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Book review: The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron

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by Kate Shannon

Described on the cover as “A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self,” Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is regarded by many as a way of life. The book, which turns twenty-five years old this year, is known as the creative person’s bible, helping us tap into our creative desires and ignite—or reignite—our artistic spark.

The Artist’s Way is presented as a twelve-week course, working through the steps of “creative recovery.” Each chapter outlines an area to address in our artistic unblocking, with exercises such as affirmations, lists, check-ins to challenge core beliefs about being an artist, and ways to override the internal censor that so often sabotages our creative pursuits.

Cameron, a prolific author, poet, playwright, and artist, shares her experiences finding her creative mojo and overcoming barriers in her creative career. She encourages readers to open themselves up to inspiration by being playful, ignoring the quest for perfection, and simply showing up.

Cameron reckons the acts of coming up with ideas, being inspired, and creativity itself, are all the influence of a higher power. References to God’s input into the creative process are peppered throughout the book, but you don’t have to be religious to find it helpful or to complete the program.

Here are a few of the key insights I took from the book:

The morning pages
The practice of writing daily “morning pages” is at the heart of The Artist’s Way, and is one part of this book that I use regularly. Every morning, you write three full pages of whatever comes to mind as a way to clear out negative, superfluous “clutter” and make room for positivity, clarity, and creativity. These pages aren’t designed to be kept or shown to anyone else, let alone published, but the idea is that if you do them daily, creative gems will eventually show up. Cameron says that she’s been doing them every day for years, and thousands of her devotees swear by them.

The artist date
Another of Cameron’s essential tools is the “artist date.” This is the act of spending an hour or two alone each week pursuing something that piques your interest. A date could be a visit to a museum, a walk around an unfamiliar neighborhood, a browse in a bookshop, or simply time collecting and arranging shells at the beach. Artist dates are designed to feed our inspiration; Cameron describes them as “assigned play” and “more mischief than mastery.”

Surround yourself with those who encourage your creative practice
Cameron encourages us to safeguard our artist within by avoiding the people in our lives who are negative influences when it comes to making art; she calls them “crazymakers.” “Do not expect your blocked friends to applaud your recovery,” she writes. “That’s like expecting your best friends from the bar to celebrate your sobriety.”

The importance of noticing
Cameron shares a lot of herself and her experiences in this book. One anecdote about her late grandmother particularly resonated with me. She tells of her grandmother’s ability to pay attention to the details of life, describing the letters her grandmother wrote detailing her surroundings, which she called “flora and fauna reports.” For example: “the roses are holding even in this heat… My Christmas cactus is getting ready…the little Shetland looks like she’ll drop her foal early.” Her grandmother noticed the beautiful details of life, even when life wasn’t so cheery.

Cameron describes her grandmother as “standing knee-deep in the flow of life and paying close attention,” and prods us to do the same, as this is where we find inspiration, connection, and sanity.

 The Artist’s Way has a knack of either strongly binding or dividing its readers. My dog-eared copy has been a constant companion on my creative journey, as well as the journeys of many, many others.

 Kate Shannon is a Brisbane-based freelance writer. She spends much of her time in the garden with her two little girls, and loves writing and learning about flowers, plants, and creative people. Follow her on Instagram at @thehanburys.

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