Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Artist's Way: A Review (and the hang-ups that stall me)

At the beginning of my day, I write. I call this process “5 pages” because I stop the rambling when I get to about 5 pages. Not much of it is useful (hence my need to limit it in some way) but it’s a warm-up for the day. I save these to my computer and add the file names to an index and create hyperlinks back to the documents.

(Oh, you probably didn't want to know that I'm that crazy about this whole process.)

So, I got extremely irritated a few years ago when @SharyLyssyMarshall (on Twitter) explained that this practice is called “morning pages” as directed by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way.

When Blogher offered me a chance to review Cameron's new website The Artist’s Way Toolkit, I decided to see what Cameron recommends beyond the morning pages. You can read more about the BlogHer Book Club reviews here.

When I logged into the site, I was worried that I would be “flyladied” into creativity, hit with routines and email and things I must do to get my creative spirit/life/work in order. I really braced myself because, frankly, I am in a cycle of getting things finished. I don’t want to immerse myself in new ideas right now, so unless Julia had a tool called, “Organizing a Nonprofit in Six Hours or Less,” I wasn’t sure I was going to be the best candidate for reviewing this site, despite my thinking so a few weeks ago.

Instead of a to-do list, however, this quote greeted me:

Crazymakers hate schedules-except their own.
- Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way 

And I laughed out loud. Because that’s exactly what I worried about with Cameron—that she was going to try to get me to follow some crazy-making schedule.

I listened to Julia’s video overview to the site, where she explains how the pieces work together. Basically, in addition to morning pages, I am supposed to have an “artist’s date” once a week and respond to one writing prompt.

The site is organized like a notebook so that you can upload photos, take notes, write directly into the site. The work can be exported quite easily, too. (Morning pages are supposed to be written in longhand, but for me, that ship sailed a long time ago and took with it my pens.)

The problem for me begins with the artist’s dates. (Taking your kid to the dentist and hastily jotting notes while in the waiting room does not count.)

Julia explains that the artist’s dates are time to “woo our own consciousness.” She explains that they must be done alone because, “If we give in to the temptation to bring along a friend or lover on an Artist's Date we are not able to focus on our own inner world, we are focused outward.”

For me, the problem with the artist’s dates is that they are written for a general audience and I’m afraid if I follow them, I’ll follow myself right off my path and into a space I don’t recognize. And this is rather the conundrum because Cameron promises that if you do these things, your life will change. So, do I give in and follow her advice to the letter of the law and see where it leads or do I continue on the path I’m on and modify her advice?

I guess that’s where I’m at odds with the site. I want to awaken creativity, but I want to make happen the things I already have on my mind. I do not need more help for generating ideas.

I’m intently and intentionally focused on bringing the ideas I have to fruition, so I decided in the spirit of Julia, I must do artist’s dates, but that I can do them my way especially because she says the artist’s date is the way to get feedback from the universe.

The first one was “Go to a candy shop and buy yourself some of your favorite kind of childhood candy.”

Do candy shops even still exist? And if they do, how is that going to help me write a business plan for a nonprofit? I chose instead to sit quietly by a filing cabinet of research and think about how I could re-envision this work. I wouldn’t have taken the time to do this otherwise.

Now, I’m at week 2 and the prompt is to visit a secondhand or thrift store. And I must go there alone, except that logistically I cannot swing this.

This morning when I got to the door of the Red Line train car in Boston, I could smell the subway. I remembered the feeling of rushing into this car each day on my way to and from work, always rushing toward and toward something. It's fun to have things to rush to in both directions. Perhaps that is the purpose of entering a thrift store—to find an item from the past and have the scent or the colors rush back to me rather than my always being the one to rush.

I was really thinking about this blog entry and how I didn’t know what to do about the artist’s dates but, then, across from me on the MBTA (the "T") was an ad for The Garment District, an Alternative Department Store with new and used clothing.

(Photo from
The place looks so funky and inviting that I’d go there for an artist’s date. Of course, I can’t actually get there this week, but it made me realize that the artist’s dates are probably not necessarily meant to always be achieved, but to start a quest for new knowledge and ideas.

I am on a quest this week. I’m headed to America MeansBusiness and if my son will keep his paws off my laptop long enough for me to finish this, I may lean back on the train and think about whether Cameron cares about whether we stay true to the artist’s dates or whether it’s the reaching out, seeking that she’s trying to get us to do.

(Photo from
For sure, the site has given me pause and a reason to go back and remember things or to conscientiously and intentionally think about things in new ways. I’m going to continue updating my online artist’s way notebook and I’ll report back here every two weeks or so to see what happens as I consider Cameron's requests and reconceptualize them for my own work.

Do you keep morning pages? Take yourself on artist's dates?


  1. Another BlogHer reviewer here! I really like your take on the Artist's Dates. That was the part I struggled with the most because, logistically, it didn't work out for me most of the time. I've got three young kids and it's next to impossible to get out of the house for alone time. I have made more of an effort, though. And, maybe that's the lesson in it for me, to just try to find that time. Anyway, I really enjoyed your review!

  2. Thanks, Barb! Your blog has great tips! (I just ventured over and will be back. I want to read about the drink mix in the dishwasher.