When I was about 20 years old, I was totally and utterly lost. I was in my fourth year of studying for a degree and I was disillusioned with the whole process. I could see no clear way forward in terms of finding a job or career at the end of it, and I was drinking heavily.
When I was younger I’d always been creative. I used to make and sell my own comics, and then my interest moved into acting and making videos. One of the reasons I came to Edinburgh to study a Communications Degree was because the course curriculum included film-making. The prospectus had featured photographs of a pretty girl with a video camera and daft as it now sounds, that pretty much sold me on coming over from Ireland to check out the college for an open day.
When I arrived, the beauty of the city itself sealed the deal, plus the promise of decent gigs in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. I was also keen to get as far away from home as possible, as my parents had recently separated and I wanted to be as independent as possible. I was 16 when I moved.
Unfortunately it turned out that making videos was only a small part of the course, and by the time the opportunity came I was already drinking too much to properly focus on it. I could have made more of it if I’d had the right mindset – but I was already sucked into a kind of apathetic black hole where I just wanted to blot everything out rather than face up to reality.
At a certain point though, I had a moment of clarity and realised that if I continued in this way I was going to be in a seriously bad situation when I left college, if indeed I managed to complete my degree at all.
Thankfully, when I was browsing the shelves in Waterstone’s I spotted a book called The Artist’s Way and I found the real kick up the arse I needed.
Now I was not your typical purchaser of self-help books. After all, my whole persona at the time was centred around being a drunken cynic and nihilist.I can’t actually remember doing it now, and what was going through my mind at the time, but I’m guessing it was a sense of desperation that led me to buy the book.
As it happens, it was the perfect book for me to read at the time.
What’s the big deal?
The Artist’s Way is undoubtedly one of the most popular books ever written about creativity. A number of people have mentioned it in the Clear-Minded Creative Types series of interviews or when commenting on this blog, and time and time again it will pop up in conversations about the topic. There’s even a whole online forum devoted to it.
But not everyone is sold on it, because of its heavy focus on spirituality. It’s basically a recovery programme for people who have lost their faith in their own creativity, and so has similarities with recovery programmes for addictions, such as alcoholics anonymous. A key part of it involves believing that creativity has a spiritual origin.
Now although I am not a member of any religion I do have spiritual beliefs. But I don’t want to impose my views on anyone else so I’ll just say this -if you’re a truly committed athiest or agnostic who cannot stand any foray into this type of thing, then the book isn’t for you. Having said that, there are some great methods for getting more creative and clear-minded you could still take from it, which I’ll detail below.
Working with this book you will experience an intensive, guided encounter with your own creativity – your private villains, champions, wishes, fears, dreams, hopes and triumphs. The experience will make you excited, depressed, angry, afraid, joyous, hopeful and ultimately more free. Julia Cameron
So, to reiterate, the Artist’s Way is more of a recovery programme than a book which you sit down and read and then put away and forget forever. It involves making a commitment to read a chapter a week for 12 weeks, and to establish two key new habits in your life:
- Daily “Morning Pages”
- A Weekly ”Artist’s Date”
Plus there’s a bunch of other tasks at the end of each chapter. Now I’m not sure how much of these additional tasks I did when I first went through the book, but when it came to the morning pages, I committed and stuck to them like my life depended on it.
The whole idea is to write for 3 pages every morning, without censoring yourself. You just keep writing, even if it’s the first daft thing that pops into your head. They aren’t meant to be re-read, and Cameron strictly forbids you to share them with anyone else. The point is to be completely honest and real. She describes them as a form of meditation, the sole purpose of which is to get all the crap in your head out onto the page and thus leaving you more clear-minded.
We meditate to discover our own identity, our right place in the scheme of the universe. Through meditation we acquire, and eventually acknowledge our connection to an inner power source that has the ability to transform our outer world. Julia Cameron
You don’t need to be a writer, as this isn’t about creating something literary or clever. This is a splurge of words, which creates the space you need to allow the spark of creativity to be re-ignited.
