The Artist’s Way is one of these books I had heard people talking about, but never went much further than that. That was until I learned more about the process, and the routine of journaling, or writing morning pages every morning.
Over the years I have had to deal with anxiety and imposter syndrome, specifically related to my art. After learning about how journaling is incorporated into this process. Something I’ve been doing for years. I knew I had to give The Artist’s Way a try and see if it helped my creative process.
About The Artist’s Way
The Artist’s Way, originally published in 1992, has become a cult-classic self-help-styled book. Appearing long before the current trend in books about mindfulness, creativity, and productivity. The Artist’s Way began in 1978 after the author, Julia Cameron started her sobriety journey.
Originally conceived as a 12-week program, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous in the United States. Before being published as a self-help guide. The book helps you unlock your creativity and release your inner child through a routine of daily journaling and weekly solo “dates” to unleash your creative potential.
The Artist’s Way has become a cult classic. Helping more than just artists unlock their creativity. In fact, other books such as Eat, Pray, Love wouldn’t exist without The Artist’s Way.
My Experience With The Artist’s Way
The Artist’s Way was something I had seen people talking about. It had been on my radar for a while as something I’d like to try at some point. But it wasn’t till I really learned how it worked, specifically the morning pages, that I finally bought a copy.
There were two reasons that the journaling part of the Artist’s Way fascinated me. First; my dissertation was about handwriting. As such, I looked at paper-based journaling methods such as commonplace books and bullet journals. Second; this type of journaling was something I had already been doing for years.
Even though I found the idea of The Artist’s Way fascinating. I’m going to admit right now I’m one of those people who never actually finished the 12-week program. There were a few reasons for this which I’ll go more in-depth on later in the post. Firstly, the religious aspect because quite overwhelming. Secondly, I already journal so that wasn’t a new routine I needed to work on. And finally, I didn’t find it useful. The only real useful pieces of advice were things I was already doing.
What I did find interesting, however, was that some of the moments Cameron mentions in the book happened to me. In week 5 she talks about being open to new opportunities. And as it just so happened, I was given the chance to work on new projects. This was exciting because it was the type of work I wanted to do.
Though the advice for this particular week was to be open to opportunities, I’m not sure I could thank The Artist’s Way for this happenstance. Did I get that opportunity because I was open to the idea of it? Or did it happen because of all my actions over the previous years up until that point?
This was a theme I came across through the parts of the book I read. I didn’t need help unblocking my creativity. And the more I think about it, this is because I wasn’t suffering from creative block. I think you need to understand when I read this book. It was just after I had graduated from university.
Graduation is a stressful and scary time. Figuring out what to do after is the problem all students face. But by the time I picked up The Artist’s Way I wasn’t struggling with what I needed to do. I didn’t need a book to tell me to do the scary thing because I had already done it. I just needed to get the work done.
The Morning Pages
The Morning pages were the part of The Artist’s Way which fascinated me. I had seen people talking about writing their morning pages, but it wasn’t till I learned the intention behind them that I decided to try out this method.
The morning pages could be described as just journaling. But they are so much more than that. As soon as you start working through this 12-week program, you are asked to begin writing 3 pages in a notebook every morning. The notebook part of this is important, it doesn’t work if you write on a computer.
You write three pages of freehand, stream-of-consciousness text. This could be anything, you shouldn’t be judging the content of your writing. You don’t need to share this with anyone. You don’t even need to reread your writing if you wish. The aim is to get whatever thoughts going round and round in your head out and onto paper.
The intention behind this is that those negative thoughts hold you back from your true potential. So all those worries that you’re not good enough, that your work isn’t good enough go into a little notebook first thing in the morning and you’re free to spend the rest of your time working without those anxieties in your head.
The thing I love about this is that it does work. It forces you to get into a habit of not being precious with your work. Did your morning pages make sense? Doesn’t matter. Sometimes you just need to get the work done. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it has to be just good enough. And that’s something you can start working into your art. Because perfectionism becomes a problem when you never do anything.
Getting into this new routine is just part of it. The morning pages become a place where you can write down every idea you have, no matter how brilliant or absurd. Something you will come to learn is that inspiration is like a well, you can draw ideas from it. But you also have to keep topping up that well. This can come from writing down your ideas and taking inspiration from the things around you. By getting into a regular habit of doing this you prevent yourself from suffering art block because you’ll always have a stash of ideas and inspiration to take from.
Religion and Where Creativity Comes From
Julia Cameron states quite early on that you don’t have to believe in God to use the Artist’s Way. And I feel, certainly, at the start, the Christian themes are quite light. But as you continue working through the book some of the religious aspects become more noticeable.
So here’s the thing. I’m not against religion. I grew up in a vaguely Christian household. In that we would go to church at Christmas, but nothing more than that. While I have no real problems with religion, it’s also not something that I believe in. And this is important when it comes to how Cameron discusses creativity in The Artists Way.
I’m sure if you asked many artists where their creativity came from, they would struggle to answer. I know that it’s hard to say what inspires the work that I do. This is because it comes from multiple sources. It comes from the books I read, movies I watch, the world around me, pictures I see online, and other artists. The work I do is a summation of all that and somehow becomes something new.
But Julia Cameron has a slightly different take on creativity. Saying that it’s God’s gift. A way of God working through you. I don’t mind if she believes it, or if other people get something from this way of looking at creativity. But there’s something about it which nags at me.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to look at creativity as a way to connect to some higher power. It’s just, as a piece of advice, it only helps if you believe in a higher power.
The Artist’s Way as a Self-Help Book
When finally sat down to read The Artist’s Way, I was surprised by how much of the advice was things I already do. As a self-help book, The Artist’s Way aims to help you “achieve your potential” and “unblock your inner artist”. The problem with this is, as a designer, I am often given a very short deadline, a few hours or a few days. And as someone who likes to be paid for what I do, creative block simply isn’t an option. The work has to be done.
Because of this, I’ve had to figure out ways to prevent myself from falling into a creative block. Keeping a sketchbook, taking photographs, and using websites such as Pinterest and Behance as sources of inspiration. While I was at university, one of my lecturers would remind us regularly that if we were stuck working on a project, the absolute worst thing we could do was sit in front of a computer and try to force an idea. His advice; go for a walk.
What I liked about The Artist’s Way; and how it suggests you spend a few hours each week going for a walk, visiting a museum or doing something else quiet, was the intention behind it. Rather than waiting to get stuck in a rut, you make time during the week where you go out and spend some time by yourself.
With any creative endeavour, your time can be split into two categories. When you’re working on the project, and when you’re thinking about the project. This thinking time can be hugely important. Especially because creative projects can almost be seen as a problem to solve. You need time to think about the problem and figure out the right solution. So working time into your week where you can just think will benefit you. No matter if you read the book or not.
As a self-help book, I think it’s quite good. It gives good advice, most of which has been scientifically proven to help. Do you need to go through the whole 12-week plan to put it into action? No, but you can if you want to.
Would The Artist’s Way Help You?
I think when you get to the bones of The Artist’s Way it does have some good advice. Going for a walk has been scientifically proven to be good for creatives. Any mindless task is good because it lets you think while your hands work. And making time for yourself is just a good idea in general.
The issue is this good advice is hidden underneath a layer of spirituality and Christian doctrine. I don’t like the insinuation that an artist’s creativity is just another being working through them. I think that devalues the work of the artist.
So do you need to read The Artist’s Way? I’m going to say no. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to try the 12-week program and don’t mind the Christian themes go ahead and try it. But I think you would probably learn the same things by keeping a journal and searching on Google for resources on overcoming creative block.