My friend Laura gives the best gifts. When we were in high school together she sewed me an apron that has seen me through dinner parties, pie making, cooking adventures, and still hangs in my kitchen today. About two years ago she sent me a copy of Mari Andrew’s “Am I There Yet? The Loop-de-loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood” as I was in the middle of making some momentous adult decisions and it was just the thing to both comfort and challenge me to see my situation more broadly. A few months ago she gifted me a copy of “tiny beautiful things” by Cheryl Strayed that accompanied me through a dreary Seattle winter. But this past summer she really outdid herself. This time she did not even actually give me anything other than a recommendation for a book: “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. See, Laura is my creative friend. We share ideas, exchange books, dream about living in Taos (ok, maybe that’s just me and I haven’t told her about that particular daydream yet), check-in on each others’ creative project progress, commiserate about feeling uninspired, and rejoice together when we are in artistic flow.
One night this summer Laura and I talked for hours sitting by the Milwaukee River. I was between moving from Seattle back to St. Louis and she was making plans to move to Baltimore. It was during this conversation that Julia Cameron’s book came up while we were discussing recent creative influences. Laura described it as a twelve-week workbook of sorts that involved some reading, lots of writing, and the promise of creative exploration no matter your preferred medium. Untethered and in the middle of yet another big transition in my life I thought Laura’s description of the book and the book cover’s featured red banner, “A COURSE IN DISCOVERING AND RECOVERING YOUR CREATIVE SELF,” was intrigue enough for me. I ordered a copy the next day. However, when it arrived in the mail, I did not open it right away because I was intimidated by the commitment I knew it required to complete in its twelve week entirety.
I started “The Artists Way” on my first day of graduate school this fall to pursue a different sort of education alongside my academic one. I wanted to retain, or regain maybe, a sense of curiosity, creativity, and playfulness not just in the times I set aside to indulge my wannabe artist, but in my life overall. Julia Cameron helped me to do this through three basic tools: 1.morning pages 2. artist dates 3.weekly tasks.
- Morning pages is a commitment to start each day by writing three uninterrupted, unfiltered, and uncensored pages. They can be filled with what you dreamed about last night, that you do not have anything to write about, your grocery list, whatever you can get on the page, as long as you just keep writing. The purpose of morning pages is to clear out all the chatter that is constantly running in our minds. They give space to create and produce without the pressure of anything you put on the page being “useful.”
- Artist dates are a weekly commitment to fill up your creative cup and have fun. An artist date can can consist of going to a craft store, taking a walk through a park, or visiting that thrift store you always drive by but never go in. Artist dates are meant to give you permission to follow your interests and gain inspiration. They can be full of playfulness and “why nots” to free yourself of limitations for inspiration.
- Lastly, the weekly tasks are usually a combination of writing prompts and activities corresponding to that week’s theme in the book. Some of these might include writing about imaginary lives you could lead, directions for collecting leaves from outside to make a collage, or encouragement to wear your favorite outfit. The tasks are opportunities for insight by moving you through the themes in the book.
With these three tools and Julia Cameron’s words on the page I made my way through the first semester of graduate school, resettling in a familiar city, two part-time jobs, and reclaiming the title “artist” for myself.
Introducing me to the “Artist’s Way” was an incredible gift from Laura with impeccable timing. I attribute my ability to write endless academic papers this past semester because I was already in the habit of writing each day, my increased attunement to my day-to-day experience because of the discipline of morning pages, and my reevaluation of what it means to lead a creative life to Julia Cameron’s guidance and insight. For anyone craving some structure to start or move forward on a creative project or anyone curious about how to bridge the “creativity as a hobby vs. a lifestyle” gap, I would highly recommend the “Artist’s Way.” While going through the whole twelve-week process would be my first suggestion, I realize that might not be possible for everyone, and would still recommend engaging with the material in whatever way is manageable.
For the first eight weeks you are not supposed to re-read any of your morning pages. Then in week nine, Julia instructs you to go back through and mine them for insight and action items. As I was sitting here reflecting on how to convey what this process has meant to me, I went back through my notes on what I had gathered after re-reading all of my morning pages. My insights make me smile, make me laugh, sometimes even make me cry a little. The action items give me direction, ideas, sometimes just out-there dreams I can let float around in the universe for awhile. And while there are so many wonderful things I could say about what this experience has been like and why I think it is a worthwhile endeavor, I keep coming back to the growth and change I have seen in myself as a direct result of this process. Reading over my pages I can see a loosening of the detrimental narrative I tell myself, a discovering of a formerly unacknowledged humor and lightness in my perspective, and a reclaiming of my artistic possibility. It is because I wish everyone to be free from whatever it is that keeps you from creating and sharing that goodness with the rest of us that I write this post and suggest Julia Cameron’s book. I would also highly advise getting yourself a creative friend like my friend Laura with whom you can share inspirations and brainstorm blockages. If you believe that art has healed you in one way or another, that a poem, movie, song, dance, or painting has touched the essence of your being, then what is to say your art will not do the same for others.
Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash