This is the third time I’ve started working my way through The Artist’s Way. I can see from my notes that my last attempt was January last year. From the bookmark, it looks like I got to week 8. I remember that it took me at least four months to get to that point. I seem to remember my first attempt was better, something like Week 9 but that took around six months. Not exactly the twelve-week quick fix I was hoping for to enable me to be an endless source of creativity. This time I’m doing it For Real. I’ll be charting my progress on here, as an added incentive to keep me on track!
So what is The Artist’s Way? Julia Cameron wrote the first version of it back in 1992, and says that the basic premise hasn’t changed much since then. The main idea is that you add two key ‘tools’ to your routine. One is a weekly artist date, which is where you go on a fun, creative outing with yourself, and the other is the morning pages. There are various activities for each week that help you to think about yourself as an artist and to tap into your creativity.
Seeing as I’m doing it ‘properly’ this time, I decided that a good place to start was the Morning Pages. When setting this task, she writes it so casually: ‘set your alarm clock for half an hour before you usually wake up and write three pages of whatever comes into your head, longhand.’ As if losing thirty minutes of sleep is such an easy thing to do.
Spring seemed like a good time to start again
In previous tries at using her techniques, I never set an alarm. My daughter is five, and the scant sleep I’ve had since she’s been born is a precious and guarded thing. Instead, I took to writing my morning pages once I was sat at my desk and she was in school. Or, back in London, I’d scribble them on the bus on my way to school where I taught. I always worried that it wasn’t genuine enough, seeing as I was already fully awake and aware before I started writing them.
So this time, I took the plunge. I not only set an alarm but also used an old-fashioned battery powered one so I didn’t have the evil influence of a phone in my bedroom. This was disastrous on several fronts. Firstly, the time is hard to set exactly, so I woke up at 6:36 rather than 6:45. And believe me, those nine minutes are important. Add to that the fact that I couldn’t find the damn thing in the dark, so I was scrabbling around, knocking random items onto the floor, as the beeping increased in both volume and frequency.
In the end I had to turn on the light, further annoying my partner who didn’t at all appreciate being woken up when it wasn’t his ‘turn’ to get up with our daughter. If that wasn’t bad enough, once I’d wandered blearily into the living room and picked up the pen and book to write my stupid pages a small head peered around the door, a little voice asking me that, seeing as mummy was awake, maybe I wanted to read her a story or play? Hardly a calm and creative start to the day.
This should be all I need to live a prolific, creative life – hopefully!
So, the morning pages, at the moment, are angry. Variations on ‘what the bloody hell is the point in this?’ and ‘I don’t see why being more tired is going to make me more creative!’ But I did, at least, persist. I’m not sure how revelatory they’ve been, or even beneficial, but I have written a short story this week, and I did manage to get out of my head more than usual when planning my week. Coincidence? Maybe. But I’m pushing on to find out.
The artist date was also not exactly what I’d planned. With an early evening meeting in town last Friday, I’d decided to take myself off for dinner alone. But for some reason, the old town of Geneva just didn’t feel like somewhere I wanted to be. Instead I went to the foyer of my local cinema and ate incredibly dry nachos under fluorescent lighting. Not exactly a romantic moment for my Inner Artist.
But it still felt lovely. Despite the surroundings, I had given myself an hour away from the rest of my life, from any sense of obligation. Earlier that evening I’d had a headache and had been feeling sullen and annoyed. Just sixty minutes and some highly questionable ‘cheddar’ over some salty tortillas and I found myself feeling lighter. Definitely a good start.
The last part of the ‘Way’ are exercises designed to unblock your creative flow. This first week is all about identifying your past and present demons that hold back your creativity, and finding ways of championing your efforts. Turns out I am still mad at my teachers for telling me to focus on academic subjects because I was ‘smart.’
The other part of this in Week 1 is affirmations. Which I am struggling with. As she points out, the horrible things we tell ourselves are so easy to come by, and the rants I have in my head (especially when I lose something. Again.) are the kind of things I wouldn’t dream of saying to anyone else. But when it comes to saying nice things about yourself, it’s utterly cringey. My mind instantly comes up with all sorts of reasons why allowing myself to focus on creating art is a good thing, or that I deserve it, or that it might even be part of a higher purpose for me. My inner critic is having none of it.
It’s much harder to see the positives in yourself
These she quite usefully calls ‘blurts.’ The negative thoughts that erupt all too easily to the surface. Turns out I think writing is self-indulgent, pointless and a waste of time. Given my working class background I’m not entirely surprised to hear these things, as doing art for anything other than a hobby wasn’t encouraged for mostly financial reasons. But it’s interesting to see that they still linger, even when that argument doesn’t exist anymore.
The process of turning around these negative ‘blurts’ into a positive statement is probably the most helpful act this week. Opening up to the possibility that there might be some wider, positive reason or influence from my art, in whatever form it takes, is the exercise that has made me feel the most free. It’s also something I could do at any time when I find myself stuck. Take the nasty things my inner critic is saying and turn them into positives. Definitely a useful technique for all writers!
Yawning my way into the end of Week 1, I’m also wondering why I haven’t managed to do this yet. The first time I tried it, I think I only managed one or two ‘dates’ in six weeks. Perhaps that is rather telling. I am still far too hesitant in allowing myself time and energy for things I think are worthwhile, that don’t necessarily have a positive impact on those around me. Julia promises all I will need is an hour a day, along with the 30mins of pages and one artist date. In the grand scheme of things, especially if I do it ‘properly’ and it only takes me twelve weeks, is three months of this really such a big ask?
With that in mind, I will continue to set my alarm (although back to using the phone – there’s a reason we don’t use old fashioned alarm clocks anymore) and huddle on the sofa writing morning pages. I will search out fun things to do for myself and I will allow myself that one hour a day, because I, and everyone else who has creative yearnings, deserve it.
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