The Artist’s Way: Week 9 – Recovering a sense of Compassion
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. 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 Power of Names: Fear
This week’s reading focused on finding the internal blocks to our creativity. One of the main themes of being creatively blocked has been looking at turning difficult emotions (such as anger or jealousy) into powerful allies. After all, these emotions can highlight the hidden assumptions that drive our behaviour. We focused on fear, and it’s ability to deter us from completing our creative projects. So many artists find themselves incapable of starting that project, and instead of recognizing that it’s fear holding them back, they think it’s because they are lazy.
“The blocked artist does not know how to begin with baby steps. Instead, the blocked artists thinks in terms of great scary impossible tasks: a novel, a feature film, a show, an opera. When these large tasks are not accomplished, or even begin, the blocked artist calls that laziness. Do not call the inability to start laziness. Call it fear.”
The key to overcoming this fear, is self-care. A constant theme in this program has been to cultivate the ability of treating ourselves with kindness instead of harsh judgements. It always makes me so sad to realize how many people (myself included) are so careless with the words we think to ourselves and about ourselves. While creating art does require some discipline, Cameron suggests looking for another powerful motivator: enthusiasm. Instead of trying to force ourselves to sit down and “create,” what if we enticed ourselves instead with play? With an invitation to explore something new, something that is powered by joy?
Creative U-Turns: When Progress is Scary
The notion of creative u-turns, regressions in the face of progress, was particularly interesting because Cameron makes the link to our own notions of identity. For some people, the concept of being an artist is inherently linked to the notion of struggle. Then, when some progress is made, a fear response crops up, and we choose to self sabotage. Sometimes we take creative U-Turns because the possibility of success has been such a secretly held dream that to see it becoming real is terrifying.
When I finished my first novel draft, my friends encouraged me to submit it to an editor. So, I went online and found someone who I believed would be a good fit to take a look at this horrible first draft and give me some constructive feedback. We corresponded, she seemed enthusiastic and willing, the price was right so I agreed. And then…I sat with my draft in my outbox for three weeks. Every day I just made an excuse as to why I should wait to send it. Looking back on it now, it seems so ridiculous, but at the time I just really felt a sense of overwhelming fear at letting someone else read my draft in all of its unpolished glory.
Eventually, I did send it, and though it felt scary, I had to push myself to keep this process moving.
Here, once again, self-care is the way forward.
“In dealing with our creative U-turns, we must first of all extend ourselves some sympathy. Think of your talent as a young and skittish horse that you are bringing along. This horse is talented but is also young, nervous and inexperienced. It will make mistakes, be frightened by obstacles it hasn’t seen before. It may even bolt,” Cameron writes. “Your job, as the creative jockey, is to keep your horse moving forward and to coax it into finishing the course.”
I felt relieved reading this passage because it helped me see my behaviour as a natural reaction to the creative process instead of an inability to produce or create.
The Morning Pages:
By far, the coolest part of this week was our assignment to re-read our morning pages. We were instructed to spot any patterns or themes. What an eye-opening exercise. Reading the pages was wonderful. I realized that I had worked through so many problems and challenges without even realizing it. Little by little, in the tiniest of steps I watched as each week I moved closer to my goal. From the first hesitation of starting a draft, to the joy of artist’s dates, to working on character conflicts, to angst about work – it all came through on my pages and I always found the solution I was looking for even if it didn’t present itself to me right away.
Reading the pages has shown me how powerful they can be as a tool, and I think I’m going to incorporate them as a regular part of my routine even when this program is over.
Next week, we move on to week 10, and explore the perils that can prevent us from following our creative path.