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The Artist’s Way
Julia Cameron’s 1993 book “The Artists Way” was written in 1993 and is a course of tasks, exercises and personal “contracts” intended to help people discover or recover their creative talents and dispel the inner negative attitudes that are stopping them.
It has helped people in many fields of creativity, and even helped some to discover talents they didn’t know they had. Other participants have found the Way “creepy”, dogmatic and cultish.
In these days we are surrounded by creative equipment (in the West at least), technical tools that allow anyone to achieve fantastic results, and near-infinite free supplies of creative material available through every computer, tablet and phone. Good news, maybe, but it means a lot of competition if you want an audience, let alone any payment for your hard work.
I’m a musician, writer, doodler and worker in and around the creative industry and education but have recently felt that I’m not really going anywhere. A friend suggested trying Julia’s book, so I’m taking a slightly cynical approach (maybe with some others) and will adapt this into a bit of a review.
What do you have to do?
There is a set of statements about creativity which you are expected to revisit at times. You are also expected to “check in” each week and think about how you feel abut the Way and the week’s tasks.
“Morning papers” - Write 3 pages (around 750 words) of “stream of consciousness” every morning. This is not intended to be read by anyone, but to allow you to break down your own barriers to creativity.
The “artist’s date” - Take your “inner artist” out for a treat to a gallery or music event, buy (and use!) some craft materials, etc. Frivolous is good! This “artist’s date” isn’t for you - it’s like medicine or healthy food that’s good for a part of you that you’re neglecting.
Week 1 - Safety
- Write down your “horror stories” - memories of things people have said to you in the past that made you stifle your creative abilities and inclinations. Write a letter about one of these in your defence. Likewise, write down memories of helpful things people have said and write a thankyou letter.
- Imagine five other lives/careers you could have led. Think about whether you can incorporate any of these imaginary lives in your real one.
Week 2 - Identity
Read the basic principals.
- Write down aspects of your life you need to protect. Write names of people who help you protect these things, and those who are negative about those things.
- List the 5 main things that take up your time in the week.
- List 20 things you like doing. When did you last do them? Choose 2 and do them.
- Which of the week 1 helpful things that people have said has helped you the most. Write it 5 times every day in your morning pages.
- Add five more imaginary lives to last week’s. Can you incorporate any of these in your real life?
- Make a “life pie” of spirituality, exercise, play, work, friends, romance/adventure.
- List Ten Tiny Changes that you’d like to make in your life. Make one a goal for this week and do it.
Week 3 - Power
Finding out what we’re angry about.
- What’s your favourite childhood toy, game, movie, favourite thing you don’t do much, thing you’d do if you were more easy-going, thing you’d do if you had time, favourite musical instrument?
- How much time do you treat yourself to entertainment each month?
- What would you buy if you weren’t so angry with your inner artist?
- What would you buy your inner artist if you weren’t so stingy?
- Taking time out for yourself is _____?
- If I start dreaming I’m afraid I’ll _____?
- I secretly like to read _____?
- If I’d had a perfect childhood I’d have grown up to be _____?
- If it wasn’t crazy I’d create a _____?
- My parents think artists are _____?
- God thinks artists are _____?
- This recovery feels wierd because _____?
- Learning to trust myself is probably _____?
- My cheerup music is _____?
- My favourite way to dress is _____?
- Describe your childhood room. Sketch it if you like. What was the best thing about it?
- What are five traits you liked about yourself as a child?
- List 5 childhood accomplishments, and buy yourself a favourite childhood food.
- List your habits? Which are bad? Which sabotage you?
- List friends who give you a sense of your own competency and possibility.
- Call a friend who treats you as if you are able and skilled.
- Think about your “inner compass” - which points you towards healthy decisions.
- List five people you admire. Why? Can you be more like them?
- List five dead people you wish you’d met. Why? Do they have the same traits as the living people you admire?
Week 4 - Integrity
Being honest to ourselves about what we’re doing and why, and how we feel. This week, try a “media fast” - avoid TV/radio/books/newspapers/internet and allow yourself some inner silence. What do you do instead? If you can’t do it, how does it feel - write about it.
- List 5 hobbies that sound like fun
- 5 things it’d be fun to learn
- 5 things you’d never do but think would be fun
- 5 things it’d be fun to have
- 5 things you used to enjoy doing
- 5 silly things you’d like to do once
- What’s your ideal environment, eg urban, country, etc?
- Imagine yourself as elderly - write a letter to yourself at the age you are now
- Imagine yourself aged 8 - write a letter to yourself at the age you are now
- Can you make a secret place/shrine/den for yourself at home? If you can, make it a special place just for creative thinking.
- Write an “Artist’s Prayer” and pray it every day for a week.
- Get rid of a “low self worth” outfit of clothes.
- Go on an extended artist’s date.
- Name something you’d like to change in your life but you haven’t.
Week 5 - Possibility
- Finding your real feelings; stop destroying yourself.
- What would you do if it wasn’t too crazy?
- Your greatest lack?
- Your biggest joy?
- Your largest time committment?
- As you play more you work _____?
- You worry that _____?
- If your dreams come true your family will _____?
- You sabotage myself so other people will _____?
- You’re angry that _____?
- One reason you get sad?
- List 10 things you love but are not allowed to do.
- 19 wishes, with your greatest wish at the end.
- 5 grievances against God.
- 5 desires: this week collect/draw/photograph images of these.
- List 5 imaginary lives. Have they changed from before?
- List 5 adventures you’d have if you were 20 and had money.
- List 5 postponed pleasures if you were 65 and had money.
- 10 ways you are mean to yourself.
- 10 items you’d like to own. Collect/draw/photograph etc images.
- Your favourite creative block - what you do instead of creating.
- The advantage of not “unblocking” yourself.
- The person you blame for being “blocked” creatively.
- Check in - any coincidences or significant occurrences?
Week 6 - Abundance
- We’re taught to be suspicious of God being too closely involved in money, but also to treat money as a source of security...
- Write a list of EVERYTHING you spend, numbered and dated. Continue for a week or longer.
- People with money are _____
- Money makes people _____
- You’d have more money if _____
- Your dad thought money was _____
- Your mum thought money would _____
- In your family money caused _____
- Money equals _____
- If you had money you’d _____
- If you could afford it you’d _____
- You’re afraid if you had money you’d _____
- Money is _____
- Money causes _____
- Having money is not _____
- In order to ave more money you’d _____
- When you have money you usually _____
- You think money _____
- If you weren’t so stingy you’d _____
- People think money _____
- Being broke tells me _____
- Find five pretty or interesting rocks
- Press 5 leaves or flowers
- Throw/give away 5 items of clothing.
- Bake something
- Send postcards to 5 friends
- Make some changes to your home environment
- Practice saying yes to freebies
- Anything new occured to you this week?
Week 7 - Connection
Reviewing “The Artist’s Way” as a whole:
- Morning Papers: I found writing something most days, usually in the morning, wasn’t a chore at all, and helped me find some insights about myself. It had a kind of “journal” feel for me, rather than feeling stuck and writing any old thing just to fill the space.
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