This past March, I picked up The Artist’s Way again after many years away from this famous creativity book. It’s been an interesting ride since then–expansive, challenging, difficult, combative at times (I definitely don’t resonate with everything in there), illuminating. So, it’s one of the things I wanted to post about when jumping back into blogging and thinking a lot about creativity.
I went back to The Artist’s Way, or AW as it’s known in my journals and to-do lists and calendars, after some tough decisions that set off a real transition time for me that I reeeeeally want to write about but can’t right now. It had been awhile since I’d cracked the book, and it makes sense to talk about my origin story with this book.
I first remember reading about it in Writer’s Digest, in the fall of 1999 when I was a freshman in college. I don’t remember what exactly it was, just that the article or interview or whatever mentioned Morning Pages, the practice of writing three pages of long-hand writing every morning, with no self-censorship. At the time, I decided to write “evening pages” instead, and kept at it pretty sporadically.
Then, at the end of the school year, my friend Claire, who’s my NOAH albinism “big sister” (and who created the Albinism in Popular Culture site, writes The Lion’s Share blog, and just launched her latest creative project Temporal Treasures, check it out!) came over, and somehow she and my mom started talking about The Artist’s Way and I was really intrigued because they were saying it was all about recovering suppressed creativity.
I’d been really struggling with that late in high school, and especially in my freshman year of college. My mom lent me her copy and I took it with me when I left to work at a summer camp. Somewhere, I still have the Morning Pages journals from all the way back then.
Throughout the next couple of years, I worked on it on and off a lot. For at least a couple years in the early 2000s, I wrote Morning Pages every day, even though I fell off the rest of the book many times and eventually also fell off Morning Pages too.
I restarted the book many times over the years, and often fell off again. There was one time I restarted AW that I wanted to focus exclusively on music. Other times I’ve focused on writing. Still others on wanting to be more open to romantic opportunities and feeling like that side of me was totally closed off.
So, I’ve been on and off with this book for two decades now. On more often in the first decade than the most recent. I’ve given many copies away to friends over the years. I think what it boils down to is that so far it’s the only “self-help” (not sure if AW truly fits in this category, hence the quotes) book that I can tolerate. I’ve started reading a handful of other self-help books over the years and I can’t stand any of them. I want to, sometimes, but always end up finding them unbearably annoying or simple, or overly religious or patronizing or promoting what I think are toxic ideas.
And don’t get me wrong, I struggle with some things in AW too. It’s a little too woo-woo for me. Says the tarot card reader. I struggle with the spiritual aspects of it, and that’s a big part. It’s in the book’s subtitle after all.
Sometimes I feel like I’m an equal mix of hopeless romantic dreamer and extreme pragmatist. Sometimes I feel like I’m just the pragmatist, and that that always wins out. I remember someone telling me once, the summer that I was twenty, that I needed to put passion over reason.
At the time I thought of myself as someone who was so dictated by her emotions (definitely still true) but I think this person was onto something. I’ve done some dumb things in the name of passion (specifically, what this person was encouraging led to why I can relate so hard to a lot of songs on folklore), and still, still, I value evidence and reason so very much.
The tarot card reader and the scientist are sometimes at odds within me, and the scientist usually wins, and I’m okay with that. I like it. It feels truer to me and who I truly am, but the tarot card reader romantic dreamer is still in there too. All of it makes for not the easiest relationship with a book that is unabashedly spiritual, when I am not.