The Artist’s Way: Essential Reading For Artists Seeking Creative Recovery!
Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is the best and most helpful book on creativity and creative recovery that I have read. (And I’ve read quite a few in the last year, trying to recover what I lost along the way.)
As a bonus, The Artist’s Way is also a workbook, which helps you make the leap from blocked, wounded creative to one coming into their intrinsic power of being happily, gloriously creative.
I read about the phenomenon of this book many times, before I actually bought it. What made me buy it? Author Deborah Cooke described the two main tools of The Artist’s Way in a blog post and it seemed to make a weird sort of sense to me.
When Amazon finally delivered the book, I was feeling like I was a decent place creatively. And I was in such a hurry to show progress, that I read the introduction and the first two chapters and decided to only focus on the two main tools: the morning pages and maybe attempt a few artist dates.
This was the first iteration.
I turned the morning pages into ‘anytime’ pages and just scribbled and scribbled. Going well over the 3 page limit on most days. My hair-trigger temper improved, fears quietened down; my writing became looser but flowed easier. I settled more deeply into the idea of being a creative being and writer.
The inevitable implosions followed. Julia does warn us that in the course of following The Artist’s Way, as you heal and course-correct, you can expect a few fireworks.
So, I picked up the book again: the second iteration.
This time, to read through and through. Julia’s words now made even more sense. What she describes in the book was exactly what had happened with me while doing the morning pages! This second time, I did a few of the exercises but mainly just read, absorbed her gentle wisdom, her permission to find that essential, creative me.
I continue to do the morning pages. However, I managed just about 3-4 artist’s dates in all this time – around four months or so.
In these four months I have filled four notebooks with my (almost) daily scribbles, exhausted countless pens, and emerged calmer, softer, stronger and more in tune with the voice inside that sings.
This is what I learned in my two-time immersion in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way:
If you have been discouraged as a child or have been forced to be ‘practical’ or have been unable to pursue your creativity for financial reasons or even out of deep insecurities; those impediments have left a wound on you. When creative people are not able to express their creativity, they hurt. And while you work on reversing the blocks and getting back to your core creativity, you need to realise that you are in creative recovery and need to be kind to yourself.
Be patient. You are forging a new you.
The path will resemble waves rather than an upward incline. And as mentioned above, might even bring with it a few squalls and tsunamis.
Creativity is Play
You have to allow yourself to play, to let what you are creating feel light as froth and as joyful as a blown bubble. Treating creativity as heavy-duty ‘work’ as found in an office, bound by productivity – might be fairly counter-productive.
I had a day when my writing for Rackety and the Beauty Spell felt like flying! I then proceeded to get totally shocked at myself, started to doubt the quality of the writing and promptly shut down for a few days. Though better now, I still need to get that soaring flight of fancy back.
No Uniform Day
There will be good days and bad days. Days when you will make art and days when you will need to rest and reflect. Don’t let the lack of ‘output’ impact you negatively as a creative being. Remember, you are in recovery, and need to be gentle with yourself.
Be a soothing presence within the maelstrom of the self.
Filling the Well
Nurturing the inner artist child or as Julia calls it, ‘filling the well’ is perhaps your most important responsibility, especially while in creative recovery. Immerse yourself in a rich array of nourishing inspiration – sights, sounds, smells, tastes. The more delicious the better! This in part is what the artist date is about.
My favorites are: taking flower-photography sun-walks, going to the movies, going to the bookstore and reading books. Traveling and taking a holiday are also great for recharging the well!
What are your favorites?
The Essential Morning Pages
The morning pages are a journaling tool. You write three pages of longhand in the morning, ideally before doing anything else. You write to clear your mind, to connect more deeply to yourself, and to discharge your silly, angry, irritated feelings into a safe space.
And let me tell you, the morning pages certainly worked for me! In a way that my earlier, more casual journaling had not. This is a more mindful practice.
I’ve been doing them for months and even when nothing else gets done, when I’m in a soggy, squelchy, muddy mood, I dive into the strong, lighted-up reassurance of the pages. Which are to me ‘anytime’ pages. I pour out all my froth and fury and clarify, clarify, clarify. It’s great therapy. And I get a mental tick-mark for getting them done too!
Morning Pages For Writers
For writers, having the pages to pour yourself into, is an amazing gift. Here is a place to just be you, in words. There is no need for style or artifice. No worries about publishable merit. There is no audience. You can just be. And be as narcissistic as you need to be. What a huge relief, right?
You get kudos for just filling pages, for messing around, for just being with words. It’s amazing and freeing and ultimately – healing.
Creative people like doing things well. They like creating things with beauty, impact and resonance. However, when you are in creative recovery or transitioning to a different sphere of the creative journey – that might not be possible. Such thinking might in fact, be harmful. What we need to get more comfortable with, counter-intuitively enough, is bad or blurry art. ‘Bad’ to our perfectionist eyes that is.
Give yourself permission to play in the mud, to make a glorious mess, before the masterpiece inevitably emerges.
You will need to work on yourself as much as you need to work on your art to effect a proper creative recovery. This is years of grime being washed away from the mirror of your creative spirit. Take the time to do it right.
Then it will shine! Then we have lift off!
That Abundant Feeling
A belief in abundance is essential. Call out to abundant inspiration, abundant opportunities and an abundant audience.
Make the pie bigger. There’s enough and more for everyone.
A Deeper Connect
You’ll get an urge to deepen your learning, especially knowledge of your craft, once you embark on this 12-week journey.
I got back my ability to read with stillness and absorption though this process.
Do It Your Way
You need not follow the book exactly to reap the benefits of The Artist’s Way. A DIY approach works very well too.
Look at me, I’ve done two laps and will soon go around for a third, when I feel in need of healing again.
The third iteration will be the one in which I plan to follow absolutely everything in the book. Each set of weekly exercises, the affirmations, the artist dates, etc. And all through I will continue with the morning-anytime pages.
Healing Has To Continue
Creative recovery, creative healing and making art are all part of an artist’s creative process. Once the blocks shift a bit, art evolves out of the pain, out of the recovery and out of the healing spirit. And it shines brightest from a recovered artist.
So our work is essentially to strive and to continue the healing process.
We are artists, we are stronger as well as more fragile than most, we need to take care of ourselves, always.
And then, as Neil Gaiman said: ‘Make good art!’
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(Image credits: Pixabay.)
(Image of The Artist’s Way book: Radhika Mukherjee)