In previous posts in this Artist’s Way Reflections column, I’ve written about having a two-decade relationship with this landmark book on creativity and its basic tools (Morning Pages and the Artist Date) and its essays and exercises and tasks, all aimed and at opening, or re-opening a connection to creativity. Discovering and recovering your artistic self.
And now that the Basic Tools have been covered, next week I’ll move on to the main text of the book.
I’m hoping that some of you will join me on this Artist’s Way journey. Later in the post, I’m going to give a sketch of my plans for doing the book and this column, and different ways to join in. To find that, you can skip ahead to the section titled The Plan.
First though, I wanted to give a little history on my latest re-launch of the journey.
The History of Setting Off on This Journey Many Times Before
Most of my interaction with the book happened in the first five years or so after getting introduced to the book, my early twenties. I’ve dabbled in picking it up and starting again at various times in between then and now, but never in a very serious way.
I had a lot of real struggles with creativity; with writing, which has always been my primary form of artistic expression; with music, which was always more of a secret wish of a way for me to be creative. Sometimes the struggle went so deep that even the thought of opening up something like The Artist’s Way felt a little dangerous.
But this past winter, I picked it up again. February was a transformative month for me, and not in an easy way. I was getting The Tower tarot card a lot, both in readings I did for myself, and in readings from my friend Tracy, and it wasn’t inaccurate.
The Tower can be a challenging card, and I don’t often feel good about seeing it come up in readings (though this time around, I did). It means things are burning down. It means endings. Unlike the Death card, where endings often feel more natural, with The Tower, these changes can be unexpected and feel like destruction. They’re often the kinds of changes that in retrospect, much later, will ultimately be for the better–wake up calls, shake ups, necessary catastrophes–but often feel like crisis at the time.
All of that was true for me, but I also was maybe ready for it, at least a little, because this time around I could feel the ultimate good of it, the release and relief. The Tower, as a card, and as a principle, defined my February, which I’m putting together as I write this; I went into that month one way and came out another, with all the shakeups and wake-up calls and burning down and destruction and crisis that happened within those twenty-nine days.
On February 29th, I decided to revisit The Artist’s Way for the first time in years. I knew this was more serious than other similar declarations I’d made in the past that never panned out. I knew I needed this now, even though I didn’t have any idea how much life would change in less than two weeks.
At the time of that relaunch, I thought my timing was perfect. I knew that Week Four had the reading and media deprivation week, something I suspected I’d struggle mightily with. Back then, when I was starting and planning, I realized that what should be Week Four, timing-wise, overlapped with when I was supposed to go to Orcas Island for an after-my-boards-exam trip. I felt like it would be easier to do a week of changed media and reading habits while away from home. The timing was so perfect in its overlap that it felt meant to be.
My Orcas trip was going to be my first honest-to-god vacation–not a trip with the National Federation of the Blind, not a writing workshop, not a trip for med school interviews where I had to wear suits and be on all the time, not a holiday visit but an actual vacation–since 2012 when my friend Lindsey and I took off for New Mexico for a couple of days. My first visit to Orcas since a writing workshop in 2013. Planned for the fourth week of March.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. So many things didn’t happen as or when planned. Including my boards. Including all the plans I came out of my February Towering holding on to. Including my so-perfect-it-almost-feels-like-destiny timing overlap of Week Four and my Orcas trip. Towers within Towers, so to speak.
(As a side note, the podcast Big Strong Yes from Chipperish Media in which Lani Diane Rich and Dr. Kelly Jones go through Brene Brown’s Rising Strong, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes, starts off with some discussion of Towering, and is so good.
I just realized that I never finished it either, because it was my gym podcast that I listened to while strength training, and then gyms weren’t an option anymore and perhaps in denial I thought that wouldn’t last so long and I could resume as normal. I think I’m going to have to make that my at-home bodyweight workout podcast now and I recommend checking it out to anyone who’s interested in hearing two amazing women have some real conversations about growth and creativity and change and Towerings.)
But, I still kept going with The Artist’s Way through all the Tower-y turmoil, until the very last week of the book, where I fell off completely. In a not terribly surprising way. The last chapter is about recovering a sense of faith and I basically have none. I struggle with most things on the book that touch on faith and belief–which almost all of the book does, its subtitle is “a spiritual path to higher creativity after all–but especially the parts where that faith stuff is explicit in the text.