Doing the morning pages led to an outpouring of writing for me. I would get up and start writing the moment I woke up, and often I would be writing poetry with images from my dreams, which were still fresh in my mind. I wrote a bunch of lyrics and some short stories. I was delighted to be writing again and it gave me renewed hope for the future.
Last year I started doing this again, via the site 750words.com. Based on the idea of the morning pages (750 words is about 3 pages) this brilliant site is cleverly designed to encourage and reward those people who manage to write every day. Over the course of a few months last year I clocked up 100,000 words. Some of it was just plain journalling, as Cameron suggests, but sometimes I would write a blog post or something else if I was inspired to. I worked a lot on the idea for this blog and what I wanted to cover on it.
Cameron goes on to describes the artist date as “a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and commmitted to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist”. She says this is equally as important to the morning pages as a way of opening yourself to inspiration.
The Censor = Resistance
As we saw in the previous Clear-Minded Classic The War of Art, Steven Pressfield identified the enemy of creativity as ‘resistance’. Cameron sees the problem as ‘the censor’ – another internal barrier we need to overcome.
We are victims of our own internalised perfectionist, a nasty and eternal critic, the censor – who resides in our (left) brain and keeps a constant stream of subversive remarks that are often disguised as the truth’ Julia Cameron
As with the resistance, the inner censor is a clever foe, and it takes a lot of work to get around it. but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that..
There’s a lot more to The Artist’s Way than I can go into here. If you’re already firing on all creative cylinders then you probably don’t need this book, but if you’re willing to do a bit of soul-searching and feel like you need to recover that creative spark inside yourself it’s most definitely worthwhile.
Now I reckon it’s about time I started doing my 750 words a day again…
Buy The Artist’s Way on Amazon.co.uk
Buy The Artist’s Way on Amazon.com
Have you read/used the Artist’s Way? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
18 replies on “Clear-Minded Classic #3: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron”
This is a fantastic post, Milo. Inspirational and extremely well written.
(late at night)
Aw, thanks Nutty. I put off posting it because it was so personal, but I’m glad I did now 🙂
this looks good – i’ve seen 750 word before and tried to do something similar with music.
i let the sequencer record for ten minutes and just start fiddling around with things. no real intention of making a full song. it’s about the closest thing i could imagine to the writing exercise.
Hi Elliott, I think the morning pages/750 words will benefit anyone who’s creative, not just writers, because it gets you past the internal critic and then you can get on with creating.
I do agree though that just the act of picking up whatever it is you use for your art, be it a guitar, sequencer or paintbrush, and playing around, can be all that’s needed to get things started on a new project.
Milo, that showed a lot of self-awareness at such a young age to know that you had to do something to get out of your mindset. How fortunate that you found the Artist’s Way!
I have not read all of the artist’s way, but I’ve read about morning pages from several people lately, so I purchased the Morning Pages Journal and have committed to writing and the artist date in just the last two weeks. Also just finished “Do the Work” and think Pressfield’s book “The War of Art” is must reading.
Thanks for your newsletter and thanks also for introducing me to Thom Hartman. His materials have had a big impact on me. Hey, aren’t you getting married soon?
Hi Kim, I guess so, though I can’t say my mindset has been sorted since then as I have had numerous relapses but I have at least continued to be creative 🙂
Good work on committing to the pages/artist dates. It sounds like our reading lists are pretty similar!
Glad you liked the newsletter. Do you mean Thom Chambers? I’m not sure who Thom Hartman is 😛
Wedding is on 14th May – not long now..
Yes, Thom Chambers. Not sure where Hartman came from. Happy Wedding!
Thanks for sharing your personal story, Milo. I love The Artist’s Way. Hearing about your relationship with it makes me love it even more. It’s great to post about your significant experiences now and again. It really connects you with your readers.
