The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (with Mark Bryan)

I’m sitting in my apartment, on my couch, staring at a stack of recently laundered towels, trying to think of a way to describe this book. The sweltering heat, though heavy, reminds me that it’s the first day of July; occasionally the sounds of grasshoppers and traffic will distract me from my computer, but I’m determined to convey the brilliance of this book to you so that you will, hopefully, read it in the future.

I used to think that “learning creativity” was a bunch of bunk. It was my belief that, by making the creative process into an organized, business-like transaction, we were negating the very core of its purpose. I was devoted to the bohemian artist lifestyle, writing when I felt like it, procrastinating when the mood struck me (which was ridiculously often). The Artist’s Way has taught me that, not only was I wrong, I was completely misguided. Pursuing your creative passion has nothing to do with learning the craft itself; it has everything to do with tapping into your capacity for creating. A creative writing course, for example, is not meant to teach the one-and-only formula for creativity, which is impossible, but to tease out the potential that already exists in us. It’s simply a matter of excavating deep enough, working hard enough, and finding our place in the sun.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not explaining myself properly. So, let me use a perfectly articulated passage from Cameron’s fabulous book to illustrate my incoherent ramblings:

Let our gardening hands be gentle ones. Let us not root up one another’s ideas before they have time to bloom. Let us bear with the process of growth, dormancy, cyclicality, fruition, and reseeding. Let us never be hasty to judge, reckless in our place for the artist toddler to try, to falter, to fail, to try again. Let us remember that in nature’s world every loss has meaning. The same is true for us. Turned to good use, a creative failure may be the compost that nourishes next season’s creative success. Remember, we are in this for the long haul, the ripening and harvest, not the quick fix.

Most importantly, Cameron eloquently and beautifully explains that we expect ourselves to progress too quickly, to make giant and impossible leaps in productivity without the experience and practice to sustain our ambitions. For example, we can’t expect ourselves to swim like Michael Phelps from the outset. As viewers, we see the finished product: incredible talent and Olympic medals. What we don’t see, were the millions of tiny little steps made every day, practicing, persevering, which would accumulate over time to create immense skill.

The Artist’s Way is a twelve-week program, full of relevant and self-reflective tasks and challenges, all meant to push you through any and all creative blocks. Week 8, entitled “Recovering a Sense of Strength,” I was especially captivated by an essay called “Filling the Form”.

What do I mean by filling the form? I mean that taking the next small step instead of skipping ahead to a large one for which you may not yet be prepared. To be very specific, in order to sell a screenplay, you must first write one. In order to write one, you must come up with an idea and then commit it to paper, a page at a time until you have about 120 pages of script. Filling the form means that you write your daily pages. It means that when obsession strikes – as it will – about how the damn thing is not any good, you tell yourself that this is a question for later and turn back to doing what is the next right thing. And that means you write the pages of the day.

Most of the time, the next right thing is something small: washing out your paintbrushes, stopping by the art-supply store and getting your clay, checking the local paper for a list of acting classes… As a rule of thumb, it is best to just admit that there is always one action you can take for your creativity daily. This daily-action commitment fills the form.

This book has given me immense clarity. When I sit down to write, I focus on now, the words I’m producing now and, most shockingly, having fun. The impatient part of me insists on looking at the future, wishing and waiting for the day that I can write full time. But my current reality is something different, and I need to work within those parameters to stimulate the growth I desire.This doesn’t mean I can’t dream big and aim high, but it also means that I have to take one step at a time, do what I’m capable of now, within the boundaries of my current financial, physical, and emotional situation. The amazing thing is that those little steps, hundreds of them, add up. It may seem like a daunting task to read a 700 page book but, if you break it down, you will inevitably accomplish that goal. It’s only a matter of time, energy and effort.

2 incredible lessons from Julia Cameron

If you choose to read this book, there are two ideas that will change your creative outlook.

1. Morning Pages

Cameron suggests writing three pages of long hand, stream-of-consciousness every morning. It doesn’t matter what you write about. The purpose is to just follow your flow. Allow yourself to produce without striving for perfection. I’ve found it very helpful in that it sorts out my thoughts, empties my mind of any lingering doubts or negativity, and provides a safe environment where I can dream big, without justifying my ideas or arguing about what is or is not realistic. Most importantly, I’ve noticed that, by writing my morning pages, my brain is ready to create when I sit down to hit my daily word quota.

2. Artist Dates

This may sound simplistic, but just do stuff that makes you happy. Cameron encourages us to take our “inner artist” on a date every week. This may sound a little kooky, but the idea is to get out and observe, interact, and brainstorm. Go see a movie, see a play, take a walk, explore a fabric store, investigate a new bookstore, pursue something you’ve always wanted to try, but were too doubtful to attempt.

My artist date

On Friday, I had the afternoon to myself, so I decided to see the new Disney movie, Brave. Not only was this an incredibly imaginative film, I was pleasantly surprised to see the new Pixar animated short called La Luna. I was blown away by the creativity and, as a result, I walked away feeling refreshed and ready to write!

I hope you have a chance to read The Artist’s Way. You will be immensely rewarded. Let me know what you think! Share your experiences. What creative avenue would you love to pursue?

9 thoughts on “The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (with Mark Bryan)

  1. This sounds like a really interesting book! Personally not sure how much I’d get out of it, feeling usually like I’m just not that creative – but also I think that’s fine! Some people will always be more creative than others :) But certainly sounds like a useful read.

  2. Pingback: Find Out the Kind of Writer You Want to Be

  3. Pingback: Finding Water by Julia Cameron | The Literary Lollipop

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