I first read Julia’s groundbreaking book, The Artist’s Way, just after I graduated from college. It’s a twelve-week DIY course that heals whatever ails your artistic spirit, which usually boils down to that slimy, craggy, gray monster: FEAR.
The book is broken into twelve chapters, and it’s quite a lot of work, if you attempt to do it fully. Each chapter contains a lesson, which you read at the beginning of the week, followed by a series of exercises (often fill-in-the-blank statements that prompt you to think deeply about your assumptions and behavior), tasks (which can range from creative activities — like listening to one side of an album, “just for joy,” — to lists of your favorite movies, your ideal fantasy lives, your favorite topics to read about, etc.), and a self-assessment check-in at the end of the week.
The course also requires students to engage in two all-important tools: morning pages and artist dates. The morning pages are three long-hand pages written first thing upon waking up each morning. They serve as a brain drain that somehow relieve anxieties and petty concerns, freeing up the mental space needed to create.
Before trying them out, I was skeptical — but after putting them into practice, and observing how well they work, I realized why they are so effective: the mind’s concerns are not the spirit’s concerns. The droning monologue that judges, criticizes, schedules, puzzles, and complains is the enemy of your creativity, which thrives in the free, fresh air, utterly unencumbered by the smog of the left brain’s sputtering about the decimals to the right of your budget or complaining about the time it takes to commute. The morning pages are an outlet through which you release these concerns; once you write them down you are freed from the burden of thinking of them throughout the day.
The second tool, which most people find far more difficult to implement regularly, is the artist’s date. The artist’s date requires that you schedule a date for yourself. No one else is allowed to come along. Just you. And you have to do it once a week. You can: go to a museum, a movie, a dance performance, a gallery. My ideal artist’s date is to go to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens with my watercolors and my journal — but the activity itself doesn’t have to be an artistic endeavor. My second favorite artist’s date is to take myself to a coffee shop with a fresh copy of the Sunday Times. Solitude is the most incredible luxury in the world; the most affordable; and yet the one we deny ourselves most frequently. It is essential for artistic growth and strength.
One of the concepts the Artist’s Way course infuses is synchronicity — the idea that when you act, the universe acts to help you. I have no doubt that this is true, based on my personal experience, and yet on a purely rational level, I still find it hard to accept. Synchronicity is the way that I discovered this course, in fact. I picked up my mail one day and saw the Open Center’s catalogue. I dropped it facedown on my dining room table on its way to the recycling bin. When I looked back, I saw Julia Cameron’s name on the back cover, and couldn’t believe it.
While I started the Artist’s Way course in 2010, and have been using the morning pages semi-regularly since then, I recently re-started the course in collaboration with my friend Rachel in Portland, OR. We have been doing the course in tandem and speaking on the phone each Sunday to update each other on our progress in reaching a higher level of creativity in our daily lives. We counsel each other on the challenges and congratulate each other on our successes. It has been incredibly rewarding and fruitful to have the opportunity to share this journey with one of my closest friends, who inspires me with her own creativity and resourcefulness.
Tomorrow is the big day — I am ready to open myself to a new and more creative consciousness!