Review: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

I first discovered The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, Julia Cameron’s book and guided study program, in July of 2018. That spring, I left my office job for a work-from-home freelance opportunity. I was thrilled, because I knew this was the chance to change my life.

The plans on how to change my life were vast and grand, indeed. The TO DO list was a mile long. But in a cruel twist of fate, just less than two months into my new life, I sprained my ankle.

With limited mobility, and a huge amount of time on my hands, I had a new job, high expectations of myself, and absolutely no creative energy or inspiration. I was finally out of an office and in control of my schedule, but I soon discovered that I was so drained of creative energy. I didn’t know where to begin or what to do.

Amid that slump was when I discovered The Artist’s Way. Julia Cameron created a self-guided course which allows participants to recover the creative self.

I wish I could remember and credit how I came to discover this fantastic resource, but my earliest memory is picking up a scrappy, dog-eared hard copy from my local library. I planned to read it through once as an overview, but by the time I got to week five I was purchasing a my very own copy of the book, and a pack of composition notebooks.

My personal copy is now just as well loved, dog-eared, and has a neon-rainbow of highlights and annotations. It’s not my usual style to write in a book, but this is a text that demands interaction.

By reading Julia Cameron’s book and working through the twelve-week guided study I began my slow, steady practice of living a healthier, happier, creative life.

This December, I started another self-guided session of The Artist’s Way. Originally, I was planning on documenting my process through the course on this blog. However, my inner introvert has won out and I’ve found I would be more comfortable keeping this journey for myself.

In lieu of that series, I’m marking this as the first of many more book reviews that will be featured at The Novel Cauldron in the coming weeks.

For this review, I will introduce the basic tools foundational to The Artist’s Way, define who is an “Artist”, and reflect on why this book is a wonderful resource for creative as well as personal self care.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron deserves a book hug

The Basic Tools: Morning Pages and Artist Dates

Morning pages

The linchpin of The Artist’s Way creative recovery is the daily practice of morning pages. Morning pages are three pages of longhand stream-of-consciousness writing done first thing in the morning.

Yup. That’s it. It’s just that simple.

Accumulate pages, not judgements.

The Artist’s Way p. xix

One-part journaling, one-part meditation, morning pages offers a no-judgment space to sort out the the contents of the mind. Morning pages help clear the mental space and build trust between creator and creating.

If there’s any one tool that’s the most useful for moving through a funk, creative or otherwise, it’s the morning pages. My morning pages guided me towards picking up new crafts like sewing and crochet. They remind me to take breaks, or prompt me to follow through.

In 2018, it was through working my thoughts out to the pages I realized that I needed to overcome my pride, and fear, and finally get back to therapy. The pages can provide insights, and sometimes you can work through your ideas and challenges on your own, but sometimes it becomes clear that it’s time to find a support network.

One part of the morning pages is showing up, and the other part is listening.

Anyone who faithfully writes morning pages will be led to a connection with a source of wisdom within. When I am stuck with a painful situation or problem that I don’t think I know how to handle, I will go to the pages and ask for guidance.

The Artist’s Way p. 15

For those of us who are writers, there’s a tendency to want to “write” your morning pages. Sometimes it’s thrilling to capture a scene or a character in the pages, but morning pages aren’t a careful creation. Morning pages should be handled as if you’re a kindergartener with a pot of paint.

Make a mess.

Artist Dates

Artist dates are a weekly block of time set aside with the dedicated purpose of nurturing your creative self and inner artist. This solo excursion introduces aspects of exploration, play, discovery, and challenge. It’s a small break in time to reconnect with yourself.

Doing your morning pages, you are sending – notifying yourself and the universe of your dreams, dissatisfactions, and hopes. Doing your artist date, you are receiving – opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance.

The Artist’s Way p. 18

Artist Dates in Quarantine

Emily, you may ask, how are you going to take your inner artist on dates during a global pandemic?

Jokes on you, I’m an introvert, I have fun a home all the time!

Lately, I’ll admit I have been quite eager to get out of the house and explore again. I’m really missing friends and our beloved haunts. Hopefully, in the next year we will see great progress. So, even though it’s difficult it’s best to stay patient, but we can still get creative!

Some of my favorite at home Artist Dates include: listening to a new album, going on a walk, practicing yoga, taking a long shower with a favorite scented soap, watching a movie, trying a new craft, painting my nails, drawing, playing with my pets, picking up a new book, sipping coffee and watching the birds out my window, coloring, writing fan fiction, playing on Pinterest, or making a cake just because.

If it makes you happy, it’s an Artist Date.

Who is the Artist?

You are.

Even if you don’t hold a paint brush, or recite Shakespeare, or pen a novel – You Are An Artist.

We are are born curious with the ability to create. Life lessons and heartbreak can teach us that we aren’t “good enough” to be “real” artists or it’s not practical to “waste time” on creative exercises that don’t result in compensation.

But creativity is part of our human experience and we each have an inner Artist looking to be encouraged and supported. All we need is a little nudge and permission to rekindle the relationship with that inner Artist.

This book is one big dose of permission.

Beautiful things can come of it. Often in unexpected ways.

Working with The Artist’s Way

Some guided courses are a “one and done” sort of thing. You get the book, do the exercises and then it’s over and eventually you’ll Kon-Mari it out of your life. I haven’t had that experience with The Artist’s Way. It continues to bring me joy.

I’ll flow in and out of morning pages as needed and I pick up Artist Dates as special treats to myself when I need it. But I also revisit the exercises in the book and read over favorite sections when I need an extra boost.

As I have been working my way through the course this winter, I’m having a very different experience than in 2018. I’m learning new things and pushing myself in new ways. This iteration has lead me back to music in a big way, which I’m particularly enjoying.

This is far from a one and done book. Clearly, I connect with this book. Like with all self-help literature, it’s not one size fits all. I’ve gifted copies of the book to my friends, and it did not click with them. But I feel good knowing that the book is there for them when they need it or will be passed along to someone else who will benefit from it in the future.

So if you’re feeling a little stuck or feel like you want to shake up your snow globe and want to find a new self-care practice in the new year, I hope you consider checking out The Artist’s Way.

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