Now Reading: The Van Gogh Blues

I don’t feel like I have it in me to talk books today, this Monday at the start of what promises to be yet another week of hectic-ness, so instead I’ll talk writing. (That’s what this blog is ostensibly about, yes? Writing YA, or so I’m told? Um.) Also, there is one of those city trucks right outside our house, the kind that sucks leaves out of the storm drain with a gigantic hose, making a ridiculous amount of noise. SHHH PEOPLE ARE WORKING.

Anyway, I’ve started reading something called The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression by Eric Maisel, a psychologist and creativity coach who specifically addresses creative types and often writers in particular.

Oh. I guess I AM talking books. Or book. Oh well.

I’m still very early on in the book, but it’s intriguing in that it posits writers and artists and other creatives often have a specific source for their depression that others may not: for those whose lives and psyches are intimately tied up with the creation of things new and meaningful, depression can result from more existential sources, a “crisis of meaning,” as the author puts it. If you feel like what you’re creating isn’t meaningful, for instance, or you’re not sure how to create something real (or even cope) when the world feels meaningless or difficult, then you’re having a meaning crisis. We as artists, Maisel says, will feel more empowered if we are able to step back a bit, and embrace our role as creators of meaning rather than trying to find or receive meaning from somewhere “out there.”

From time to time I enjoy reading books like this, about the creative life. I think I like them more than I like the how-to-write or how-to-art type of books (although I enjoy those, too) because they address the nagging issues of day-to-day existence, going beyond questions that are writing-specific. I find both types of books valuable, because hearing about others’ experiences and the myriad of ways other writers and artists persevere is helpful. But as someone who does feel a lot of anxiety and angst—and someone with a very analytical side—it also gives me a sense of control to try to articulate and put a name to, or at least describe, what I’m feeling. One of the most formative books of this type that I’ve ever read is Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I’ve owned two copies of it and lent both of them out never to be seen again, so I’m assuming the people I lent it to really needed it. Highly recommended. I’ve read it again and again, flipped through it when I needed a bit of wisdom or reassurance.

A few other recommendations in this vein:

  • Writing Yoga by Bruce Black (of the lovely Wordswimmer blog) 
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg 
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott 
  • What It Is and Picture This by Lynda Barry 

Know of any others I should read? Eric Maisel actually has written a TON of books, and if I enjoy this one, I plan to explore those.

About the author


  1. About halfway through every novel project, I hit the Sticky Note Stage, where I have to remind myself WHY I am doing this, WHAT I wanted to accomplish with this story, and WHO my audience might be. It's a tough phase. I like "crisis of meaning" as a description.

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