Over the last few weeks, ten to be precise, I have been revisiting Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. I’m not sure exactly what prompted me to dip back into the book, but every so often, I go back to the bookshelf and take another look at this one. Now, to be honest, some of her stuff I find hugely irritating. But I can get past that to what I find useful. And what I find most useful are the two key ideas in the book; namely, writing the ‘morning pages’ and going on ‘artist’s dates’.
The morning pages idea is not a new one: back in 1934, Dorothea Brande in her wonderful book, Becoming a Writer, advocated writing each morning, saying “Bursts of work are not what you are out to establish as your habit, but a good, steady satisfying flow, rising occasionally to an extraordinary level of performance, but seldom falling below what you have discovered is your own normal output.”
The advantage is that you get rid of all the whingeing and whining as to why you are procrastinating about creativity onto paper: what is stopping you, how you blame your parents/teachers/spouse/children/dog or whatever else you think is preventing you from creating art, the housework, the day job – all the stuff that we imagine gets in the way. At some point in the process, we realise that it is possible to write three pages longhand every day, whatever our mood, whatever else is going on in our lives, and the pages become a habit. Like creativity can become a habit, if we just allow it a regular slot in the day.
The other key idea in The Artist’s Way is to take ourselves off on ‘artist’s dates’ – one a week, to be precise. Just as a car can’t run on an empty tank, Cameron argues that we have to re-fuel in order to create, feeding our brains with colour, new ideas, possibilities that we store up and transform into artworks at some point.
Cameron argues that initially, most artists will resist both the morning pages and the artist’s dates with all their might. Because then we might actually have to risk doing something with our ideas and put them out there, rather than remain safely ‘blocked’.
In these last 10 weeks, I haven’t missed writing the pages once. (Though I have wriggled out of the artist’s dates from time to time as they’ve felt ‘self-indulgent’.) I have captured many more ideas than I would have done if I hadn’t been writing each day. This morning, by re-framing what seemed like a major obstacle, I’ve suddenly uncovered some exciting new plans for my workroom, which I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have come up with had I not taken the time to clear the brain by writing.
If you’ve read and tried Cameron’s prescription, I’d be interested to know what you think. Did the book work for you?
The lines are from this poem by Emily Dickinson.