Hi Nicola, yes it definitely helped me. It’s nice to get supportive comments after a personal post like that so thanks.
A couple of people have unsubscribed to the newsletter today (first time that’s happened) but I guess this wasn’t the right blog for them. I’d rather have people reading who are going to find it useful!
I too have done the Artist’s Way program. Not only was I creatively blocked, but I was blocked from pretty much everything being in the depths of grief. It helped me get my life back on track, get a promotion at work, start fixing some long-term personal problems, gave me the courage to adopt a traumatized dog who had been abused for 6 years and got my art into a museum. This year, I have committed to creating at least one piece of art daily and have done so except for a couple of days when I was out of town(I made up the pieces on other days). My art work is getting better daily and I’m having a blast. Next goal is to get started exercising again.
Wow, thanks for commenting Judy, that just proves how powerful the book is. Congratulations on your achievements so far and best of luck with getting back into exercising – I also need to do that having not done much for quite a long time now.
I must say to anywone considering the Artist’s Way that it works perfectly well for anthiests like me! The emphasis on spirtuatlity is party I think because we have no expereince in the UK about how extreme religion is in the US and how many people seriously have an issue about being creative is against god. Secondly the spirtuality stuff is just shorthand for do you consider the universe to be friendly towards you and your creativity or not. If we consider it to be unfriendly then of course it makes it incredibly difficult if nigh impossible to be creative at all.
Thanks Mary. Interesting to hear that you do not consider yourself spiritual but can still get a lot out of the book (for the benefit of other readers, Mary teaches a course on the Artist’s Way here in Edinburgh).
only recently I met a US woman who told me about how people are corralled into only listening to ‘christian Rock music’ reading ‘christian’ novels. So this rather hidden aspect to US culture wasn’t really understood by me.
I think one of the reasons AW works is that it gets you a) doing stuff and b) taking responsiblity
I still haven’t read The Artist’s Way, but thank you for this post. I like it when you share more personal writing!
Reading your outline of the book made me think of a good friend who was in an abusive relationship for several years. Her then-partner made her agree to show her morning pages to him. It still makes me angry to remember how she felt, being under surveillance to that extent, and maybe at the time I didn’t realise that Julia Cameron had even stated firmly that this shouldn’t be done.
As for me, I continue to live out of a rucksack and find myself in all kinds of different environments, so finding the time and space to do morning pages and/or an artist’s date doesn’t seem like something I could really manage at this time. But! Last night I finished my new zine, which I’m really excited about. Not only is it the longest I’ve ever done, and looks pretty good, and is (I would like to think) interesting, and sticks to a theme throughout, but I’ve managed to put this together while on the road. Therefore, I feel immensely proud of myself. Next stop: copy shop.
That’s horrible, and goes against the whole point of doing them, glad to hear she is no longer in that relationship.
Congrats on creating a new zine whilst on the road – let me know when it’s available!
Be wary of morning pages. I did them religiously (sic) for a few months, and had no benefit of any kind.
If you’re going to be creative, be creative – by making art in your chosen medium.
If you’re looking for insights into what’s going on inside your head, make random uncensored art, just to see what happens.
Keep some of it. Throw away the rest. Whatever works.
But don’t feel pressured to do morning pages unless you feel obvious, overwhelming benefits – and if you don’t, it’s fine to accept that they’re just a displacement activity.
I stopped doing them when I realised they were taking time I could be using for art.
In fact my creative output actually increased – in quality and quantity – when I threw out The Artist’s Way and started working to my own needs and rhythms.
Your muse knows what you need.
Julia Cameron knows what *she* needs – and it may not be the same things.
Hi Richard, thanks for commenting, and you have a good point – this book (and the morning pages) definitely aren’t for everyone. If you’re not seeing any benefits then of course it doesn’t make sense to continue.
But for a lot of people making random uncensored art doesn’t come easily. I was coming from a place where I wasn’t doing anything creative and this was very useful for me in getting past that.