Monday, May 5, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: The Artist's Way

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron is a classic, and I almost didn't think it worth blogging about, since so many people know about it already. But if I'm going to use Nonfiction Mondays to post about writing books that inspired me, it would be wrong, wrong, wrong to not feature this one. (Yes, I know I have ignored NF Monday the last month or so, but I love the idea of it! Help me get back on the bus.)

First, if you're a creative person and you haven't read The Artist's Way, go do it now. It'll take you twelve weeks, and I don't want to hear any whining about that. The reason this book works is because you can't gulp it. It's the first (and maybe only) workbook for which I did all the work. True confession: I treat writing exercises like I treat cooking magazine recipes. Fun to read, but who has time to do them all?

But for this book, I actually rationed my reading, not allowing myself to read more than one chapter a week, which gave me time and space to fully participate in the questions and exercises. Most importantly, I wrote daily in my spankin' new spiral notebook for twelve straight weeks. All my other attempts at diaries, writer's journals, and notebooks had failed. They failed because I hated writing in them. I felt pressure to have them be "literary." I wasn't using them; they were using me. Now I know that notebooks for writers are really dumpsters. And I love my ratty pages like I love a best friend. I no longer write daily pages in a separate journal (Cameron calls these Morning Pages) but because of The Artist's Way, each and every new project begins with a new notebook, in which I scribble with abandon.

The second big thing I took away from The Artist's Way was the concept of Artist's Dates, the technique of scheduling time to refill your creative well, lest it run dry. I know when I'm in trouble creatively. It's when I suddenly notice that I'm cutting myself off from beauty, from originality, and most specifically, from other artist's creations. It's as if I think that because I'm not working as hard as I would like, because I'm failing at this Writer Thing at the moment, I somehow don't deserve to view heart-stopping art, or read literature-that-makes-me-weep, or view so-lovely-they're-painful movies. Instead, I'm flipping through TV channels, scanning the newspaper, and playing way too much Scrabulous. Art Dates, because they're scheduled, snap me out of it. Remind me of what's important. Open my heart back up when I've closed it up tight.

But---I'm confessing some more---I've gotten complacent. I stopped scheduling. I figured I loved Art (I'm including all forms under that capitalization) so much that I wouldn't forget it, ignore it, ration it. Foolish, foolish me. I did go to the Hopper exhibit, and it was fabulous. But that's it. And that was months ago! I need to date more often!

Here's an idea for a future date: I have a soft spot for fountains, and for A Midsummer Night's Dream. So this excites me. I may need to go down there and see it in person. Thanks to Endicott Studios for the link.

But that's June. What about now? What about this week?

See? That's why The Artist's Way is a classic. It still makes me think. It still makes me question my life. It still makes me change my life.


  1. I agree, it's a classic. Thanks for the reminder to go back to it now and then!

  2. Yes! Like you, this book was probably the only workbook that I finished and did all the exercises. I also got into the habit of morning pages and made artist dates -- which stopped after awhile. Thanks for the reminder that I need to start things up again.

  3. Sara,

    Thanks for this post. I had never heard of this book before. I hope it's still in print.

  4. Oh, Elaine, it's absolutely still in print. There are even circles of writers built around her ideas, and websites, and lots of sequels. But I prefer not to get too wound up in the spin-offs. The book, a notebook, and a pen are all you need.

  5. Morning pages got me through years that I might've given up writing. Now I often feel way too busy to do them. Which is saying something, isn't it. I reckon I better pull out the old notebook tomorrow...

  6. Just a tiny, baby artist date suggestion. Every week I change the screen saver on my laptop to a fabulous piece of art. I like working through particular artists. I'm on my 8th week of Matisse, and I love, love, love the inspiration every time I turn on my computer. It's not like getting out and seeing an exhibit, but it's part of my routine that keeps art on my mind. And yes, that book is a MUST READ. I love my morning pages.

  7. Donna, what a great idea. And it's doable, unlike most of my big plans, which tend to fold under time pressure. Thanks for sharing. And didn't I read/hear that you're doing The Artist's Way now? Or did you just finish it?

  8. Hmm....sounds intriguing. Can I add one more book to the pile?


  9. I'm always interested in other writers' opinions on this book--I've heard a few different ones, but mostly positive. Thanks for the post!


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