The Artist’s Way: Week 7 – Recovering a Sense of Connection
This is an ongoing series about my experiences with Julia Cameron’s program, The Artist’s Way: A spiritual path to higher creativity. It’s a 12 week program designed to help reboot your creative process and after hearing about it from several friends over the past few years, I gathered a group of like minded creatives and we are embarking on this journey together! You can find the other related entries HERE.
The Perfectionist Trap
This week’s chapter was focused on establishing the right attitudes for creativity. Part of that attitude shift comes from changing our perception with how we tap into our artistic spirit. “Art is not about thinking something up,” Cameron writes. “It is about the opposite – getting something down.” The emphasis on this directionality is an essential one: in thinking something up we are straining, putting the effort on ourselves to try and create something meaningful, we are the doers. If you’re getting something down it’s already there we just have to get it, something else is doing the “doing.” This was an odd notion to puzzle over but the more I thought about it, the more comforting it became despite my initial resistance.
I realized that if I truly thought about this, I’ve experienced this myself in a poem or a short story where it feels like the story already exists, and I just have to get it down on paper. Sometimes I keep messing around with a chapter or a scene until finally something clicks and I think to myself, “oh, that’s what it’s supposed to be.” Sometimes those ideas come fully formed. During our trip to Australia I had the opportunity to experience this first hand in a very big way. We were driving along and suddenly – and I do mean suddenly- this scene jumped into my head of a character I had never thought of before. It came on so strongly that I asked Jesse to pull over so that I could get my computer out so I could write it down. What happened next was truly exhilarating: for the next two hours, I typed furiously and without pause. I ended up with twenty pages of a story where the world and the characters were just fully formed. I read pieces of it Jesse and he was incredulous. “Where did this come from? How are the details of this world so specific?” I really had no answer, but it was amazing and when I was in that zone I really felt as though I had tapped into some higher purpose, like I was fully embracing my calling.
Isn’t it funny how I can have that type of experience and then forget about it and feel resistance when reading about the exact same phenomenon? The second piece of the puzzle, in addition to tuning into to this frequency more often, was to avoid the perfectionism trap. This trap says that everything you do has to be perfect from the get go. I don’t suffer from this as much as I used to because as a writer you have to fully embrace the fact that your first draft will be garbage, otherwise you’ll never write anything. So I don’t even worry about it and give myself full permission to write something awful. Just get it down on paper, I tell myself, and we can fix it later. Famous author (and personal hero) Nora Roberts has said: you can fix anything but a blank page.
Jealousy as an Ally: A breakthrough
One of the more uncomfortable exercises in the book was called the jealousy map. We were tasked with identifying people who were were jealous of, followed by why we were jealous and an action we could take to minimize that jealousy. “Jealousy is always a mask for fear: fear that we aren’t able get what we want; frustration that somebody else seems to be getting what is rightfully ours even if we are too frightened to reach for it,” Cameron writes. “At it’s root, jealousy is a stingy emotion. It doesn’t around for the abundance and multiplicity of the universe.”
That was a hard one to explore, but it was ultimately very healing because the message is clear: for every instant where you feel like someone has something of “yours,” there is an action you can take to neutralize that emotion and push it in a positive direction. Much like anger, jealousy can be an ally to help reveal the things that we are too scared to verbalize or reach for. And it doesn’t even have to be something professional.
One of the entries of my jealousy map was a friend who has the most beautifully visual notebooks. (An obsession of mine. I’m always checking this Flickr pool.) I envied his talent for creating such gorgeous visual books. I realized that I just wanted to be able to express myself in that way too – so badly – but I never felt like I could do it. My action was quite simple, I went to the Google machine and looked up new and innovative ways for people to learn how to draw. I stumbled upon Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and downloaded the book on my iPad.
My artist date this week will be to read it and start teaching myself this skill. When I downloaded the book, something in my head just clicked. I have had this weird habit for years: buying empty notebooks that just sit on my shelf. The notebooks are always blank pages, no lines or squares for me thanks! I could never figure out why I kept buying them, but I literally have an entire shelf just sitting there and now I know: I was hoping and waiting that someday I would magically gain this ability to draw and be able to fill them up with a different sort of creative expression. That “aha! moment” really made me aware of how sometimes we can want something so bad and not be able to fully express that desire – not even to ourselves.