09 August 2013

PlayBook: The Artist's Way

Julia Cameron has helped countless people tap into hidden reservoirs of creativity and imagination. She labels her approach "a course in discovering and recovering your creative self.” The results are astounding: the accountant uncovers a hidden talent—a knack for fiction writing; the stay-at-home mom launches a career in award-winning painting; the retired widow becomes a proficient photographer.

Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way provides us with the “cheat sheets” to her course. Especially helpful are the concrete exercises she includes to get those creative juices flowing.

Most of these exercises are easy and, in my opinion, all of them are fun! For example, to coax courage out of your hidden artist, she proposes an exercise called “Detective Work”. Without over-thinking your response, she lists 20 phrases for you to complete by way of developing awareness as to "why, when and where" your creative-self went into hiding.  Here are a few of those phrases:

My favorite childhood toy was…
I don’t do it much but I enjoy…
If I could lighten up a little, I’d let myself…
If it weren’t too late, I’d…
My parents think artists are…
My God thinks artists are…

I love this book because of its practicality but I also love it because of its vision. The grand underlying principle to this book is that everyone, no matter how “left-brained” you think you are, has an artistic impulse--a longing to create beauty with words, images and sounds. If this is the case, it is a tragedy so many of us have repressed our artistic selves either due to fear of societal judgment or acquiescence to excessive self-criticism. So, Cameron structures her book around the idea of “recovery”.  Each chapter contains inspiration designed to help you recover an aspect that’s crucial to let your artistic-self flourish.

For example, on week 7 participants of an Artist’s Way course consider the topic “Recovering a Sense of Connection.” One of the biggest hindrances to creativity is the problem of perfectionism. If you insist on perfection in whatever you create, you will not create anything! It is better to start and move on from a less-than-perfect "part 1" (without obsessing over those small, imperfect details) because the artist that over-corrects along the way...never finishes. Here are a few gems from Ms. Cameron herself:

“The perfectionist fixes one line of a poem over and over—until no lines are right.”
“The perfectionist writes, paints, creates with one eye on her audience. Instead of enjoying the process, the perfectionist is constantly grading the results.”

“To the perfectionist, there is always room for improvement. The perfectionist calls this humility. In reality, it is egotism. It is pride that makes us want to write a perfect script, paint a perfect painting, perform a perfect audition monologue.”
“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough—that we should try again. No. We should not.”

Spot on, Ms. Cameron, spot on!

If you don’t have this book and don’t plan on getting it, let me mention one other gem from Ms. Cameron’s approach that can help anyone, right now. Ms. Cameron insists everyone who’s committed to calling out their inner artist to write something she calls “Morning Pages”.

In a chapter called "The Basic Tools", Ms. Cameron explains:
“Put simply, the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness…There is no wrong way to do morning pages. These daily meanderings are not meant to be art…Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid, or too weird to be included.”
Just write, whether you feel like it or not.

Once, a friend who was a golf pro said to me: “I can guarantee any beginner that if they go to the driving range and hit two large buckets of golf balls every day for a month they will take at least eighteen strokes off their game, just like that.”

Contentment and commitment to do the simple, basic things do more to help us grow than we may realize. In fact, Ms. Cameron insists this is the single most important key to unlocking your creativity.

Give it a try! I can guarantee it will transform not only the works of art you produce, but it will form something beautiful in you that, quite honestly, transcends expression.

In my own way, I’ve been practicing a form of Morning Pages since late summer 2009. Those who know me may already know what I’m talking about: my daily prayers. The prayers I write each day began simply as responsive expressions to thoughts and feelings that grew out of meditating on small sections of Scripture.  I had a ninety-nine cent notebook and just began writing down these impressions, whatever came into my head and heart. After just a month of this, I saw I had filled a good portion of that notebook. So, I decided to keep it up, one day at a time…

Four years later, I’m going on almost 1,500 unique, short prayers on Twitter--and many more that are not included there. (I suppose that would be enough for a book.) What’s more, writing those prayers has prompted other kinds of writing. Not all of it is publication-quality, but at least it’s writing and it keeps me going, one day at a time.

That’s the key. One day at a time, small steps in which you suspend the inner critic and your fear of the outer critic.

While I don’t agree with all Ms. Cameron’s ideas in the book, I do believe The Artist’s Way is a powerful tool to help us all live more playfully. I recommend it especially if you have some other people to work through it with you. 


Visit our PlayBook page to find more reviews on books that can help you live more playfully. 

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