Up until then, though, I kept going. Being the first full revisit in so long, it gave me so much to think about that I hadn’t in ages, and a different perspective to see it with. I think that’s what prompted me to want to post about it, discuss it, dig in.
So now, I want to go through it on here, and with you, every Thursday with this column. I really hope some readers, whether familiar with The Artist’s Way or not, will join in and have fun with it. The chapters are organized into twelve themed weeks, each with essays that relate to the theme, some with exercises, and all with tasks to do at the end of the chapter.
I’m going to re-read the book, re-do the exercises and focus on tasks at the end of each chapter that I didn’t do in the spring as well do anew tasks that I think will have different results now just a few months later.
I’m using The Complete Artist’s Way (pictured at the top of this post), which includes three books–The Artist’s Way, Walking in This World, and Finding Water–a trilogy of creativity volumes, and so I’m planning to go through all three books.
What made the most sense to me was to start a new book, the second one, with the new year, and take the rest of 2020 to go through The Artist’s Way proper, the first book.
Each week in the book will get its own post, and there will also be posts to discuss certain exercises, tasks and essays. For choosing what topics to pull out into their own posts, I looked for ones I had a lot of experience with, ones I struggled with and thought others might too, and ones that might be fun and engaging for people to share in. The Special Topics posts will skew a bit towards later in the book. I think I’ve started the book so many times without finishing that some of the later material isn’t quite as familiar and called to me more.
The Schedule for the Rest of 2020
- August 27 – Week One: Recovering a Sense of Safety
- September 3 – Time Travel – Creative Monsters and Champions
- September 10 – Week Two: Recovering a Sense of Identity
- September 17 – Week Three: Recovering a Sense of Power
- September 24 – Synchronicity
- October 1 – Week Four: Recovering a Sense of Integrity
- October 8 – Week Five: Recovering a Sense of Possibility
- October 15 – Week Six: Recovering a Sense of Abundance
- October 22 – Week Seven: Recovering a Sense of Connection
- October 29 – Week Eight: Recovering a Sense of Strength
- November 5 – Goal Search
- November 12 – Week Nine: Recovering a Sense of Compassion
- November 19 – Blasting Through Blocks
- November 26 (Thanksgiving) – Creative Goal Setting (for 2021)
- December 3 – Week Ten: Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection
- December 10 – Setting Bottom Lines
- December 17 – Week Eleven: Recovering a Sense of Autonomy
- December 24 (Christmas Eve) – Week Twelve: Recovering a Sense of Faith
- December 31 (New Year’s Eve) – End of Book Wrap-Up
After the new year, I’ll post a plan to start tackling the second book, Walking in This World, which’ll be a little more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants because I don’t think I’ve ever read any of it before.
I’ll post this schedule in the notes section of every subsequent column post, so it’s always easy to navigate, and I’ll add links as posts go live.
There are lots of ways to join in for anyone who also wants to go through the book. You could go all out, read everything, do all the tasks and exercises, write Morning Pages and go on Artist Dates. Full disclosure: I’ve never done all of it in one go-through, or even close to all of it. I think of it more as a do what you can, do what appeals to you or what pushes you outside your comfort zone, so picking and choosing maybe half the tasks is also an option. You could decide to just do one task or exercise per week, or every other week, or every month. You could read along and not do any of the tasks or exercises. Who cares? Do what works for you.
Hell, you can join in without even reading at all. I never read any of the books they were discussing in the Big Strong Yes podcast mentioned above in the Tower section, but still get so much out of listening to the discussions.
We are all busy people, and many of us have more on our plates than ever, so I want to invite everyone to join in, and I hope people will, and I also want to present that in a no-pressure, do-what’s-right-for-you-and-your-current-bandwidth type of way.
The Artist’s Way Reflections is a weekly column reflecting on the 1992 book on discovering, recovering and reconnecting with creativity, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. Each week, I reflect on some aspect or tool or exercise or essay from the book.
Here are some previous posts from The Artist’s Way Reflections column: