For years, people have recommended that I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I didn’t know much about it except that it was a book to help jumpstart your creativity and that for a lot of people it “changed their lives”.
Wow, that’s a lot for one book.
Well, I finally started reading it yesterday and here’s what it is: a book that walks you through a 12-week program to — yes — unblock and foster your creativity. As Cameron puts it, it’s a way to nurture your inner artist, a.k.a. your creative child (cringe).
Sure, let’s give it a try. I’m going to spend the next 12 weeks working my way through the program outlined in the book. And I’ll be blogging out my experiences and thoughts here.
For those unfamiliar with The Artist’s Way, here’s how the program works:
There are two exercises — basic tools, as Cameron calls them — that you do throughout the entire 12-week program. On top of that, each week, you read a new chapter with a specific theme. You spend the week completing that chapter’s exercises and tasks.
Cameron recommends dedicating at least 7-10 hours a week to the work — just an hour a day or more, if you choose.
Throughout the program, you are supposed to do two things:
This is a daily exercise you complete every morning, ideally right after you get out of bed. In fact, for people on a strict schedule, Cameron recommends setting your alarm a half an hour earlier to give yourself time to complete this exercise.
The assignment: handwrite three pages of whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t need to be profound. It doesn’t even necessarily need to be very coherent. It’s supposed to be more stream of consciousness, even if the only thing that comes to mind is, “I don’t know what to write. Hmmm, what should I write?”
After that, you put the pages away. Don’t look at them. Cameron even recommends sealing them in a manila envelope. She says you shouldn’t go back and read any of your morning pages for the first 8 weeks.
The point of this exercise is to clear your mind and dump all the thought-clutter to make room for more creative thinking throughout the day.
This is the one exercise I had heard about before reading this book, and I know a lot of people swear by it. I can totally see how it would help. A lot of our thoughts and anxieties get in the way of our concentration and motivation, and getting them on the page can be a way of releasing them, even if temporarily.
The Artist Date
This is a weekly exercise where you are tasked with taking the artist out on an outing. And yes, the artist is you. So essentially a “me” date.
I know, I know. A little hippy-dippy.
The point is to dedicate a chunk of time each week where you go out and do something all by yourself. And it doesn’t even need to be art-related, like going to a museum; it can be as simple as browsing an antique store or taking a solo trip to the beach.
Through this exercise, the hope is that you’re exposed to more inspiration and insights. You might see something on one of your dates that becomes your next big idea. Or you might realize there are certain activities that you do on these dates that you really don’t enjoy and are just doing them because they seem like things that an artist should do.
As I mentioned, in addition to the basic tools that you use throughout the 12-week program, you also read and work through one chapter every week. Each chapter centers around a theme and is filled with essays from the author, including real-life experiences from people she’s worked with; exercises; and tasks.
Here’s how Cameron suggests tackling the activities for each week:
Read the Chapter
You will set your weekly schedule. Because I just started reading yesterday, I’m on a Monday-to-Monday schedule. The first step, of course, is to read through the chapter. On something like a Monday-to-Monday schedule, you could read the chapter Monday night.
There are a few exercises peppered throughout the chapter. Cameron recommends completing the exercises right after reading the chapter. She specifically says to “speed-write” through the exercises. I think the idea is to just write down whatever pops into your head for each exercise rather than spending too much time ruminating.
At the end of each chapter is a list of tasks. This is essentially your homework for the week. Cameron admits that you likely won’t have time to complete all the tasks, but you should sim to tackle at least half of them.
In choosing which tasks to take on, Cameron suggests selecting the ones that really appeal to you AND the ones that you strongly resist. You can save the neutral ones for later.
At the end of the week, you do a check in with yourself to reflect on the exercises and tasks you completed, as well as any other discoveries you made.
Since, I’m on a Monday-to-Monday schedule, it’s recommended that I do this check-in on Sunday.
I can roll the check-in into my morning pages that day, or carve out a separate time to do the check-in. Much like the morning pages, the check-ins should be handwritten. Cameron suggests allowing yourself at least 20 minutes to do your check-in.
The check-ins are essentially a journal of your creative journey.
I have read through the introduction chapters as well as the chapter for Week 1 of the program. I have also started some of the initial exercises.
One note: Cameron does mention God a lot in the book. And in the edition I’m reading, she does warn you of this. If it’s not something that resonates with you (or if you are like me and find it a little off-putting), she recommends substituting the term “God” with some other higher form or source of creative energy. I mean the full title of the book is The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, so what do you expect?
Today was the first day I did the morning pages and for me, it was pretty easy. I was worried about running out of things to say, and when that thought popped into my mind, I put it on the page. It was nice doing a brain dump first thing in the morning. I was a little distracted taking care of Artie during my morning pages, and I do fear not getting the most out of the exercise when I have to also keep an eye on Artie, but it’s better than nothing.
I’m also a little worried about the artist date during shelter in place, as I’m limited on the activities I can do. But I’m trying to push past that defeatist attitude. Too many times I can talk myself out of things before I even start. There are still plenty of activities I can do, and maybe the limitations of this situation will make me do an outing I otherwise would never have thought of doing.
Overall, I am ready to work through this program and committed to tackling it with an open mind.
Have any of you done the program? If so, share your thoughts and experiences.