Saturday, 25 June 2016

Book Review: The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

There is a lot of hype around about The Artist's Way, both good and bad. I read Julia Cameron's The Right to Write a few years ago and I have to admit I found it to be one of the most inspiring books about writing I've ever read, so when I came across a copy of the Way in a secondhand bookshop quite recently I was excited to try it.
The Artist's Way lays out a twelve-week programme for 'creative recovery' - helping blocked creatives, of any and all kinds, find their path and overcome frustration and fear. The main tools that Cameron presents are the morning pages - three A4 pages of writing, longhand, to be done first thing every morning - and the artist date, a weekly solo outing to replenish one's well of inspiration and nourish the 'inner artist'. Throughout the twelve-week plan, there are tasks and exercises for each week (though you don't have to complete them all) and a weekly set of questions for you to check in with yourself and note your progress.

The morning pages are daunting. Scanning reviews online, I noticed that this was one of the things that most people found hardest about the programme. But I like a challenge, so I was determined to give it my best shot. No, I didn't manage to do the morning pages every day for twelve weeks, but I did manage an average of six days out of seven. At first, I absolutely hated them. And while I still wouldn't say I'm a total convert, I noticed that I did indeed feel calmer and more able to be productive on the days I did my pages. By week six, it felt more natural to do the pages than not to do them.

The artist date I found harder. Cameron insists that the date be done solo, and indeed one of the things I did find slightly hard to stomach about the book was encouraging the budding creative to jettison whatever aspects of one's life - including friends, family, partners - make demands on your time that potentially come between you and your creativity. Perhaps for some people, who do not have supportive families or significant others, this is good advice, but I am very fond of the relationships I have and do not wish to completely alienate the people I care about. Perhaps I am lucky in that the people I choose to have around me are creatively inspiring rather than draining or demoralising. So I did decide that a trip to the beach with my partner, collecting pretty shells and running around in the sand like children, absolutely counted as an artist date.

The very hardest task set in this book was for one week only - and it was reading deprivation. At first I balked at this, reading being one of my greatest joys, but Cameron suggests that frustrated creatives may in some cases be using obsessive reading as a way to avoid doing the actual work. Unfortunately, for me this hit a nerve - far easier to read a novel than to write one, isn't it? And hey, if you read the right kind of books, you can convince yourself it's 'research'... which only counts if at some point you knuckle down and do the actual writing. So for one week, I quit reading. It was HARD. I didn't do a perfect job - it's astonishing how much reading you can do automatically! But during that week I mended a falling-apart pair of jeans, had a day out, did some sketching and painting, cleared out half the attic, listened to music, upped my yoga game, and yes, once I had exhausted every other avenue of procrastination, did some writing.

One of the most common complaints about The Artist's Way is the emphasis on spirituality, which doesn't work for some people. I didn't think it would work for me. I still have a hard time with Cameron's concept that there is a God who loves artists and actively helps us when we begin to let loose our creative side. It's a nice idea, I'm just not sure I buy it. I did as Cameron suggests in an early chapter and mentally replaced the word God with 'the universe' (or your personal equivalent), which, while I still felt my eyes start a-rolling a few times, did keep me from feeling put off.

I don't know what I expected to happen when I started reading this book. Well, actually, yes I do - I was half-hoping for a furnace of creative inspiration to ignite within me, to suddenly be awash with ideas and to be writing and creating each and every day in some kind of frenzy. You may not be surprised to hear that it didn't quite work like that. In week one I was grumpy. Week two, I thought about quitting. Week three, resignation. In week four I bought some oil paints. By week five I was writing again, doing regular exercise and going for long walks almost every day. In week six, forgotten childhood interests suddenly made themselves known again with obsessive fervour - which I really did not expect as a side-effect. Call me soppy, because goodness knows, I am, but the essay for week eleven, 'Recovering a Sense of Autonomy', made me teary-eyed. The process was subtle, so gradual as to be almost unnoticed, but in its own quiet way I realised that the programme was working for me.

The Artist's Way is not without its flaws. Cameron is prone to name-dropping and not a touch over-dramatic. I did elect to ignore some of her advice about selfishness in favour of not being an ass to my nearest and dearest, and yeah, some of the Great Creator stuff is a little out there. That said, I'm very glad I managed to suspend my cynicism long enough to give The Artist's Way the old college try, because for me, it worked. Creativity became an organic part of my life, another thread woven into the everyday, rather than something to procrastinate about or tick off the to-do list. I will be keeping the artist dates as a part of my life (solo or otherwise) and maybe, maybe, even the morning pages too. We'll see.


  1. I keep thinking in my head i's by photographer Julia Margaret Cameron haha

    The thing I most need to do is stick to doing some writing every day.

    1. I don't THINK so but she does seem to have tried a lot of different mediums so I guess it could be the same person haha

      Yeeesh, me too. I have mostly stuck to daily since I started working through this book - I've made a lot more progress on my WIPs in the last couple of months than I have in ages. I have the tendency to convince myself that everything needs to be PERFECT so then obviously I freak out and don't do anything at all... >_>

    2. Yes I freak out over perfection all the time!


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