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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.

CWC Reads: Books on staying creative and organised

 

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Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the blockbuster memoir Eat, Pray, Love, a book long beloved by women seeking enlightenment and escape. Big Magic is her first foray into the self-help arena, and she manages to weave plenty of personal stories and examples into her advice and tips on prioritizing creativity. Some parts of the book can veer into woo-woo territory (Gilbert is a firm believer in magic, literally, which might turn you off) but the messages about finding a muse, managing creativity and a family and handling fear are both practical and inspiring.

Gilbert describes creativity as not necessarily “pursuing a life that is professionally or exclusively devoted to the arts,” but “living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” This makes it appealing for anyone who wants to live creatively but doesn’t have a traditional artistic practice. The book’s six chapters—Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity make up Gilbert’s tenets for creative living, and are peppered with anecdotes, pep talks and digressions.

 Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert is the accompanying podcast, where Gilbert chats with people about overcoming their own struggles with creativity.

Five word synopsis:

Permission to live creatively without fear.

Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

Habits “are the invisible architecture of daily life,” Rubin begins. “If we change our habits, we change our lives.” As the follow up to Rubin’s bestseller The Happiness Project, her new book discusses the extent to how our habits shape our lives, and how to make lasting change.

Like The Happiness Project, the book is very accessible and relatable. Rubin strikes a perfect balance of information and anecdote, and imparts a lot of knowledge without overwhelming the reader. She will help you discover your own tendencies – are you a Rebel, an Upholder, a Questioner or an Obliger? – and explains how to change your habits accordingly. Using 21 strategies, including Treats, Loophole-Spotting and Cues, she uses herself and her family and friends as guinea pigs in what does and doesn’t work when changing your habits.
Like Big Magic, Gretchen also has an accompanying podcast called Happier with Gretchen Rubin, which she co-hosts with her sister Elizabeth. Her website also has loads of tips, quizzes and resources on the practical pursuit of happiness and good habits.

Five word synopsis:

Changing our habits changes lives. 

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

This book literally changed my life. Written by surgeon and writer Atul Gawande, the general premise is how professionals – from surgeons to pilots to builders- deal with the increasing complexity of their responsibilities. As many professions move towards becoming a Jane-of-all-trades (and we know this is true for many creative types!), the sheer amount of knowledge that we must remember and draw upon is staggering. The answer? A checklist.

In order to reduce inevitable mistakes of human error, we need to use checklists to walk through the key steps in any procedure. After reading this book, I’ve started using checklists in our business, in my daily life and when starting a new project.

Gawande uses many examples from his own profession. A five-point checklist implemented in 2001 virtually eradicated central line infections in the intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, preventing an estimated 43 infections and eight deaths over 27 months. In the last section of the book, Gawande shows how his research team has taken this idea, developed a safe surgery checklist, and applied it around the world, with staggering success. 

Five word synopsis:

Using a checklist really works.

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

This is the kind of book to keep on your desk and flip through when you need a boost. Full of hand-drawn pictures and handwritten quotes, it is a little book that packs a punch of inspirational advice on being an artist. Like Big Magic, Steal Like An Artist uses the term artist loosely, so the book is for anyone who considers themselves to be creative.

The book is based on a speech that artist Austin Kleon made to a New York college in 2011, where he outlined ten basic principles to boost your creativity.  Kleon posted the text of the speech on his blog, which went viral and became a huge cultural phenomenon. The book expands on these ten principles, with examples, exercises and anecdotes peppered throughout.  The advice is solid: Chapter six is “Do good work and put it where people can see it” and Chapter Two tells us “ Don’t wait until you know who you are to start making things.” The ten principles are printed on the back of the book for easy reference.

The ideas and advice really made me think about originality, creativity and work. Kleon explains that “Nothing is original, so embrace influence, collect ideas, and remix and re-imagine to discover your own path. Follow your interests wherever they take you. Stay smart, stay out of debt, and risk being boring—the creative you will need to make room to be wild and daring in your imagination.”

Five word synopsis:

Discover your own original path.

Emma Clark Gratton is a writer, editor and podcaster. She also runs furniture design studio GRATTON with her husband. She blogs about mothering and renovating at Worst House Best Street and is co-host of The New Normal podcast. Find her on instagram at @emmaclarkgratton. 

