Most helpful critical review
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Some great suggestions, but could be better
on May 19, 2004
Eric Maisel's "Living the Writer's Life" is one of the best books I've found on the writer's life, right up there with Rachel Simon's "The Writer's Survival Guide". Palumbo's, unfortunately, is not so spectacular, although it definitely has its merits.
One of Palumbo's best-conceived ideas is that in order to be happy with our writing, we must learn to enjoy the process for its own sake, not simply for external rewards such as sales and good reviews. I particularly like his view of writing as meditation, "a hushed, private space"--a calling more than a career. Palumbo talks about the problems all writers face, and it might help you to realize that you aren't so alone after all.
As much as I loved the good parts of Palumbo's book, however, there were definitely some parts I didn't like. For example, I took real issue with some of his claims regarding bipolar disorder, particularly his claim that bipolar is nothing more than an unhelpful label. As someone who HAS bipolar disorder (a genetically-inherited, biologically-based *illness*), and whose life was very much aided by the proper medication, I can say that such "labels" can be very helpful indeed! If you're worried about somehow losing your creativity if you medicate and calm your manic phases, I can personally testify to the fact that in many cases medication makes it much easier to actually sit down and take advantage of your creativity, rather than taking it away.
It is clear that Palumbo has some very strong feelings on certain matters, and every few chapters these feelings detract from the usefulness of the book. He bashes would-be writers who haven't yet written anything, comparing them to someone who says that they've always wanted to give heart surgery a try one of these weeks (the analogy holds merit in that writing requires skill, but falls apart in that writing requires more learning-by-doing, and can at least be attempted, explored, and practiced by the unskilled!). If there's one thing I took away from Maisel's book, it's that every writer was once a would-be writer. And the line between "wanna-be" and "would-be" isn't something we can assume just by looking at someone.
I don't recommend this book to the novice or "would-be" writer. Unlike Maisel's book, it's likely to give you a few skewed ideas about creativity and your own role in writing. On the other hand, it has a lot of very useful suggestions for writers who have some experience and are looking for help with the ups and downs of their craft. Palumbo has written lots of scripts and screenplays, so he has plenty of advice that is of particular use to those writers dealing with Hollywood.