Blog 150: Reading The Artist’s Way

October 24, 2022

I’ve been reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, after my friend and manager, recommended it to me. Described online; ‘The Artist’s Way provides a twelve-week course that guides you through the process of recovering your creative self. It aims to dispel the ‘I’m not talented enough’ conditioning that holds many people back and helps you to unleash your own inner artist.’ Sounds good, but twelve weeks is a long time, and the book is over two hundred pages. It’s a bit of a daunting read if you’re trying to read it all in one go, and Julia likes to make ‘God’ references throughout, which as a non-religious person, is a little bit difficult to read. However, the main points she makes, and her overall message is good and dare I say, potentially helpful.

So, I’m going to summarise the main messages and the tools that Julia advises and take out the ‘God’ part, to give you an idea on how this book and course may help you.

First things first, this book is not just for writers, this book is for anyone who wants to do anything creative, but honestly, I think the tools highlighted in this book could help anybody. Even if it’s just to help clear your head and get your thoughts down on paper, thoughts you might be ignoring on a day-to-day basis.

For most people looking to perhaps take up a creative pursuit or do something creative, we have a number of mental blocks in place to cause us to doubt ourselves and give-up before we have even tried. Sometimes these mental blocks come from our childhood and our parents who worry about our futures. We may tell ourselves ‘It’s too late’, or ‘I don’t have enough money’, or ‘my friends and family will think I’m crazy’, or ‘I’m too old for that,’ or even ‘I’m too young and unqualified.’ These are all blocks that stop us from exploring any creative avenues, and as Julia says ‘Parents seldom respond, “Try it and see what happens” to artistic urges issuing from their offspring. They offer cautionary advice where support might be more to the point. Timid young artists, adding parental fears to their own, often give up their sunny dreams of artistic careers, settling into the twilight world of could-have-beens and regrets.’ ‘Baby artists are urged to think and act like baby doctors or lawyers.’ Couple this with a secret belief that most of us harbour; ‘that work has to be work and not play, and anything we really want to do – like write, act, dance – must be considered frivolous and be placed a distant second.’ The thing is, all these ‘negative beliefs are exactly that: beliefs, not facts.’

The truth is, work doesn’t have to be just work, and it’s not too late, and you’re not too old or young, and does it really matter what your friends and family think? Money is seldom the issue, but finding and dedicating time to being creative is. I know that it is easy to say and hard to do, but with the two main tools Julia puts forwards, you don’t need to have lots of money or hours of free time to do them.

But what are these tools? Julia calls them ‘The Morning Pages‘ and ‘The Artist Date‘.

Julia describes The Morning Pages as ‘three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness: “oh god, another morning. I have nothing to say. I need to wash the curtains. Did I get my laundry yesterday? Blah, blah, blah…They might also, more ingloriously, be called brain drain, since that is one of their main functions.’ The idea is to wake up, grab a cup of tea or coffee and sit down and write whatever is on your mind, whatever thoughts or feelings are going round your brain and whatever pops up. It doesn’t need to make sense; it shouldn’t make sense. ‘There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages’ and ‘It may be useful for you to think of the Morning Pages as meditation.’

Julia states: ‘Although occasionally colourful, the Morning Pages are often negative, frequently fragmented, often self-pitying, repetitive, stilted or babyish, angry or bland – even silly sounding’…. ‘All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity.’ The Morning Pages are literally a brain drain, they are a way to get rid of all the thoughts and feelings that are bothering you and weighing you down. It is a way to clear your mind so you can get in touch with your inner voice and inner artist. Sounds a bit suspect but writing down all the junk in your brain is surely going to help you be more focussed and clear-headed during your day. The key thing is to write three pages every day. Your Morning Pages are private, and you shouldn’t let anyone else read them or attempt to reread what you have written for at least eight weeks.

Julia writes that ‘over any considerable period of time, the Morning Pages perform spiritual chiropractic. They realign our values. If we are to the left of or the right of our personal truth, the pages will point out the need for a course adjustment. We will become aware of our drift and correct it – If only to hush the pages up.’ ‘They mention the small hurts we prefer to ignore, the large successes we’ve failed to acknowledge. In short, the Morning Pages point the way to reality: this Is how you’re feeling; what do you make of that?’

‘An Artist Date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness.’ This is a time where you pre-plan a solo play date, where you go out on expeditions, do something different, or do something that you enjoy. It’s a time where you can be truly present in the moment, that means not reading a book, or being on your phone, or any other distraction. It means watching and observing the world, its sights, sounds and smells. Feed your brain images and let yourself absorb and linger on details. Be focused on the visible, visual world. You will find during such expeditions that thoughts about your Artist Date will drift through you mind, this is your inner voice/artistic child commenting on your day and activities, listen to what it has to say.

If you can’t think of anything that you might like to do, try writing a list of twenty things that you enjoy doing, this can be an excellent resource for Artist Dates. These dates don’t have to cost money either, take yourself for a walk, ‘a brisk twenty-minute walk can dramatically alter consciousness.’ Spending time alone with your own thoughts and viewing the world around you is essential to self-nurturing and building up a creative memory bank for you to draw upon at a later date. You won’t even necessarily realise that you are creating a memory bank, but your mind will pick up and remember things you see and experience. ‘An artist requires the upkeep of creative solitude. An artist requires the healing of time alone. Without this period of recharging, our artist becomes depleted.’ ‘Commit yourself to a weekly artist’s date, and then watch your killjoy side try to wriggle out of it.’

Combined, the Morning Pages and Artist Date hone your listening and observation skills. Your inner voice/artist child is allowed to come to the forefront of your mind, but don’t expect perfection. Learning to let yourself create, is like learning to walk. The goal is to enjoy the process of being creative, not the end result. No one expects a Newborn baby to suddenly run a marathon, so neither should you expect greatness from your creative-self overnight. It’s an ongoing activity which has no end point, creativity doesn’t have a final exam, it’s a continual learning process. Julia recommends that you ‘choose companions who encourage you to do the work, not just talk about doing the work or why you are not doing the work.’

Finally, ‘what we really want to do is what we are really meant to do. When we do what we are meant to do, money comes to us, doors open for us, we feel useful, and the work we do feels like play to us.’ Doing what you really want to do should feel more natural, work shouldn’t feel like hard work all the time. It’s not that there won’t be any setbacks or low points, because there will be, but you should be able to take them as a learning experience, recover and move on to your next idea. Julia goes into more detail in her book about how to deal with your negative thoughts, and what to reasonably expect from yourself, and how to fulfil your dreams. So, if anything I have mentioned in this blog is of interest to you, then I recommend reading ‘The Artist’s Way’.