The Artist’s Way: Week 8 – Recovery a Sense of Strength
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 Art of Surviving
This week’s reading focused on time as a potent creative block as well as introducing the concept of “artistic survival” and how we deal with losses in our creative endeavors. As many psychologists have pointed out, in order to move through grief we have to acknowledge it, and yet so many artists never do that. Instead, we carry around the scars of losses that were never fully mourned or released. “If artistic creations are our brainchildren, artistic losses are our miscarriages,” Cameron writes. “Women often suffer terribly, and privately from losing a child who doesn’t come to term. And as Artists we suffer terrible losses when the book doesn’t sell, the film doesn’t get picked up.”
Some of these artistic losses can come from non-constructive criticism. That is, words said not with the intent to help the artist or improve the work, but for other agendas that can often have nothing to do with us. In fact, as we’ve learned from previous weeks, this lashing out is often a reaction of someone who is themselves block and who is feeling the pain and jealousy of seeing an artist do something they secretly yearn for. Remember, jealousy and anger are very powerful guides that indicate our dissatisfaction with a situation and can point us in the right path towards creative recovery. Cameron makes the point that while criticism is an essential part of an artist’s development, at least in the early stages one should only solicit that type of advice from trusted individuals who want to help you develop and evolve.
Another way to navigate through artistic losses is to change the framing of the situation. Instead of asking “why me?” we should instead ask ourselves “what next?” (Which is a classic and often repeated phrase said by my favorite President, Jed Bartlett.) What I love about this idea is that you simply step aside from the set back and focus on the possible terrain still open to you. For many, that has meant exploring new avenues in publishing, film making, etc. However, before doing this, we are advised to make a gesture of self care towards our artist who is hurting in the face of this loss. “Immediately take one small action to support your artist,” Cameron urges. “Even if all you are doing is buying a bunch of tulips and a sketchpad.”
The Artistic Journey:
The question of time also becomes a great escape for blocked creatives. We think we’re too old or something will take too long and as Cameron puts it: “Instead of allowing ourselves a creative journey, we focus on the length of the trip.” I’ve done this myself. “It’ll take so long to write a novel,” I’ve thought. “What’s the point?” And yet, when broken down into a few hours of writing each day, I inched towards my goal and ended up there far earlier than I thought it would be, and this was while I was writing The Decoded Company! This is because we like to concentrate too much on something called process denial, which is the idea that we like to focus on the end state without really wanting to do the heavy lifting required to get there. This was one of the most powerful quotes in the chapter for me:
“Focused on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure. Focused on product, the same creative life can feel foolish or barren. We inherit the obsession with product and the idea that art produces finish products from a consumer oriented society. This focus creates a great deal of creative block. We, as working artists, may want to explore a new artistic area, but we don’t see where it will get us. We wonder if it will be good for our career. Fixated on the need to have something to show for our labors, we often deny our curiosities. Every time we do this, we are blocked.”
Filling the form:
Finally, Cameron ends the chapter by reminding us that we should stop thinking that every action is going to be a giant shake up of our very foundations. “Rather than take a scary baby step towards our dreams, we rush to the edge of the cliff and then stand there, quaking, saying ‘I can’t leap. I can’t. I can’t,” Cameron writes. “No one is asking you to leap. That’s just drama, and for the purposes of a creative recovery, drama belongs on the page of a canvas. Creativity requires activity, and this is not good news for most of us. It makes us responsible and we tend to hate that.”
And isn’t that the truth? We’d rather feel angst about the fact that we aren’t writing or what will happen if we write and fail, or even write and succeed instead of actually just writing. We should just take that one small daily action, instead of worrying over the big questions.
For me, this chapter was intense. I’ve spent the last two years working with a great group of people on an amazing business book. The work kept me challenged and engaged, I learned so much during the process both about my own writing and from my kickass co-authors. Now that we’ve wrapped up that process, I’ve been wondering what to work on next. Instead of doing what I usually do, which is experiment until I find something that catches my interest, I’ve been freaking out asking the “big questions” and wondering what my next step professionally should be. Reading this chapter has made me realize that I can just take some small steps every day and eventually the bigger picture will reveal itself to me.
For my Artist Date this week I am going back to my drawing class. I did the first session and had to draw a self portrait. I won’t post it here, it’s too embarrassing, but it was hilarious and fun and it felt so good to pick up a pencil and a piece of paper and engage my brain in a different way. I’ve been promised that my work will improve, but even if it doesn’t, I’m still having a blast.