The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Whenever I am suffering a creative collapse, The Artist’s Way written by the unquestionably talented Julia Cameron, is the ONLY book I turn to.
Julia Cameron is an expert on creative recovery. Her book has helped an innumerable amount of people with their craft. She makes it a point to express that WE can help ourselves out of any creative mess with the proper tools.
It’s funny when I think about it, that at least twice a year I have a creative meltdown of some point. I’ll go through the same motions every time: “I’m not good enough.” or “everything I write is bad.” or “I don’t have the time to write” or “I’ll never get this script done.”. They are the same doubts that surface every time – without fail.
Cameron knows doubt too well. She also knows, that when doubt arrives, it’s usually a sign she is on the right track creatively. At the end of each chapter, The Artist’s Way gives you special tools to help reflect on yourself as an artist. These tools always affirm that it’s okay to be imperfect. That other artists like us, have the same creative struggles. Yes it IS possible to work through your creative knots.
I first became interested in this book, when I picked it up at a bookstore during my years at university. Or as I like to call, my “great academic struggle”. In a specific chapter, Cameron discusses some of the challenges faced with students attending post-secondary programs. She describes how some teachers do their best (whether consciously or not) to undermine their student’s best efforts. This was the exact problem I was facing. I had to get this book, and fast. I immediately purchased the book, and I make it a point to read it whenever I struggle with my craft.
This book got me journalling in a way I never thought possible.
This book got me writing.
I highly recommend you buy this book. You can find it on her website, or pretty much at any bookstore. She has written many other books on the craft. The Right to Write, and The Creative Life are two more of my favourites.
The Artist’s Way is an international bestseller, and in my opinion, is one of the best creative recovery books you will ever read. Not just for writers, this book is about ALL ART. She has remained an active member in the artist community, giving talks, lectures, and classes across the globe.
Find out more about Julia and her books here:
We all have good friends and bad friends. The ones we really need to watch out for, are the ‘not so bad, not so good friends.’ The trick to avoiding these ‘creative saboteurs’ as Julia Cameron best describes in her book Walking in this World is to educate yourselves on the warning signs of these monsters.
“ [… ] they like to employ an air of sad superiority, as if they have seen you and your like come and go countless times before. Their tone is that of a worried camp councilor listening to an ill-advised twelve-year-old planning a picnic amid grizzlies. [… ] they will typically tell you, “Oh no! South!” the minute that you say, “I’ve decided to go North!” – Julia Cameron Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity
I’ve seen this time and time again. Most of our friends do this unconsciously, whether out of jealousy or the fact that they liked us in our old bodies, when we were not as confident, and needed their babying. It doesn’t matter if I am writing at my worst, or at my best. Some of my friends can’t help but feed me with a sense of doubt and uncertainty. They make us question if we should even be writing at all! We need to practice a little bit of containment at these times. We need to vent about our progress at times, but we can’t vent to those who don’t truly know us, or understand us as artists.
“As artists, we need people who can see us for who we are – as big as we are and as small as we are, as competent and powerful as we are, and as terrified and as tiny as we sometimes feel” – Julia Cameron Walking in this World
When I read the creative recovery tools in The Artist’s Way, I’m immediately reminded of my good friend Alyssa. She’s the kind of person I could stand in front of, and she can provide a mirror of my image. She shows me exactly who I am, at my worst or at my best. She is a fountain of wisdom. Recently, I spoke with her about how drained and depressed I felt after hanging around with one of those “creative saboteurs”. I was unaware of their affect, until she told me that this friend in particular was undermining my efforts to be happy. *GASP* I thought – she’s right!
Alyssa gave me an analogy about two friends. One is standing on top of a chair (in their happy place). The other is standing down beside them. No matter how hard the friend on the chair tried, he/she couldn’t pull up their friend on to the chair, in their happy place. But in one easy tug, the friend on the ground knocked the friend on the chair down to their level. These are the friends we need to be cautious of. They suffer from being toxic.
My advice is not that you avoid these friends (although, sometimes you surely just have to get away from them). My advice is to recognize these types of people. More often than not they are fellow writers who are not successful. They may be jealous of your talents, or your optimism. They gain a sense of momentary pride when they chew up a script idea you’ve poured your heart out into.
They are the name-droppers, and the “I’ve done this and that… but what have YOU done?” friends. As Cameron suggests, you must practice containment. For these people will cling to your every word. Don’t give them something to burn. Above all, avoid their invitation into the Pit of Despair. Once you’re in…
Writers could learn a thing or two from the prisoners in the 1963 film The Great Escape directed by John Sturges. All of us need to learn to be great escape artists.
One of the most difficult tasks that I’ve faced as a writer, is finding a balance between time for others, and time for my writing. Friends and family start to look at you funny when you tell them how you can’t hang out or go anywhere, “I have to do some writing.”
“You already wrote once this week” one family member may whine, as if writing once a week was all we needed.
You aren’t being selfish when you take time for yourself, just as you aren’t being selfish to your inner writer when you decide to take time to be with other people. The importance is a balance.
Roald Dahl, author of many famous children’s books such as Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach would retreat to a writing hut in his backyard for many hours of the day. The windows were blacked out, and he demanded not to be disturbed while in his ‘sanctuary’. However, once he had finished writing for the day, he would emerge from his retreat, and spend time with his family.
Other people give us energy. They are refreshing, and can help us emerge from terrible writer’s blocks. The point is to not let people take all of your time. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way (A book I cannot recommend enough for creative recovery) suggests to take one day a week, in which you practice an ‘artist’s date’. One day that’s all yours to explore an old shop, to go see a movie, or to take a walk through a park. The point is that this day is set aside for you, and you alone.
One of my favourite authors Stephen King, marches himself up to his office everyday. Once he shuts the door, King claims,
“The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”
Stephen King, On Writing
Then however, King suggests that once you’re done your first draft, it’s important to open the door, letting the energy of others flow into your work. The point is finding a balance.
I know that sometimes, it feels like you have to crawl on your hands and knees for miles just to get some time to yourself, especially if you are a mother, or work a full time job to support a family,
but just think of how great it’ll feel once you taste the sweet victory of freedom.
So don’t be afraid to tell people you’re off limits for a few hours. There is always a power button for your cellphone. There is always a switch or a way to unplug your internet. Sometimes we have to be great escape artists, and high-tail it away from others keeping us from our blank page.