing a lot of writing and shepherding of books in that field. But it’s an ongoing desire of mine to fight back, I guess.


Yeah, no, I love that. And you clearly you are doing that through your writing. And again, it’s interesting that we’re able to do that through so many different mediums and with so many different tones, because I both sort of feel the strength of your pushback in different things. And I find it very interesting what you are doing in terms of how different disorders are labelled. I mean, that requires a lot of strength to push back against Goliath’s… pharmaceuticals. But also you have such a light, gentle tone.


It’s not just pushing back against Big Pharma and the American Psychiatric Association and those folks. It’s pushing back against all the people around me who are now loving their diagnoses. So many people are choosing a diagnosis, self-diagnosing. I hardly can meet anybody nowadays who doesn’t proclaim they have ADHD or something. So it’s not…It’s becoming so culturally embedded that it’s not just fighting the big entities, it’s arm-wrestling each individual into helping them let go of this self-diagnosing identity.

It’s so funny. This is just a funny little anecdote, but my wife and I went to a chamber music concert the other week. By the way, parenthetically, they played the Fanny Mendelssohn concerto. And if you do not know the Fanny Mendelssohn quartet, that’s Fanny Mendelssohn quartet, she wrote one quartet and her brother Felix said, I’m not sure it’s so good. And she never wrote another one. That’s a whole nother story. But we’ll put that off to the side.

But there were maybe 300 folks in the auditorium. You could hear a pin drop for an hour and a half, but half the people in there would claim that they have ADHD. How is it that they have ADHD, but could stay for an hour and a half, absolutely non-distracted or undistracted? It’s just a funny idea. And of course, what you notice is that people are very distracted when they’re doing things they don’t want to be doing, but they’re not distracted when they’re doing things that they want to be doing.

I know I’m often left field here in somewhere else, but you can tell that it’s on my mind, all of this choosing to adopt one or another of these mental disorder diagnoses, it’s not helping people, it’s not helping their mental health. And it’s too bad that it’s happening to such an extent.


And what do you think, because you see so many people in your different… you’ve had a one-to-one practice, you’ve worked in groups, you’ve written for so many people, you’ve spoken in so many different places and had writers’ questions. What do you think is one of the things that you find writers resisting? Like as a pattern, when you know that if they just gave it a try, it would probably help them.


Well, the biggest thing, I mean, there, I could name 17 different things. One is self-censorship. Freud said that all blockage is essentially self-censorship. And that isn’t the case, all blockage isn’t, but self -censorship is a real part of the puzzle where we’re not sure that what we’re about to bring up actually feels safe. This is especially true for memoir writers. They’re not sure that it really makes sense to write about their sister or their mother. Or they’re not really sure that’s a good idea. They’re making some internal claim that they want to tell the truth and therefore if they hurt someone, so be it. But part of them isn’t really sure that they like that idea. So there’s a big self -censorship issue.

But the biggest, I think of all, is that…People are not thinking thoughts that serve them. And I say that in a particular way, because true thoughts don’t necessarily serve us either. This is not about the truth or falsity of thought. But if a writer is thinking of a thought like… wow, there are a lot of writers out there, that’s a true thought that doesn’t serve them to be thinking. Because if you think about the competition, you’re much less likely to want to get to your own.

So there’s an activity that almost every human being, every writer needs to engage in of noticing what they’re saying to themselves, which I think is an act of courage because again, we want to keep all of that kind of muddy. We don’t really want to notice what we’re doing. We’re kind of defensive creatures. But step one is to actually hear that stuff. And step two is to dispute it if it’s not serving us. No thought. Not… no thought you’re not true. But… no thought you’re not serving me. I don’t want you. Go away.

And step three is to insert some kind of affirmation or some kind of useful thought that counteracts the unuseful thought. People don’t quite notice that some of the thoughts they think really are meant to prevent them from doing their work. The two most current ones, I would say, are I’m tired and I’m busy. And they’re completely appropriate thoughts because we get tired and we are busy. But if you let those thoughts just sit there like that, then you’re not going to be inclined to go to your writing. You’re going to be inclined to relax because you’re tired or relax because you’ve been busy all day. So you have to append a big, but. A big BUT. And that is, I’m tired, but I can get to my writing for 20 minutes. Or I’m busy, but I can get to my writing for 20 minutes.

That is, we have to counteract this energy that we’re setting up for ourselves of that we’re not in the right state, or in the right position, to do our work. So to make that long story short, I think the cognitive piece is a big piece, the not thinking thoughts that serve.

And also I think, we get washed with feelings when we think about writing, feelings that are not helping us. So I think as soon as we start to think about doing the writing, if we’ve not had a regular practice, that means we’ve probably been disappointing ourselves for years. Right? We wrote a little bit and then we lost a year and then we wrote a little bit and we lost a year and we did a little bit of writing and lost six months. And all of that is not pleasant to think about each time we try to return to the writing, the whole weight, the albatross of all those disappointments and all the writing we haven’t done already. And all of those regrets, all of that just smacks us as we’re attempting to write now. So to say that simply, there’s some kind of healing that’s needed each day. There’s breaking through resistance each day, but there’s also some kind of healing to do with forgiving yourself for having lost 18 years, 28 years or a year. Forgive yourself for having lost hope and show up now.

It becomes a little bit of an indulgence to be thinking about all that lost time. Now you’ve got to let that go, be here now, show up and get the work done today.


Yeah, I love that. And because… as you’re saying, I’m thinking… I can imagine it almost as if it was people. Like there are some people that sometimes you interact with them, they’re so busy thinking about the time that they haven’t seen you for, or how long it’s been since they’ve seen you, that then they don’t get to really see you and you miss that connection. So yeah, I love that.

And just a couple more questions before we wrap up. So you’ve written over 50 books, which is prolific. And you’re talking about the kind of mindset, the thinking for writers. Do you think in terms of goal setting and productivity and some of those things that can be quite prevalent in culture today? Or do you think much more about having a practice and that you will get the book done and ready for publication if you show up on a daily basis? How do you think about goal setting for yourself?


I am strategic nowadays. That is, I prefer to finish books sooner rather than later, which means that I prefer nowadays books to be shorter rather than longer. And I prefer to have them set up in the way that best accommodates my writing style. And by that, I mean, I like to do a finished chunk a day. I enjoy that experience. And for me, a nice size is about 800 to a thousand words. So I now characteristically organize books into 50 or 60 small chapters so that I have the experience of doing a chapter a day, a chunk a day, and having the experience of not only starting something on a day, but finishing something on that same day. And with that rhythm, I can do a draft of a book in 50 or 60 or 70 days and two or three months.

Then of course I have to see what I’ve wrought and see if it’s any good and all of that. But I am pretty much strategic nowadays in that way of crafting books that fit my style and that are sort of of the size that allows me to do three books a year rather than one book a year because I have lots of things that I want to get to.

So for me, it would be a little bit of an indulgence to do 150,000 word book on anything because that would prevent me from getting to something else. So it’s not so much goals, but it is being strategic.


That’s a lovely way of putting it. And what are you excited to get to this year? You have so many brilliant thoughts and I’m always, every time I check back, there’s more things that you’ve produced. So what does 2024 bring?


Well, I have two books coming out. One, comes out… well, actually I don’t know when they come out. May or June, there’s a book coming out called Parents Who Bully, which is about authoritarians and the family, which follows up on the work of those folks who wrote about the authoritarian personality in the 1950s. Folks like Adorno and other researchers at the University of California. They were interested in authoritarians in a political sense. They were really curious about who Hitler’s followers were. That’s where the authoritarian literature came out of that wonder about why did so many people follow Hitler. But all of that was about social and political stuff, not about authoritarians in a private setting.

And I’ve been interested in that subject, authoritarians in a private setting, for a long time, and put out an authoritarian questionnaire in cyberspace that people have been filling out and what have you. So the book that came out of all of that comes out soon, in some months.

And then I have a book coming out in November called Choose Your Life Purposes, which I think is a good summary of a lot of my ideas about life purposes, but also provides kind of a picture of what are classic life purposes and how they can be put together in a kind of menu sense or in a list sense so that one has a better understanding of what’s important in one’s life. So that comes out.

I’m the lead editor for a series called the Ethics International Press Critical Psychology and Critical Psychiatry Series. We’ve just had two books in that series come out and I’m editing or overseeing the next book in that series, which is called Institutionalized Madness, which is primarily about how the law colludes with psychiatry in harming people. So there’s that.

But what I’m actually working on, because most of those things are to bed already, and are coming out or in some stage of completion. It’s a little hard to say, but I’m working on the idea of psychological catastrophe. That is sort of what’s going on for so many people that of course will get a mental disorder label from psychiatry. Psychiatry will call it something… bipolar or clinical depression or this, that or the other thing. But it’s actually a certain kind of collapse and catastrophe that’s going on. And so I can’t say more about it than that in this second, but that’s what I’m working on right now.


Oh, fascinating. My goodness. Well, thank you so much for sharing your time today with us. Where should people go to find out more about you and your work?


Sure, come to my site, ericmaisel.com.

Danielle Krage (41:10.638)

Perfect. Thank you, Eric. A pleasure as always to hear about your ideas, ones that I’ve already engaged with and always ones that are new to me too, where there’s a glimmer… I’m like, what is that? That sounds fascinating. So I’m looking forward to checking those books out when they come out. Thank you so much.


You’re very welcome. Thank you.