The Artist’s Way
by Julia Cameron
You know how when you pick up a much loved book, just holding it in your hands can transport you back to where you were when you first read it? Here’s where I was when I first read The Artist’s Way: I was 25, and had just moved back to the mid-north coast after 8 years of living in cities. The Bear, who I had known for about 6 months, had come with me and we were living in an open plan house at the beach. Our house used to be a restaurant, and came complete with a 360 degree glass fireplace at the foot of our bed, men’s and women’s toilets and a commercial kitchen at the back of the house. We loved that house I had a friend who had found herself stranded in the area while recuperating from head injury. One day, she brought The Artist’s Way along to a little group that we were part of, and showed us how to make our own journals (I’ve still got mine!) – and told us all about the book. I have bought several copies over the years, but each time I get one, I promptly give it away – I think I’m up to number 4 or 5 now
The Artist’s Way is a 12 week program designed to revive your creativity – whether you identify as an artist or not. It is a workbook with daily and weekly tasks, and Julia Cameron asks that you make a commitment to finish the whole program at the beginning of the book. I’ve done the whole program twice over the past 13 years, and when I was researching for this essay, it was amazing to discover how many of the tools and concepts have been totally integrated into my psyche.
The first thing that The Artist’s Way has taught me was the value of an Anchor Practice. In yoga, an anchor practice is a set practice that you do every day that provides you with the foundations from which your other practice develops. This might be a 15 minute meditation, chanting, pranayama or a particular asana sequence. Whatever it is, it is something you are committed to, even on the busiest day. This practice brings you back to your Self. In The Artist’s Way, the anchor practice is your Morning Pages.
Put simply, morning pages are 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, ingloriously, be called brain drain, since that is one of their functions.
When I think of morning pages, an image comes to mind of leaving the washing up water in the sink overnight. In the morning, the water is cold, greasy and there are some unnameable floating bits in it. Morning pages pull the plug out and clean the sink.
All that angry, whiny, petty stuff you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity. Worrying about the job, the laundry, the funny knock in the car, the weird look in your lover’s eye – this stuff eddies through our sub-conscious and muddies our days. Get it on the page.
Imagine if you left that dirty sink water in all day and used it to wash your dishes – day after day. Nothing will be clean, and in fact your dishes may end up dirtier than what they were… I have used morning pages to get me through times of loss, heartbreak and motherhood. They have gotten me out of relationships and back into them. They have helped me choose the right job and leave jobs that aren’t right. I use morning pages to get to the truth of things. What is really going on here? How much of this situation do I own, and how much is someone else’s stuff? How do I really feel about this? I use morning pages to clarify complex situations, help me make good decisions and as a tool to stop procrastination.
It is very difficult to complain about a situation morning after morning, month after month, without being moved to constructive action. The pages lead us out of despair and into undreamed of solutions.
But most of all, 12 weeks of morning pages brought me back to writing, which had been lost to me for years. More on that later.
The Artist’s Date:
As artists, we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them – to restock the trout pond, so to speak. I call this process filling the well.
In the Artist’s Way, the artist date is the other compulsory activity, along with the morning pages. Once a week, for a minimum of two hours, we must commit to taking our inner artist (who looks and feels very similar to our inner child) on a date. By ourselves. To go somewhere or do something fun. Not an adult, educational, this-will-be-good-for-me type of activity, but just plain old fun.
I remember having trouble with this at first. I was (am) an uber-sensible Taurean eldest child – and I was not a dreamer. What was the point? Dreamers were annoying people who thought a lot but never actually did anything! I was about action, not dreaming. What I didn’t know, and what artist’s dates taught me, was that dreaming is how we connect with our innermost selves, our sacred purpose. I had the action bit sorted – I knew how to make stuff happen – now I had to work backwards and start playing and dreaming so that I could make the right stuff happen.
Stop telling yourself that dreams don’t matter, that they are only dreams and that you should be more sensible.
Back then it was difficult – now, artist’s dates have become so ingrained in my psyche, I forgot their name until I started researching this book. When I need to feed my artist, I feel a desperate tightness, a dryness, a cranky, out of sorts, wanting to run away kind of feeling that tells me my well is dangerously low. Now, to fill my well I do things like: go to a writer’s festival or retreat, have a ‘me’ day, get a massage, watch a movie that only I like, take a neglected novel to a beautiful spot by the water and just read, go to a yoga class, dancing or even go shopping and eat at my favourite cafes.
The artist’s date taught me how to dream, and gave me the tools to keep myself juicy as well to pay attention to the warning signs.
Everyone is creative, even me.
Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.
The title of this book is a little misleading. The Artist’s Way implies that this book is for people who already think of themselves as ‘artists’ or have a desire to be one at some time in the future. I can tell you that, at 25, I had no concept or desire to be an artist. I was not writing, and hadn’t written since I left school. I feel so sad telling you this, but it’s true. If you had asked me if I was a creative person, I would have laughed and said, “No way! Not me, I haven’t got a creative bone in my body!” I don’t even know why I did this book in the first place, except maybe I was under the spell of my gorgeous, creative Leo friend with the head injury
I know now that creativity is not some mystical ability doled out randomly to certain special people at birth. Creativity is what we are. Creativity is the language of the soul, and in the way that everyone has a soul, creativity is commonplace. Some people can access their creativity easily, some people, like me, need some help. Creativity is like a fingerprint – we all have one, but each fingerprint is completely unique, and the way we express ourselves creatively is too. There is no ‘high’ or ‘low’ creativity – that’s just bullshit the ego tells us to separate us from our essential selves. Some of us garden, cook or craft; some of us paint, sculpt or write. It is all sacred, it is all our gift back to God. It really doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do it. Because to not express your creativity is a crime against your soul. It’s called coming here and not doing what you came here for.
The purpose of art is not a rarefied, intellectual distillate – it is life, intensified, brilliant life – Alain Arias-Misson
Looking back, I can hardly believe I am the same person as I was back then. Baby, you’ve come a long, long way For me, that is the mark of a life-changing book.
So tell me – have you read The Artist’s Way? Did it make a difference in your life?