Creative Recovery & The Artist’s Way: Week 1

Suffice to say, I’ve been in a rut lately. By lately, I mean two years

My ability to write was the first thing to go, though the desire is always there. I forced myself to finish a thesis with energy I didn’t have and in May 2017, I graduated from The New School’s Creative Writing program. I had an MFA, a partial novel I hated, and plans to dig myself out–to write after graduation, finish my book, and stay in America. Fast forward to October 2018 and I’ve yet to accomplish any of those things. For now, I’m still in New York, but the path to a visa is slow, expensive, and not a guarantee. To add insult to injury, while I await the processing of my permanent residency, I’m unable to work–something I’ve done since I was sixteen and waitressing at a fried chicken restaurant. Unemployment, while I had plans to utilize this time to write, has me questioning my self-worth every day. I’m faltering without a routine, a schedule, with the responsibility of my passions entirely up to me.  I had such grand plans, but as time passes, I find myself further and further away from finishing what I started.

Enter The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

For those of you who are interested in productivity (hello my fellow Virgos), you may know that the practice of morning pages has been a popular one in creative communities on the internet. For those of you that aren’t, morning pages is an exercise that originated from Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and is the practice of writing three handwritten pages, ideally as part of a daily morning routine, with the goal of blasting through blocks in creativity before they can hinder you. I’d seen morning pages touted everywhere–Instagram, Youtube, are there really any other platforms worth using?–but I didn’t know they were part of the bigger creative recovery program that is The Artist’s Way. I didn’t know it was possible to look at creativity as something that could be harmed, as a piece of you that could carry trauma. I bought the book and decided I needed whatever healing Cameron could offer.

Cameron’s program aims to dislodge creative blocks. It’s not just for writers, either, but for any type of creative, professional or casual. There are two recurring exercises that are ever present in the 12 weeks of her program: the daily morning pages and the artist’s date. The later is what Cameron calls “filling the well”, or, regenerating our creative energy by nurturing it with solo time. Given that The Artist’s Way was first published in 1992, I’m certain self-care wasn’t the buzzword it is now, but I recognized at the heart of her program, that this was an exercise in caring for myself. I never considered that a hit to my creativity was a hit to my mental health, but I am comfortable saying now that it has suffered its own trauma. I can pinpoint the exact moment. I’m sure there are many of us that share this particular hit. I’m going to share my process for the next 12 weeks in hopes of two things: to keep myself accountable, and maybe encourage some of you to buy the book and try it.

Week 1′s focus is identifying the traumas that have aided our blocks, the external forces that contribute to our internal disquiet, so that we can reestablish a sense of safety. The exercises, in addition to morning pages and the artist date are as follows:

  • List three old enemies of your creative self-worth
  • Write out one horror story from your enemy hall-of-fame
  • Write a letter to the editor in your defence
  • List three old champions of your creative self-worth
  • Select and write out one happy piece of encouragement
  • List 5 other lives you would lead, and what you’d do

Cameron has advice in the process of executing this list, and how to turn the inevitable negative critiques of the affirming exercises into affirmations themselves. She suggests picking the exercise that comes the easiest and the hardest as the first two to tackle. I ignored this advice and shouldn’t have–I finished the easiest ones before realizing what I was doing. Now, mid-way through Week 1, I’m looking at the others and daunted by what’s left. It was really easy for me to pick the people that have hindered my process and the ones that have lifted me up. Listing the people who have altered my creative course was easy–holding them accountable, even privately to myself, is hard. I still want to make some of these people proud.

As for the morning pages, I’m a bit hit and miss. Despite my love of stationary and notebooks, I’ve always been terrible at habitual journalling. Even as I write this, I realize I’ve not done my morning pages for the day. The artist’s date, however, was exactly what I needed this week. I took myself to the American Folk Art Museum to see an exhibition on the art of Orra White Hitchcock, one of America’s first scientific illustrators. She practiced her craft in a way I could never dream of, both scientifically and visually. It also helped, I believe, she was a woman. Standing silently, shoulder-to-shoulder, with strangers while admiring her life’s work was what I needed to feel the regeneration Cameron talks about. It was also free, which was nice.

So far, The Artist’s Way is working for me. Shakily so, but working never-the-less. There is a small bit of evangelical influence that finds itself into Cameron’s writing and advice, but it is easy to ignore and I have no real complaints. I can say that if it weren’t for this book, I wouldn’t have found the inspiration to return to this blog. This post is the most I’ve written in 3 months. Let’s hope Week 2 brings more success.

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