At some point, most writers I know have read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. Most love it. A few hate it. There's very little in between.
Some things you might like to know before starting this book:
It's subtitled "A Spiritual Path to Creativity" and described on the cover as "A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self". Take the hint. It's not a nice practical "how-to write" book. It's about creativity and spirituality. If you're not a traditionally religious person, you may (understandably) be put off by the word spiritual. You shouldn't be. The author does use God as a reference in the book, but also suggests that the reader can think of God' as "goddess", "higher power", "the universe" or whatever other analogy she's comfortable with. If you're non-religious but open-minded and accepting of other people's spiritual ideas, you're probably safe to give it a go.
The book is aimed at people who want to be creative but feel blocked, guilty or full of self-doubt about their abilities. Now I'm as capable of writers' block, guilt and self-doubt as the next writer, but I found it a bit depressing to be constantly coming from this place of mild negativity. It's a subjective matter, but I've been lucky enough to have had my creativity encouraged and admired by some pretty cool people, and I didn't always relate.
What I liked:
Like many people who like this book I totally agree with the basic principles of daily stream-of-consciousness writing (I call it free writing, which is snappier, don't you think?), weekly reading and artist's dates (basically taking a bit of "me-time" with a focus on doing something that will inspire creativity). Since I was already aware of allthese things, I didn't learn anything new. Since I'm a busy parent, spouse and freelancer, it was nice to be reminded that these things are not only OK, but (according to Julia) essential for my creativity.
I liked the weekly set of tasks advocated in each chapter. The author advises, for example, that you write a letter from yourself at eighty to your present day self.
"What would you tell yourself?" she asks. "What interests would you urge yourself to pursue? What dreams would you encourage?"
Not the first time I've heard this sort of advice, but probably the first time I've followed it, and quite frankly, a bit of an unpleasant eye-opener. I'm not as focused as I thought I was on the legacy I want to leave with my writing. Then again, I do have to pay the bills. This exercise helped me find inspiration to adjust my priorities and split my focus more equally between my commercial writing and my passion projects.
Another task I found interesting was to write down (without thinking too much about it) twenty things you enjoy doing. Then go through the list and put a date next to each thing indicating when you last did it. Another eye-opener. This really draws your attention to how much time you're wasting doing things that you're not passionate about and inspires you to carve out time for the personal projects you'd really like to do. I also found twenty themes for new pieces of writing (articles, short stories, and even an idea for a novel) buried in the results of this exercise.
Finally, I loved the quotes running down the side of each page. Great snippets of advice about art, writing, creativity, and life. Two of my favorites were:
"Slow down and enjoy life. It's not only the scenery you miss by going too fast. You also miss the sense of where you are going and why."
- Eddie Cantor
(Has Eddie ever been a passenger on one of my frazzled "car full of kids all going to different activities" car pool days?)
"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong."
- Joseph Chilton Pearce
(Could this be why there are more female writers than male? Don't get me started on why there are more big-name, commercially successful male writers than female.)
Overall, a really good book for writers and other artists who need to get the ideas flowing, and build on their natural creativity. To buy, or check out more reviews, click here.
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