If you’re a creator of any kind, by now you’ve probably heard of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. A bestseller for about 30 years now, The Artist’s Way is something like a 12-step program to get in touch with your creative side.
It was one of those books I’d heard about for years but didn’t think I’d be interested in. I already know how to be creative, I thought with some cynicism. What could you possibly learn about being creative from a book? A pretty harsh take from someone who made an entire ’zine centered around creativity, I know. But I take it all back now. I can honestly say that reading this book gave me new tools for my creativity that I didn’t think were possible. In fact, that ’zine got its start as a result of the work I was doing as I moved through the process.
What is The Artist’s Way?
The Artist’s Way is divided into 12 chapters (plus intro and epilogue), meant to be read as one chapter, or lesson, per week. The chapters all deal with recovering parts of your creativity, with journaling prompts, activities, and opportunities to slow down and observe your process.
There are two primary activities that Cameron will call on you to do each week: daily morning pages and a weekly artist date.
For this activity, you freewrite three pages (by hand, in an actual notebook or on looseleaf paper) each morning to start your day. Cameron recommends doing this first thing (but from my experience, it can be impactful no matter when you choose to fit it into your schedule). These pages can be on any topic. I sometimes write about what’s going on in my life (or my head); other times I use it as a creative brainstorming or goal-setting space. It’s also a good spot to complete some of the weekly journaling prompts in the book, if those interest you. At first, Cameron will tell you not to go back and look at your morning pages once you’ve written them to avoid judging your writing. However, later in the book you’ll have the opportunity to go back through the pages, so don’t lose them.
Each week, pick one day to do something for your inner artist. This can be an arts-and-crafts project, a trip to an art gallery, a walk in nature, a day of reading, or something else entirely up to you. The point of the artist date is to give yourself the creative and mental space to connect with your sense of wonder and inspiration, no matter what form it takes. (And note that the “art,” in the book, doesn’t refer to visual arts only. It covers all bases: writing, drawing, painting, dancing, decorating, baking, knitting — any type of hobby or creative outlet applies.)
Read one chapter per week.
It’s tempting to want to finish the book in one go, or over the course of a few days. But I recommend slowing down and reading one chapter a week. This gives you time to actually do the assignments: your morning pages, your artist date, and the reflection exercises.
Seriously, do your morning pages.
Morning pages have become an essential piece of my creative toolkit, and I wonder how I ever survived creatively (or even emotionally) before turning to them. (They’re also how I tend to hash out ideas — like a draft of this article!)
Interpret it your own way.
The Artist’s Way talks a lot about God (with a capital G). Your mileage may vary, of course, but Cameron leaves the description of this “God” intentionally vague. Less Sunday School, more the Supreme Artist. Substitute with the name or image of your deity-of-choice, humanity, the universe, or whatever resonates with you.
Really pay attention to the “synchronicities.”
In the book, Cameron talks about noticing the chance encounters, coincidences, and other strange events — or synchronicities — that will begin to happen as you begin the journey. For example, one of the chapter’s topics is on recovering a sense of abundance. The week I read that chapter, I randomly found a ten-dollar bill in a parking lot. (Don’t worry — I looked around for a potential owner who might have dropped their change first.) Whether you want to chalk this up to coincidence or not is up to you, but it could also be a sign that something in your life is shifting for the better. Stay positive and open-minded if and when these things come up.
- Go look at art, read, watch films, or do anything else that feeds your creativity (on your artist dates or otherwise)
- Make art — even “bad” art, though there’s really no such thing
- Give your art to others as a gift (even if it’s the above “bad” art)
- Get physical activity to help clear your mind from everyday stresses
- Explore new ideas, especially the ones you wouldn’t “normally” do (like, say, making a ’zine)
- Actually talk about the book and your experience with it with someone supportive of your creativity
Why live The Artist’s Way?
Overall, The Artist’s Way has been instrumental in helping me restore my long-term vision for my creativity. Working in a creative field, I’m used to deadlines and having to create on a consistent basis as part of my livelihood. Maybe it’s “hustle culture” or the general climate of creative industries, but it sometimes feels like you can only be as good as what you produce (plus how much you produce and how often). Yet with The Artist’s Way, I felt like Cameron had handed me a permission slip to slow down and create for fun again.
So this is your permission slip, too. Following The Artist’s Way is a new path toward your most creative self — if you choose it.
Get more fuel for your inner artist
Find this article and others like it in The Muse Manifesto, my ’zine for those who want to live their most creative life. The Spring/Summer 2022 issue covers everything you need for a D.I.Y. creative retreat, and the Winter 2022 issue has more reading recommendations like The Artist’s Way.