The Artist's Way
No Fear by Vermonter Emily Mitchell, with gratitude.
For the past few years, creative spirits everywhere have been marking the 25th anniversary of The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron by taking the journey. This soulful, timeless masterpiece is a 12-week program designed to discover or recover the artist that lives in all of us.
I heard about it when it was first published, and my business partner and I planned to do it together. We never actually got around to it, and then I promptly forgot it existed. Throughout the years I inhaled Julia Cameron's other compassionate, lyrical writing–she is a writer's writer–expert at coaxing the scared and sensitive creative energy in all of us. I did my morning pages. I even did a weekend workshop with her at Kripalu in 2010, but never did The Artist's Way actually hit my radar again.
‘…putting something so personal and permanent out there sent me straight to the nosebleed section of the creative stadium.’
Until, that is, my 61st birthday. That's the day my wise, intuitive middle daughter gifted the 25th anniversary edition to me. It was like seeing the book for the first time, but knowing at a deep level that I was finally ready to welcome it into my life. I had the time, the energy, and the inclination to commit to a 12-week project. I had been blocked with my writing for quite some time. I think I scared myself silly when I self-published my first memoir The Everyday Gourmet. I am not sure why, but putting something so personal and permanent out there sent me straight to the nosebleed section of the creative stadium. For four years I retreated to the safety of stuffing my words into my cold, static filing cabinet–where they happily suffocated.
During this period of artistic avoidance my concerned eldest daughter, a scholar and writer, gave me a copy of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I read it in the midst of my funk, alternatively laughing and crying–the book is rigorous and true. Pressfield's no-nonsense finger-wagging planted the essential seeds I needed for resuscitating my writing life. The Artist's Way provided the bountiful harvest. Shortly after reading this book, I was very fortunate to experience a blessing from the universe when I connected with writing teacher Kerstin Pilz of Write Your Journey, who provided me with the framework of online classes. Her superb ‘Mindful Journaling’ course cured my writing cramps and provided me with the courage to reclaim my passion for writing.
‘…maybe you are still seeking your medium–there are a million of them…’
The main message of The Artist's Way is that we are ALL artists by nature; the very fact that we are human makes it true. Every single person has the creative spark and the process of artistic discovery/recovery is to capture that energy and turn it into a flame. Maybe you lost your groove in the fourth grade when some teacher made an unwitting remark, or maybe you are still seeking your medium–there are a million of them, or maybe your self-talk needs a little attitude adjustment–it doesn't matter where you are when you begin, Julia's got you covered with her inspiring prose, wonderful exercises, and illuminating tasks.
Cameron welcomes you into the warm bosom of bookwork and never leaves your side. I spent one to two hours a day completing the exercises and reading assignments. Ironically, the weekly 'Artist's date' is the often the most fun element but the last thing you get to. A blank journal provides the springboard and first thing each day the 'morning pages' writing exercise goes into it.
This is the essential practice that sets the creative energy in motion; I filled three satisfyingly messy journals and found it to be way better than therapy. The weekly themes create and build momentum starting with recovering a sense of safety–then on to recovering identity, power, integrity, possibility, abundance, connection, strength, compassion, self-protection autonomy, and faith. The objective is to reclaim your creative self, you simply cannot be more loyal to your fears than to your God-given brilliance.
There are too many astounding things about this book to convey here, so I'll mention my three main gratitudes. Firstly, Cameron's writing is imbued with an ancient knowing, a wisdom that manages to feel perennially fresh and consistently on point. To me, this is the sign of classic mastery. Second, I hate following directions and have rarely stuck with any kind of protocol or program since college, so I was not confident I would be able to complete the entire twelve weeks. Not only did I do this in what felt like effortless flow, I enjoyed every week of it and looked forward to completing my assignments. Sticking with it helped me to reclaim my artistic confidence; if I can do this, anyone can do this. Thirdly, the book delivered on a promise–that's no small miracle! I committed to this process and it actually unblocked me, the evidence of which is my fledgling SpiritScout blog. Not only do I feel deliriously in love with writing again, but The Artist's Way enabled me to reclaim the courage I needed to give oxygen to my words and to find my path back to the artist's way.
PS just a few days after this blog appeared, the NYT ran this story about Julia Cameron!
PSS just a few weeks after the article I was lucky enough to meet my teacher, Kerstin Pilz, when I traveled to Vietnam. She lives in Hoi An and we met for dinner. It was a mindmeld of the highest order and I now have a writer teacher-friend for life!
I’d love to hear from you—feel free to send your comments to me.