Wellness

Two Easy Tools for Lifelong Creative Growth

Photo courtesy of Gemma Booth/Trunk Archive

Two Easy Tools for Lifelong Creative Growth

Two Easy Tools for Lifelong Creative Growth

“People come to me because they’re hungry for a richer life,” says Santa Fe–based author and artist Julia Cameron. “They may be at their wit’s end trying to ‘figure out how to do it,’ and finally they just give up and say, ‘I don’t know what to do; I just know I need more.’”

In Cameron’s world, the key to more is nurturing our creativity. Since she self-published her book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity in 1992, more than 4 million copies have been sold—and it’s become clear that she’s onto something.

The book is structured like a self-help class, and it takes the reader through a twelve-week process to unpack creative blocks and find the tools that nurture and indulge the creative process. Beyond those twelve weeks, you’ll walk away with two central tenets—these are key takeaways Cameron refers to as the artist’s date and the morning pages. (More on those later.)

It’s deeply individual work, of course, but Cameron encourages people to start the process in groups. If you’re curious: Grab a copy—and some friends.

A Q&A with Julia Cameron

Q
Is everyone creative?
A

We’re all born creative, and then we go through a conditioning process. We get a lot of negative messages about creativity. We hear that artists are broke, promiscuous, drunk, drug-addled, a whole roster of negative things. What I teach is that artists are sane, friendly, sober, useful—we sort of take the negatives and turn each one around. That’s what I mean by a creative reawakening. We go back to the self that we have forgotten we have.

We all have an inner spark of creativity or divinity, whatever you want to call it. As we work to wake it up, we begin to find that we are more bold and more adventurous and more courageous than we have known.


Q
What does spirituality have to do with creativity?
A

Spirituality is sort of an awakened sense of self and possibility. Some people call it the muse. Some people call it the source; some people call it God; some people call it the higher power. I don’t think it matters what you call it. What matters is that you contact it, and the contact that you make with it is done through just a few simple tools.

I find that when people work on their spirituality, their creativity wakes up. And when people work on their creativity, their spirituality wakes up.


Q
Why is rediscovering your creative self an emotional process for most people?
A

Many of us are blocked in many areas, and we haven’t grieved that. When you start doing something I call morning pages, you begin a grieving process, and it puts you in touch with parts of yourself that you may have lost.


Q
What are morning pages, and why are they so fundamental to the process?
A

Morning pages are three pages of longhand writing that you do first thing in the morning, before the rest of your day. I urge people to spill out of bed onto the page.

They can be a very potent form of meditation, but they work a little differently from conventional meditation. With conventional meditation, if something’s bothering you and you take it into meditation, by the time you’re done meditating, you feel you don’t need to do anything about it. You’ve sort of meditated it away.

With morning pages, if something’s bothering you, by the time you get to the end of the pages, you think, Oh, I goddamn well better do something about it! The pages move you into action. It’s like you take a broom through all the little corners of your life and bring the debris into the center of the room where you can get a good look at it.

As I have worked with them myself over the years, they’ve stayed the same, but they’ve intensified. I find that I pray in pages more than I used to: I will ask a question and listen for an answer, so the pages become sort of a letter to the universe, saying, “This is what I like; this is what I don’t like; this is what I want more of; this is what I want less of.”

Some people shred them; some people burn them; some people save them faithfully. I say don’t read them at all.


Q
Why is it important to not read them?
A

Well, what we’re trying to do is move you into action. This means we don’t want you to become a narcissist, and if you are reading your pages every day, you’re sort of staring at your navel. The pages make you self-conscious.

People are sometimes afraid that if they don’t read them, they’ll miss something. But what I have found is that morning pages are what you might want to call a tough-love friend. If an issue is bothering you, the pages will bring it up over and over and over again until you do something about it.


Q
How do you avoid narcissism while nurturing your creative self?
A

We all want to be original. In order to be original, we have to be the origin of our work. As we become more authentically ourselves, we become better artists, better people.

When you do morning pages, though, you are in effect training your ego to stay on one side. I often tell people, “If you do morning pages, you will miniaturize your censor.” People who do morning pages are able to create more freely—they often experience relief.

When people come to my class, I ask, “How many of you feel you have an issue with perfectionism?” All the hands go up. Perfectionism is a primary creative block, and that’s been true from the beginning. The morning pages are a relief from the ego’s demand that everything should be perfect.


Q
What’s an artist’s date?
A

An artist’s date is a once-a-week solo expedition to do something that interests or enchants you. So it might be going to a pet store. It might be going to a children’s bookstore. It could be going to a gallery. It could be going to a botanical garden. The point is that it’s fun.

People take very readily to the morning pages because we understand the concept of working on our creativity, but they balk at taking an artist’s date, because we don’t really see how play can be good for us. And it’s important you do it alone, otherwise you’re taking somebody else’s date: You’re checking in to see how they’re doing and what they’re thinking. What we’re trying to do is get you in contact with your own inner self. It’s very important to do it alone.


Q
Do you still do weekly artist’s dates?
A

I find myself experiencing the same balkiness as my students, and then I have to say, “Julia, just go out for a nice walk—try that.” So I do that. If you’re stuck, it helps to make a list of twenty things you love to do and, out of that, pick an artist’s date.


Q
Do people who work in creative fields experience The Artist’s Way differently from people who don’t?
A

I think the tools work whether you declare yourself creative or not.

The process of waking up is largely the same. Oftentimes, people will have a declared art form, and then they work The Artist’s Way and discover, Oh my god, I’m actually a wonderful painter! I didn’t know!

It wakes up aspects of yourself that you may have forgotten or ignored.

I don’t necessarily think that people are going to change jobs, but they often do. It’s exciting when somebody discovers that they have more freedom than they thought.


Julia Cameron has been an artist for more than three decades. She is the author of more than thirty books, including such bestselling works on the creative process as The Artist’s Way, Walking in This World, and Finding Water. Also a novelist, playwright, songwriter, and poet, she has multiple credits in theater, film, and television.

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