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What I Learned about Writing this Week…from Julia Cameron

When I sat down to write this week’s WILAWriTWe, I planned to tell you what I’ve learned this week through not writing. The thesis of my article was going to be that sometimes, we actually need to cease creative production and, instead, go down to the pool and drink. Said thesis was going to tie in neatly with last week’s article, and it was going to make me happy, and it was going to make you happy, and there would be sparklies and rainbows and sunshine and unicorns with the magical power of a three-wolf T-shirt, yay!

In my quest for this overabundant literary joy, I took to hand a certain book, knowing that it contained a few quotes to support my ideas. I plucked this book from my shelf, plopped down on the couch, started flipping pages…

…and rewrote my entire article in my head in the space of about twenty seconds.

The book in question, my dear inklings, is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which I read two years ago. If you never buy but one thing from Amazon by way of a link I give you, that one thing and that one link should be this one.

The Old Way

Gentle Readers, I could write a twelve-tome series on how The Artist’s Way has affected me — spiritually, emotionally, physically. Granted, had I never read the book, I wouldn’t be the same person now that I was two years ago; constant change, however minute, is human nature. However, because of this book, the changes wrought in my nature over the last two years have run deeper and will last longer than those which simple day-to-day living would otherwise have catalyzed within me.

Before I read and worked through The Artist’s Way (and yes, there was WORK involved — you knew that was coming, didn’t you? *grin*), I held the following beliefs:

  • Writing and painting are a nice hobby.
  • I don’t have the right to focus my energies on such things.
  • When I spend time and energy on writing and painting, I am letting other people down.
  • When I spend time and energy on writing and painting, I am being selfish.
  • My creative accomplishments have no value in the real world.
  • My creative passions are traps that hinder me from taking hold of real life.
  • My creative passions are a spiritual danger to myself and to others.
  • I should feel guilty for following my creative passions.
  • God wants me to give up my creativity in order to free my time and energy for work.

As I type out this list of horrors, my heart cringes. Tears come to my eyes. I feel such overwhelming compassion for the girl who believed those things and acted upon them. She put on a great face, but she was not a happy person. If contentment is something that fills up the heart, her heart was empty.

She felt like a cornered animal, snarling and ready to issue death threats to relationships. She harbored an inner fury, and resentment so massive she couldn’t even see it. Her creative self did not trust her, because she sold it out over and over again.

She leeched blood from her very soul, and so her soul went to ground. The result was apathy, resignation, and monstrous self-deception about who she really was.

I’m not making this stuff up. What I’m sharing with you, I am taking straight from the notes I wrote to myself two years ago as The Artist’s Way helped me peel back the layers of misery in which I had clothed myself almost my entire life.

The New Way

I won’t try to sugar-coat it: The Artist’s Way is hard work, and it hurts. Ms. Cameron’s book is full of eye-opening thoughts, well-crafted comforts, and affirming revelations. But each revelation comes with its own practical, hands-on exercise for putting the new to the test and incorporating it not only into your thought pattern but your daily life pattern as well.

My friends, we are talking about exorcising demons and excising malignancies — neither of which can happen without getting our hands dirty and straining — yea, even tearing — our muscles. We must look the gritty, naked truth in the eye and say, “I see you, and though I am afraid, I will not look away.”

I am a work-in-progress. My creative self is a work-in-progress. I have not yet reached a goal, an apex, a fulfillment. My path is still rocky.

I cannot tell you that the study and implementation of Ms. Cameron’s work has solved all of my creative problems, because it hasn’t. I still find myself slipping back into old thought patterns — which is why, when I picked up the book to page casually through it, I realized that it’s time for me to revisit my struggle by means of what I am writing at this very moment.

You’re reading my catharsis. You’re reading my reminder to myself of all the beauty and the truth I have discovered and the new beliefs I am still learning to hold. Here I give you some of them, and I hope they are as great an encouragement to you as they are to me:

  • I am by nature a creative being.
  • I have both the right and the sacred duty to follow my creative passions.
  • I can be responsible and practical and an artist all at the same time.
  • I can forgive myself for selling out my creative self to the will of others.
  • My creative self is a precious child who deserves encouragement, freedom, and pampering.
  • When my body is unhealthy, it can be a sign that I’m not taking care of my creative self.
  • My God (and Ms. Cameron says this can be anything from an all-powerful entity to an acronym for “good orderly direction”) thinks that artists are his gifted children.
  • God wants me to exercise my creativity in order to show the world how amazing he is. He would never ask me to cease being creative, because that is not who he is.
  • By using my creativity to brighten the corner where I am, I am being and doing exactly what I was created to be and do.

Choose You This Day…

When I speak of creative passions, I’m not limiting “creative” to writings, works of art, or musical compositions. To create means to bring into existence something that wasn’t there before. This encompasses anything from The Arts to the conception of a child to the founding of a business. It’s anything we humans think to make out of the tools, skills, and gifts at our disposal.

In your mind, you hold the germ of an idea to make something. There. Did you see that? Feel that? You thought of it, just now.

You’ve been putting it off, refusing to give yourself permission to pursue the dream. You’ve let other people tell you that you can’t. You’ve come to believe that going after that dream isn’t right. You beat yourself up again and again for being selfish enough to want this. You believe the lie that says, “Creativity? That’s nice and all, dear…but it’s not terribly practical now, is it? Why don’t you find something productive to do with your time?”

The lie is insidious, and it numbs you to who you truly are. You don’t have to listen to it. You don’t have to believe it. You don’t have to let it continue spreading through your heart like a cancer. You are allowed to banish that demon from your soul forever. You have the right — and that right is sacred.

Choose to wield that sacredness.

“To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.” — Robert Louis Stephenson

And that’s WILAWriTWe.

(If you buy The Artist’s Way through clicking one of my links, I’ll get a tiny percentage of what you spend…but what I get will be nothing compared to what this book will give you in return.)

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

4 Responses to “What I Learned about Writing this Week…from Julia Cameron”

  1. Wow, that was motivating, Courtney. 🙂

    I’m reading a book called Drawing With Children (in hopes to add a drawing program to my 1st grader’s education this fall), and in the first few chapters, she addresses similar problems of mindset. Not only is it unhealthy to hold these ideas, it can greatly stunt your creative ability. She also addresses another side to the issue, the “I’m not good enough” side.

    Good stuff. 🙂

    • Courtney Cantrell says:

      It seems as though most creative types suffer from the “I’m not good enough” affliction. I haven’t known a creative who hasn’t, at least at one time or another. I remember vividly that in high school, art class was the one place I felt confident (except for English class, but mother tongue gave me an extra advantage there). But the moment I stepped out of the art room, that confidence vanished, because none of my other teachers seemed to value the one thing I was really good at.

      *sigh* If I ever decided to go into teaching as a profession, that would be my only motivation: to make a safe place for children’s creativity.

  2. Julie Velez says:

    I love this post! I also need to read this book!

    If by any chance you haven’t read “If You Want To Write” by Brenda Ueland, you should. Fo’ reals.

    Borrow Aaron’s copy. I’m sure he’s not reading it. If he’s lost his, I’ll bring you mine. 🙂

    • Courtney Cantrell says:

      “Aha!” she crowed with excitement. “I have that book!!!”

      I had to go check my shelves, but the title sounded familiar enough, I was sure I must have it. And voila, there it was. It’s been years since I’ve cracked the spine of that one–guess it’s time to revisit! Thanks, Julie! 😀