The art of possibility

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.


13 thoughts on “The art of possibility

  1. Sue, I too dip into this book every so often and the two bits that stick with me the most are the daily pages and artist dates. I have recommended it to friends and they too have found it useful. Ive gone through the full programme a couple of times and in between i find the daily writing activities works the best when I’m stuck and i use it for life in general, not just art practice. thank you for the reminder. Ax

  2. I’m in the process of doing the Artist’s Way right now and am just getting started with week 5. Reading deprivation week was hard, and I’m really glad that’s over and done with – although I can really appreciate the benefit. I absolutely LOVE the quote you posted by Dorothea Brande. I’ll do a ping back to this post if I mention it on my own blog, and I probably will. Thank you for the post.

  3. Always love to hear your thoughts. Your job sounds like so much fun! I have pulled out “The Artist’s Way” from time to time, but seem to get distracted before I can get all the way through it, or can’t find time to sit still for the morning pages without morning needs interfering. And why is it so hard for us to “indulge” in a museum outing? Perhaps that is why I am always filled with wonder at how energized I am creatively when I manage to do these things. Thanks for sharing your experience. I am grateful through blogging to have found kindred artistic souls. That is important too, to find people who speak the same inner language.

    • Thank you Jane for sharing your thoughts. Yes, I really struggle to allow myself time out – there is always a deadline looming it seems. But, like you, I always find a huge amount of inspiration when I do explore.

  4. I echo the thanks for reminding about this book. I actually lent it to a friend and it never came back to me. On recommendation I bought another of her books: The Sound of Paper, which I haven’t finished. It didn’t seem to have the same power as The Artist’s Way. For many years I completed the morning pages and really enjoyed the process. After a break though I tried to get back to them and found it impossible because I could no longer tell the difference between a journal and morning pages. So I now write a journal – not every day I’ll admit, but pretty regularly. I frequently question the audience or purpose of writing. The morning pages were brilliant when things weren’t good in my life – they enabled me to clarify my thoughts, find solutions and hold myself accountable. Now that life is fantastic I’m more interested in commenting on what I see and hear around me and my actual actions or thoughts rather than trying to resolve anything. When we moved over to Vietnam I threw away a whole filing cabinet drawer that was crammed to bursting with journals – all bar one, the book that had the time around my wedding 8 years ago. It was such a tough decision but I didn’t have the time or energy to go through and save the ‘good’ bits and didn’t have any interest in re-hashing the soul searching that bought me to my current stage of life. Now when I write I intend to keep my journals and pass them on to my son at some point in the future so I guess I probably edit very slightly what I write but sometimes I discuss something that has happened within the family where he and I perhaps haven’t 100% agreed and I’ve given a fuller explanation of why I did/said what I did. Might be useful when he’s a parent, who knows. In the back of my mind I suppose I want to live on for him after my death, everything I write is as I would say it so he’ll hear my voice and maybe enjoy a continued connection with me – writing has been an important part of our relationship throughout his life as I have always written him letters occasionally, even when living in the same city. These books are perhaps just big letters!!! Sorry about the rather self-indulgent reply, you obviously struck a chord. Thanks as ever for your creative sharing. x

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment here – yes, this evidently struck a chord with you! I love the idea of writing for your son – what a wonderful insight he will gain in the future. I too find the line between journalling and morning pages a bit blurry (in fact, any writing early in the day is a bit blurry for me 😉 but as long as it serves a purpose, whether it’s helping to uncover blocks to creativity or exploring any issue that’s arisen, I think writing it down is always useful.

  5. It was Artist’s Way that brought me to painting in the first place–an artist date at a local art supply store, where, when I looked at the racks of stretched canvas, I could suddenly envision finished paintings on all of the canvases (but the very small ones). I started painting classes and have never looked back. I did morning pages for many years, until I found I was just whining in them, so I stopped for a while. Recently, though, I’ve been missing them. Your post gets me thinking about re-starting…I still have a stack of blank notebooks in the desk…

    • Go go go Stephanie! Fill up those notebooks. I’d love to hear your thoughts on revisiting the process. I am very definitely in a different frame of mind as I near the end of the twelve week practice, and I’ll be keeping the morning pages as part of my day.

  6. I first did the Artist’s Way cover to cover 7 years ago, and it helped me shift immense amounts of negative social programming about being an ‘Artist’, and following my theatrical passion. I changed cities/ job/relationship; basically shifted a mountain! And enjoyed relative success and satisfaction 🙂

    I just finished it for the second time, with a different focus: to free up my writing passion. Again, it has worked so well for me; it seems to tap into something that feeds me- I really do experience extraordinary synchronicity, and feel so supported and inspired. I was diligent about my daily Morning Pages; now I do them 4-5 times a week, and if I have a break for more than a fortnight, I stagger back to them like a wounded child!

    I really do think Julia Cameron “hit some kind of nail on the head” with this book, and none of her others are as profound for me. I most appreciate her idea that creativity is all around us, and that we are abundant creative tools; I also recognize of course that not everyone can be as indulged as us educated, resourced, middle-class white folks (excuse the generalizing, but I think it’s accurate), and I do struggle with that. I try to use my art and my actions for the good of the planet in the long run, and that’s my way of dealing with that issue. Thanks for your blogging 🙂

    • Thank you Gabrielle for sharing your experience of the book 🙂 Definitely sounds like it did the trick for you. I am really enjoying doing the morning pages now, and find that some wonderful creative ideas for me to develop come up in the pages.

  7. Wonderful entry, I need to read this book and have been putting it off for far too long. I definitely believe in both concepts and especially the Morning Pages – I feel like I’m on the verge of that becoming a real habit now.

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