Book review (and member giveaway): Taking Back Retail

By Tess McCabe

For almost every creative with products to sell, having an online commerce option is essential. Even if your sales are mostly through your bricks and mortar store, or your market stall, or wholesale orders, no-one can deny that these days, customers expect that you also sell your wares via your own website or a third-party online marketplace.

The argument for having an online retail presence is at the heart of Taking Back Retail, written and released by Portable founders Andrew Apostola and Simon Goodrich last year. But this easy to digest, information-heavy handbook has lots to offer those looking to succeed in any aspect of the online space – whether it be devising a new website design; figuring out the easiest and more effective social media platform to work for your business; conceiving of new ways to promote your product range; or simply analysing how you’re current modes of online selling and marketing are working for you.

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Overall, the book hammers home where best to spend your ‘business development’ budget (which they acknowledge is often limited) to get the best return. This is advice that, as creatives, we often don’t get to hear. The team at Portable have made their mistakes along the way in the growth of their own business and side projects, and they are happy to share what they have learned so that we can all benefit.

Taking Back Retail is primarily aimed at those in the fashion industry (to whom Portable’s own online shop software is targeted), and many of the case studies within its pages relate to this field. However, in my opinion, retailers, makers and designers of any creative sort will likely benefit from the advice in its pages. Personally, I was surprised I found much of its advice relevant to my own business – the tips on creating interesting blog content, organising and managing an online shop, and making the most of a enewsletter and mailing list database were particularly helpful and prompted me to think about CWC’s online presence in a fresh way.

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It’s an easy read that could potentially have a big impact for you and the future of your creative work.

Lucky for us, the generous folk at Portable have offered 10 paperback copies of Taking Back Retail to CWC members this month. Join CWC before February 28, 2014 to be in the running for a copy, or current CWC members can log in and enter the giveaway here. Winners will be drawn on 1 March and notified shortly after.

Or, if you just want to get your hands on a copy of the book, you can do so in digital or paperback format at the Portable website.

Book Review: Not Quite Nigella – My Path To Happiness Through Baking & Blogging by Lorraine Elliott

9780670075034Food Blogger Lorraine Elliott created the highly successful blog Not Quite Nigella in 2007. In this food-centric book she shares her journey from media strategist to blogger, offering a collection of food memories, amusing anecdotes, and recipes along with a sprinkling of advice to wannabe bloggers.

A food lover from way back Elliott only began blogging at the insistence of her husband, who set up the blog and told her to get writing. When a promised job falls through Elliott focuses more attention on the blog, becoming a fulltime blogger in 2009 and currently enjoying statistics of 250,000 unique readers a month with over 500,000 page views (according to her about me page).

The book is difficult to categorise. Part cookbook, part memoir and part blogging lesson it offers an eclectic mix of information written in an amusing, easy-to-read style.

The stories are entertaining including such adventures as a race around the city trying all the Peking Duck dishes on restaurant menus in one afternoon/evening, or sneaking into a swanky exhibition at the NSW Art Gallery waving just a wine glass and a confident air. Although there are more poignant pieces on offer too, with a tour of the cooking facilities at Long Bay Jail and a visit to old-fashioned eating establishment catering to the pensioner/ex-prisoner clientele with cheap and hardy dishes.

Food lovers will enjoy the book for the variety of recipes offered at the end of many of the chapters: red velvet cake, wontons, pork belly with chilli-caramel sauce and vanilla macarons are just a sample of the delicacies on offer.

Although for this poor excuse of a cook, it was the blogging advice that I found most interesting. There were snippets of information throughout the book ranging from dealing with threats of legal action from large publishing firms to stockpiling blog posts for the times when you are unable to blog (so my day-by-day seat-of-the-pants approach could be hindering my entry into the blogging big league).

The final two chapters are devoted to how to blog and how not to blog. Elliott advises potential bloggers to choose a topic they are passionate about and explains the joy in creating a community and having a positive impact on readers.

The book offers an interesting glimpse into the world of a professional blogger.

Janine Fitzpatrick blogs at  Shambolic Living where readers get to feel far happier about their lives when they experience the chaos of hers. She is coming to terms with being the mother of two teenagers, has given up on the dream of a tidy house and still plans to write a book one day.