Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rehab for Writers: The Artist's Way

I have been following The Artist's Way program for six weeks now. Author Julia Cameron describes her program as recovery for injured artists. I am finding this book extremely helpful.

How do artists get injured? Lots of ways. I can point to some discouraging moments and even incidents of humiliation in my own life that sent me into my shell, but I think the greatest injuries are self-inflicted. That blaming voice that asks, "If you are such a serious artist, why aren't you writing?" at the same time that it screeches that there is no time for such foolishness when there is money to be earned, real work to do.  The same voice screams that if you dare to write a word down on the page, someone will read it and laugh at you. If this sounds all-too-familiar, you could probably benefit from this book, which is not intended to just be read, but asks you to make a commitment to it by reading each week, writing your "morning pages" every day, and treating yourself to an "artist's date" every week to refill your creative well.

I have been doing the program but have not done it perfectly. I missed almost the whole week I was in Toronto. I haven't been great about treating myself to the artist's dates every week.  Ordinarily, the fact that I haven't been doing this perfectly would be a great excuse to put it aside until I can do it "right." But I decided that the exact point here is to do it as well as I can and not let that impulse to quit when it's not perfect.  I had to copy this quote into my journal: "Perfectionism is not the quest for the best. It is the pursuit of what is worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough." I also underlined, "The perfectionist never says, "This is pretty good. I think I'll just keep going." It reminds me that I can't please that voice. Best to brush past it.

The nasty voice has also been hissing at me lately that the journal work I'm doing isn't "real writing." It isn't working toward a project or a book. I have written some ideas in my journal, but I'm not pushing myself just yet. An injured athlete who is in physical therapy doesn't decide to jump into a football game to see if he is any good yet.  Getting tackled would just set him back.  That's where I am right now.

This blog has also been exceedingly helpful to me. I put my stuff out here, and even when I get nasty comments or ones that suggest that the reader didn't get what I was trying to say, I survive. I feel like it's a gift just to have someone reading.

When I finally get around to writing, I'm not going to be too worried if what I am writing is "literary" enough like I did when I was in my MFA program. I'm going to write the stuff I would enjoy writing, and would enjoy reading, and hope that others might enjoy reading it too, if I publish it. I have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of my watercolor painting and colored pencil drawings, and I haven't felt any pressure to prove I'm a serious artist by selling them. Maybe it will be the same for writing, or maybe I'll self-publish. Who knows or cares at this point.

As when I was doing races, I have a "goal ladder" -- multiple, tiered goals. My first goal is to just write.  The second goal is to enjoy it and want to keep doing it. My third goal is to write for an audience, however small. My fourth goal is to have people enjoy what I write.  Publishing, if it happens, is way up the ladder. I have plenty of "real writer" friends who have published books, and it didn't change their life. It was a nice thing that happened, and sometimes it brought in some extra money, but it didn't usually allow them to quit their jobs or become world travelers.  Thinking of it that way, writing itself has to be the goal, and not whatever rewards might result if I hit the lottery and got someone to publish my book and pay me for it. As Julia Cameron says, "Art is an act of faith, and we practice practicing it."  That's really all I'm asking for here, to feel good enough to practice practicing again.


  1. I really loved Cameron's The Writer' Diet. I used to think that in order to be "a writer" I had to look a certain way, write a certain way, live a certain way. It was only when I gave that up that I started writing in earnest, for myself. I recognize that my writing isn't for everyone and that has been very freeing. It has also allowed me to not feel the sting (too much) of negative comments.


    I also bristle when I feel that I've been misunderstood. I have a feeling I may be one of those commenters who didn't "get it," but it for sure wasn't intentional.

    One thing that gets me is when people respond to a post with a sympathetic tone when I for sure didn't want to come across as needing sympathy!


    And speaking of "the voice," I just posted something on FB that says this: "the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice." Food for thought.


    I always look forward to what you write.

    1. I always think I have somehow messed up if someone seems to make a comment that suggests they didn't understand what I meant, but it makes me write more carefully. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to comment. (Except for the rare troll). Sympathy when I wasn't trying to solicit it can frustrate me, too.

      I enjoy reading your posts, too, Karen. There are less and less bloggers still writing lately, and your posts are always thought-provoking.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07