The Artist's Way

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Last week I took a deep breath and started The Artist’s Way.

It’s a 12-week programme by Julia Cameron (herself a prolific artist), designed to help ‘discover and recover your creative self.’ I’ve been curious about the process for years after hearing many artists describe it as life-changing. A discovery of true purpose, sustained creativity and sense of control over one’s life and art are the most commonly reported benefits.

The process has also been called painful, lonely and draining. The Artist’s Way involves a lot of soul searching. You must be prepared to confront the obstacles blocking you head on – potentially feelings of shame and unworthiness. There’s the possibility of grief over time lost.

Did I really want all that emotional upheaval alongside the pressure of finishing my novel’s third draft?

The thing is, I’ve always been motivated by self-development. I can’t help but follow a thorn tangled path to see if a better version of me is waiting at the end.

The Artist’s Way spoke to me as a guide through fear, doubt, self-sabotage – essentially all the blocks we place in our path. The extent that I get in my own way is ridiculous.

Before Christmas I made pin badges to sell alongside my novelette The Bone-Men but I can’t face putting them on my website. I endlessly rewrite my book, never satisfied. There’s a self-sabotage at work here that I’m determined to get to the bottom of. Sometimes I feel there’s something missing, a key to the whole process which will get me out of the mud I’m stuck in. I often feel that I’m not completely present in my life – like I’m viewing everything from a detached perspective, sometimes wistful, sometimes hopeless. I felt that the start of a new year was a good time to call in some outside help!

The first week has been more pleasure than pain.

I’ve discovered the two secret weapons of The Artist’s Way: morning pages and artist’s dates. Morning pages are to be written upon waking – three pages of stream of conscious thought. Artist’s dates are designed to refill the creative well by giving your ‘inner artist’ space to play, think and be inspired. A date could be as simple as a walk around the loch or something more involved, like a life drawing class.

Every morning last week, before I got out of bed, I wrote three pages in my diary. I find the pages empowering. Before my first cup of tea I already have a sense of who I am and where I’m heading. Perhaps being a diarist and writer (and morning person!) this step feels natural, but I understand others might find it a bit of a thought. I try to make my morning pages unpolished and honest. It’s an emptying of head and heart, not a work of literary genius. Though I should confess – I forgot to do them on Tuesday and Sunday!

For my first artist’s date I visited a graveyard. I took my sketchbook with the intention of writing any Gaelic I found on the headstones. When I couldn’t find any, I sat for a while and sketched bare trees, the old graves and flowers folk had left. I remembered what peaceful, quiet places graveyards are. Reading the stones put me in a pensive mood. In the middle of the graveyard there was a huge, empty patch of grass. Despite the rows and of rows graves I couldn’t help but feel there weren’t many stones for the size of my town. The wind kicked up, some workmen arrived and a few more visitors arrived. I left feeling centred and calm.

Next weekend I’m planning to either take my writer’s notebook on a long walk with a flask of tea or look at some nearby Pictish stones.

Taking time for personal development is important to me, but I’m wary of letting it distract from ‘doing the thing.’ Therefore, I’ve decided to do the course exercises on weeknight evenings (except for morning pages) and save my weekly artist’s date for the weekend. I think I’ll do most of them on a Saturday when my boyfriend’s at work, otherwise I might be tempted to do work instead.

Maybe it’s worth mentioning that The Artist’s Way is overtly and unashamedly spiritual. This seems to rub some folk up the wrong way. Now that we’re living in the age of self-care and self-acceptance, Julia Cameron’s advice might sound less ‘new-age’, but she talks about God a lot. I personally feel that you can retain whatever beliefs you hold and still find the exercises beneficial.

I hope you found this introduction to The Artist’s Way useful. I’ll continue recording my progress here and on Instagram so I can look back on it, and to help other artists decide whether the course is for them. I hope you find it interesting. Feel free to email me if you have any questions about my Artist’s Way experience. I’d love to connect with others who have tried it.