When I left Japan, I felt stuck. It was clear that I needed a change, but I wasn’t sure what that change would be. I knew that coming back to the US wouldn’t immediately make me feel unstuck, but there I would be able to have the time and space to figure things out, surrounded by the support of my friends and family.
I recently completed The Artist’s Way, as I mentioned in my previous post. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron, is a book/self-guided course in “discovering and recovering your creative self” that was first published in 1992 but has gained a resurgence lately as more and more locked-down individuals have put themselves on the path of artistic recovery. I had heard it mentioned during the early days of Covid, but this life-changing book didn’t come to me until late August 2021, through a friend that I made shortly before leaving Japan. We only were able to meet up a handful of times, but recognized something of a kindred spirit in each other. The last time I saw her, over lunch in Shinjuku, she handed me her paperback copy of The Artist’s Way, telling me that she thought I needed it now.
She couldn’t have been more right. As I acclimated back to life in Los Angeles, the final days of 2021 became a period of soul-searching, guided by the pages of The Artist’s Way. Since completing it, a number of people have asked me about my experience, so I wanted to write an in-depth post dedicated to this topic.
Reading, Tasks, and 12 Weeks of Inner Work
One caveat before I begin: The Artist’s Way uses rather spiritual language, and doesn’t try to hide this. Spiritual ideas and God are referenced frequently throughout. However, Cameron gives readers the option to take or leave this, and make of it what they will, so I wouldn’t let hesitations or doubts about spirituality hold you back from giving the process a try.
A lot of people might balk at beginning something like The Artist’s Way, but trust me, it doesn’t require as much time as you might think. The book is divided into 12 chapters, and the entire course is meant to take a total of 12 weeks. For those 12 weeks, there are a number of things that you will do: the weekly reading of that week’s chapter; daily journaling, which Cameron calls “Morning Pages;” around 8-12 weekly tasks, of which you can pick and choose; and a weekly “Artist Date.” So for those 12 weeks, you are looking at a daily time commitment of as little as 30 minutes or as much as a couple of hours, depending on the day.
At the beginning of each week, I would first read that week’s chapter, in one sitting, since the reading guides the rest of the week. The Morning Pages are three pages of stream of consciousness writing, where you just write consistently whatever comes to mind – by hand. The idea here is that by “de-gunking” your mind of your to-do list, mundane tasks, and petty gripes, you can free your mind for deeper thinking and creativity.
Although there were a lot of weekly tasks to choose from, I found that they usually didn’t take too much time. Each week I would choose a few that spoke to me, and do them in one sitting. The tasks usually consist of brainstorming and making lists, creative writing, drawing, or sometimes surprisingly practical or light-hearted exercises, such as weeding or sending postcards to friends. While I didn’t look forward to doing them necessarily, I found the tasks to be useful as I moved along in my journey of self-discovery.
Of the weekly schedule, one of the most important items is the Artist Date. For the Artist Date, you simply take your inner artist out to do something playful and fun together – that is, you go out and do something alone just for yourself and for the enjoyment of it. I really struggled with this. I understand the idea and the importance of nurturing oneself and allowing for the freedom to play and create, but this simple directive showed me that I have a hard time allowing myself time just for me. I’m great at giving time to others, great at giving time to work and paid tasks, but for my own creativity? Not so much. While I had success with the reading, Morning Pages, and weekly tasks, my success with Artist Dates was touch and go. I found that I was more likely to succeed if I started small, such as taking a walk in a new neighborhood with my camera. A fitting parable for my own life, where I often hold myself back from taking on creative tasks because they feel large and imposing. Learning to start small, and take it from there, was a meaningful lesson.
Highs and Lows
Week 1: Recovering a Sense of Safety begins with already tackling some of the negative core beliefs that blocked creatives tell themselves, and man, are there a lot of them! Creating art takes a lot of courage, and too easily we dissuade ourselves with myths that we’re not good enough, won’t amount to anything, or that people will judge us. To counter this, along with the Morning Pages, Cameron has the reader write some affirmations. I was surprised by some of the feelings that came up during this week, and how harshly I judge myself and compare myself to others. It felt good to begin knocking down some of those walls. By the end of that week, I noticed that writing positive affirmations – and believing them – was starting to feel easier. Already, I could see some success and benefit from doing this course.
The hardest week for me, and in fact, the hardest week for everyone that I’ve spoken to who’s gone through this process, is Week 4: Recovering a Sense of Integrity. The herculean challenge that is set this week is one that Cameron calls “reading deprivation.” The idea behind this is a good one, that we spend so much time consuming other thoughts or ideas that we don’t have the space or boredom to create our own. But doing the reading deprivation feels extremely limiting, as this extends not just to reading, but to watching television, and, in our modern era, listening to podcasts and going on social media. I wasn’t completely strict with this, as I needed to do some research for work, and on day 5 I wasn’t feeling well and caved and watched TV, but it was an interesting experiment. What did I do instead of reading? I took walks. I crocheted. I pet the cat. I laid on my bed and thought. I had a lot of time to think.
Another pivotal week for me was Week 6: Recovering a Sense of Abundance. This week deals with money. What, you may ask, does money have to do with creativity? A lot. The lack of money can be a huge factor in deterring one from living a creative life, and the balance that enough money and a resulting sense of abundance restores one to creativity again. I’ve lived through this lack of abundance and done the “starving artist” thing, and don’t wish to do it again! This idea of balanced living returns again in Week 10: Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection, which cautions against the strain that workaholism, fame, and competition can place on us as artists.
Week 12: Recovering Myself
You may be wondering if by the time I finished Week 12: Recovering a Sense of Faith I felt fully reignited artistically and if I was ready to start creating right away. The short answer is no. However, what I do feel is a greater sense of balance, calm, patience, and generosity with myself. I feel the urge to keep playing and exploring, and keep letting my inner artist shine. I feel ready to continue the process beyond the page, to keep doing the Morning Pages and Artist Dates. And I’ve started dreaming up a book I want to write, an idea I’ve had for years but kept putting to the side. So maybe I am ready to create.
Would I recommend The Artist’s Way? Absolutely. If you identify as an artist or creative and feel stuck, this course was made for you. Even if you don’t consider yourself the above, I think it would be a great process for anyone who was looking to make some changes in their life, provided that they are open and committed to this process. For me it was nothing short of life-changing, albeit in different ways than I expected, and I think I’ll continue to discover more results of this experience for months to come.