The Artist’s Way for Writers
Photo by Dolly Garland
The Artist’s Way is a well-known creativity book by Julia Cameron. If you are interested in any form of creative practice you’ve probably heard of it. Or, you might have heard of one of its most famous concepts: the morning pages.
I had been familiar with morning pages for years and did them on and off. But a few months ago, I finally started doing morning pages properly, and that eventually led me to do the whole 12 weeks of the Artist’s Way.
I highly recommend this course – I say course because it’s not the sort of book you just read. It’s the sort of book you work through. It is very much based on the format of the 12-step programme of Alcoholic Anonymous which Julia Cameron went through. Don’t let that put you off. There is also a fair amount of “God”. Don’t let that put you off either. If you can get past the minor niggles, this book truly has the potential to if not change your life, then at least remove the blockers you may be suffering from. There is a reason it’s been selling for decades.
However, I’ve some caveats, which I will explain below in my 4 main takeaways from this book:
- Timing matters
This course is for everyone, but it’s not for everyone at all times. If you are in a pretty good place mentally, feel in control, or have a full creative mojo running, this won’t help you, and may feel like an annoying waste of time. That’s okay. There is nothing wrong with this book. It’s meant to help people who feel a little lost in their creative practice, so use it when you need it.
I was going through a tough time with my writing, with many doubts and many possible paths ahead of me. I kept going in circles, talking myself into things and out of things, and basically, things were just spiralling into a bit of a depressing mess. So even though as a keen journal keeper, I’ve known about this book for years, I didn’t even think about doing it until now. Because for me, the time was finally right.
- Do the work, even when it feels stupid
This book was published in the 90s. The world has changed considerably since then, so some things are dated. I particularly found many exercises that ask you to make a collage annoying, because not all of us have stacks of magazines lying around these days. But stick with it. Seriously. You don’t have to make the damn collage, but do the exercises to the best of your abilities. Even if they feel silly. All the work adds up. If you’re pretty self-aware, you might not get momentous insights, but you will still get tiny insights or small mental shifts that will help you regain the positivity around your creative practice.
- Stick with the morning pages
Most people who’ve done the artist’s way will tell you that morning pages is the one thing that makes the biggest difference, and it’s the one thing that most people continue to do long after the course is finished. I’m still doing them too.
But it’s also the one thing that most people find hard to start, and hard to stick with. Morning pages require a daily commitment but they also require discipline to continue writing even when you think that what you’re writing is pointless and boring.
For many of us, overthinking is a real problem. I have constant to-do lists running in my head, followed by commentary of what I didn’t do and how I am going to fit it all in, and whether I’m prioritising the right things, alongside just the normal life stuff. My brain is usually buzzing, and information overload is real. I’m not alone in this. This is especially true for those of us who spend a lot of time looking at screens, and are constantly bombarded with new information.
Morning pages allow you to dump all the crap out of your brain first thing in the morning so that you start your day with a clearer mind. Don’t worry about what you say in your morning pages. Just do them. Sometimes, I make to-do lists, sometimes I talk about whatever pops into my head including pointless worries and random crap. But in-between all that, sometimes, there are useful insights and memories that pop up. When that happens, that’s great. But if it doesn’t happen, that’s also okay. I start my day feeling much better mentally and lighter than when I didn’t do morning pages.
They are a cleansing ritual. If you make it a ritual, you are more likely to enjoy them. For example, I make coffee as soon as I wake up, and then I write my morning pages with a fountain pen. I enjoy the experience and it’s a calm, quiet ritual to start my day.
- Be prepared to pivot
Life rarely goes according to plans, and 12 weeks is plenty of time for things to go haywire. So be prepared to pivot, but don’t get off course. While I did my morning pages first thing on most days, there were days when I did not have the time because there was something else going on early in the morning. So on those days, I did them later. I did most exercises, but there were weeks when I skipped the artist’s date because we were in a lockdown and there are only so many things you could do at home.
If a particular exercise is irrelevant to you, don’t do it. For example, some questions related to alcohol addition or sex addiction were completely irrelevant to me. Some career-focused questions were completely irrelevant to my retired friend who was doing it with me. So skip things if they are not relevant to you, but don’t skip them just because they are hard.
If you are a creative practitioner of any kind, keep this book handy for that bad patch when you are feeling lost. It happens to most of us, and it likely happens multiple times throughout our lifetime. This book will help you find your centre, and steady you. While the course is 12 weeks long, the work isn’t that much. Morning pages can take anything between 30-60 minutes depending on your handwriting and your diligence. It takes me about 45-60 minutes. But the rest of the exercises are 2 hours a week or less. Most of the time, I did all the exercises on the weekend. And that’s not a lot of time to spend on some self-care.
Dolly Garland writes stories that are a bit like her – amalgamated in multiple cultures. Having lived in four countries and several cities, she found her home in London though the roots of her stories have returned to India where she was born. Dolly was short-listed for Gollancz’ inaugural SFF award for BAME writers. She is also an editor as well as a non-fiction writer. Find her at www.dollygarland.com or on Twitter @DollyGarland.