Unblocking my creative self with The Artist’s Way

Ana BCP would have avoided a book named after “The Artist’s Way.” “A course in discovering and recovering your creative self?” – it sounded self-helpy. A true artsy soul doesn’t need such a thing, I believed. I was naturally creative. In fact, creativity was the one thing I didn’t lack. It was not until I got stranded in confusion and corrosive self-doubt regarding my writing that I remembered the book. What was its name again? Something with “artist” on the title? Presumption had left me; I was in need of help.

(This post contains affiliate links – check more info below. This post also contains a vlog, which is a visual reference of what The Artist’s Way entails.)

How I came across this manual

I distinctively recall a waitress praising The Artist’s Way while I sipped on a cappuccino at one of those impossibly cute Amsterdam cafes, three years ago. She waved an edition in her hand, telling me about the many insightful exercises in it and how they had freed her from issues she had with creation and art. I had so many limiting beliefs about myself; I didn’t even dare to call myself an artist, the girl declared. I wouldn’t have given the work a second thought had this waitress not been an art student as well, at a renowned institution in Amsterdam. A teacher had recommended it. Now, that was a different story. If this is good reading for art students, it is also a good material for me, I thought. Perhaps one day. 

Finding myself the author’s words

When speaking of how she recovered a sense of flow in her professional path, Julia Cameron, the author, writes that she had made an early career out of being “Creative in spasms. Creative as an act of will and ego. Creative on behalf of others. Creative, yes, but in spurts, like blood from a severed carotid artery. A decade of writing and all I knew was how to make these headlong dashes and hurl myself, against all odds, at the wall of whatever I was writing. If creativity was spiritual in any sense, it was only in its resemblance to a crucifixion. I fell upon the thorns of prose. I bled.” Her words immediately resonated with me. This had been me in the first years of blogging, to a point that got me questioning if I enjoyed writing at all. 

What is the book about, exactly 

Cameron developed a 12 week-long method for unleashing your creative self that is equal parts developing a work ethic, self-therapy, and what she calls spiritual practice. In this journey, there are two main tools: the morning pages and the artist’s dates. The morning pages are a kind of journaling exercise and they consist of three pages that you handwrite every day, first thing in the morning, in a stream of consciousness. As I view it, this is an exercise that, over time, blocks the inner-chatter and the judgemental mind, and gets you used to the act of putting work out. It builds consistency and discipline. In a nutshell, the artist’s dates are dedicated time for you to explore activities you like. These moments reawaken a spirit of playfulness that is so essential to creativity. Over time, these dates help you (re)discover what you’re interested in, what brings you a sense of joy, what sparks life within. Finally, there are different (simple) exercises to complete each week and prompts to reflect on. 

I regard the spiritual part of this practice as a mindset. It’s about embracing humbleness and simplicity while working. The way I experienced it was a decentering of my craft from me, “the I who creates,” even when I was writing about myself. I started thinking more in terms of “them”, the people I was serving. Sometimes I simply surrendered to this idea that I was creating on behalf of something bigger than me, in the sense that I’m conveying experiences and feelings that are universal and can be of use to many people, even when the writing itself is not brilliant. This mindset took off the pressure of having to create masterpieces. It wasn’t about “my artistry.” It was about how it could be uplifting to others. It helped me drop some intellectual arrogance too: “what is art”, “what is good and bad art”, “what is an artist” and whatnot, and the need to evaluate everything that I and others created. To sum up: all this inner-chatter and preconceived ideas that got in the way of my output.

Morning Pages notebooks

Do you wish to join me? 

I finally made a start on The Artist’s Way while I was receiving cancer treatments, last year. While doctors took care of my body, I focused on taking care of my emotional issues. I sensed that half of them were linked to a feeling that I was not doing work that mattered to me. I had been at a crossroads with my blog in the year prior, unable to move in any direction whatsoever. It felt asphyxiating. The demands of my illness stopped me at week 3, but I vowed to come back and complete the course. 

I’m restarting the work on Monday, January 11, 2021, a trajectory that will end on April 4. I feel at a much different stage than I was last year creativity-wise, but I know that going through the course will propel me forward. I’m also creating an accountability group for the ones of you who feel called to embark on this journey with me. We will keep in touch via Whatsapp and will get together once a week on Zoom to discuss our experiences with each chapter. Julia Cameron calls groups like this “creativity clusters” and it is her wish that they serve a non-profit (free), “non-hierarchical, peer-run, collective process of creative recovery.” (Update: I finished The Artist’s Way on April 2021, together with three other women with whom I’ve formed a creative cluster. The support and accountability we offered each other were invaluable.)

Is The Artist’s Way for you? 

That’s the million-dollar question. I can’t tell. What works for me may not work for you and vice-versa. I guess that a good starting point is to read Cameron’s words and see if they resonate with you. Below are some excerpts that I hope will help. 

Many of us wish we were more creative. Many of us sense we are more creative, but unable to effectively tap that creativity. Our dreams elude us. Our lives feel somewhat flat. Often, we have great ideas, wonderful dreams, but are unable to actualize them for ourselves. Sometimes we have specific creative longings we would love to be able to fulfill – learning to play the piano, painting, taking an acting class, or writing. Sometimes our goal is more diffuse. We hunger for what might be called creative living – an expanding sense of creativity in our business lives, in sharing with our children, our spouse, our friends. 

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While there is no quick fix for instant, pain-free creativity, creative recovery (or discovery) is a teachable, trackable, spiritual process. 

How do you know if you are creatively blocked? Jealousy is an excellent clue. Are there artists whom you resent? Do you tell yourself, “I could do that, if only…” Do you tell yourself that if only you took your creative potential seriously, you might: 

  • Stop telling yourself, “It’s too late.”
  • Stop waiting until you make enough money to do something you’d really love.
  • Stop telling yourself, “It’s just my ego” whenever you yearn for a more creative life.
  • Stop telling yourself that dreams don’t matter, that they are only dreams and that you should be more sensible.
  • Stop fearing that your family and friends would think you’re crazy.
  • Stop telling yourself that creativity is a luxury and that you should be grateful for what you’ve got. 

As you learn to recognize, nurture, and protect your inner artist, you will be able to move beyond pain and creative constriction. You will learn ways to recognize and resolve fear, remove emotional scar tissue, and strengthen your confidence. Damaging old ideas about creativity will be explored and discarded. 

The Artist’s Way is like a spiral path. You will circle through some of the issues over and over, each time at a different level. There is no such thing as being done with an artistic life. Frustrations and rewards exist at all levels on the path.

A note on affiliate links: If you live in the Netherlands or Belgium and wish to purchase The Artist’s Way, consider doing so via this link. An affiliate link enables me to earn a very small commission from products I love, at no extra cost for my readers. It supports my work on this blog and helps me pay for my bills. 

I support local businesses with transparent work practices so I choose to work with Bol.com, our local webshop, instead of retail giants. If you live outside of the Benelux, I encourage you to find your copy at a local bookstore, if you can, or at a second-hand market. If you found this review useful, you can always support me with a donation via Paypal, here. In any case, I’m grateful for your presence at this corner of the internet 🙂

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