Highlights from "The Artist's Way"

By Julia Cameron

Cover of the book The Artist's Way

If you think of the universe as a vast electrical sea in which you are immersed and from which you are formed, opening to your creativity changes you from something bobbing in that sea to a more fully functioning, more conscious, more cooperative part of that ecosystem.

I am suggesting you take the term creator quite literally. You are seeking to forge a creative alliance, artist-to-artist with the Great Creator. Accepting this concept can greatly expand your creative possibilities.

Withdrawal is another way of saying detachment or nonattachment, which is emblematic of consistent work with any meditation practice.

The morning pages are not supposed to sound smart—although sometimes they might. Most times they won’t, and nobody will ever know except you. Nobody is allowed to read your morning pages except you. And you shouldn’t even read them yourself for the first eight weeks or so. Just write three pages, and stick them into an envelope. Or write three pages in a spiral notebook and don’t leaf back through. Just write three pages … and write three more pages the next day.

The morning pages are the primary tool of creative recovery. As blocked artists, we tend to criticize ourselves mercilessly.

We have this idea that we need to be in the mood to write. We don’t. Morning pages will teach you that your mood doesn’t really matter. Some of the best creative work gets done on the days when you feel that everything you’re doing is just plain junk.

Why all this logic-brain/artist-brain talk? Because the morning pages teach logic brain to stand aside and let artist brain play.

want to say: pages are my way of meditating; I do them because they work.

An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers.

In order to have a real relationship with our creativity, we must take the time and care to cultivate it. Our creativity will use this time to confront us, to confide in us, to bond with us, and to plan.

Art is an image-using system. In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We’ve got big fish, little fish, fat fish, skinny fish—an abundance of artistic fish to fry. As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem. If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked.

Art may seem to involve broad strokes, grand schemes, great plans. But it is the attention to detail that stays with us; the singular image is what haunts us and becomes art.

A mystery can be simpler even than that: if I light this stick of incense, what will I feel? Scent is an often-overlooked pathway to powerful associations and healing. The scent of Christmas at any time of year—or the scent of fresh bread or homemade soup—can nourish the hungry artist within.

We want to be great—immediately great—but that is not how recovery works. It is an awkward, tentative, even embarrassing process. There will be many times when we won’t look good—to ourselves or anyone else. We need to stop demanding that we do.

But saying nice things about ourselves is notoriously hard to do. It feels pretty awful at first. Try these and see if they don’t sound hopelessly syrupy: “I deserve love.” “I deserve fair pay.” “I deserve a rewarding creative life.” “I am a brilliant and successful artist.” “I have rich creative talents.” “I am competent and confident in my creative work.”

These attacks can come from either internal or external sources. We can neutralize them once we recognize them as a sort of creative virus. Affirmations are a powerful antidote for self-hate, which commonly appears under the mask of self-doubt.

Blocked friends may find your recovery disturbing. Your getting unblocked raises the unsettling possibility that they, too, could become unblocked and move into authentic creative risks rather than bench-sitting cynicism.

It is very important to understand that the time given to morning pages is time between you and God. You best know your answers. You will be led to new sources of support as you begin to support yourself.

Boiled down to their essentials, the doubts go something like this: “Okay, so I started writing the morning pages and I seem more awake and alert in my life. So what? It’s just a coincidence. …

The reason we think it’s weird to imagine an unseen helping hand is that we still doubt that it’s okay for us to be creative. With this attitude firmly entrenched, we not only look all gift horses in the mouth but also swat them on the rump to get them out of our lives as fast as possible.

We’ve gotten brave enough to try recovery, but we don’t want the universe to really pay attention. We still feel too much like frauds to handle some success. When it comes, we want to go.

My grandmother knew what a painful life had taught her: success or failure, the truth of a life really has little to do with its quality. The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.

In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me. Each moment, taken alone, was always bearable. In the exact now, we are all, always, all right.

Anger is meant to be respected. Why? Because anger is a map. Anger shows us what our boundaries are. Anger shows us where we want to go. It lets us see where we’ve been and lets us know when we haven’t liked it. Anger points the way, not just the finger.

In my experience, the universe falls in with worthy plans and most especially with festive and expansive ones.

Goethe had this to say on the will of Providence assisting our efforts: Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it.

Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics. It brings healing. But before a wound can heal it must be seen, and this act of exposing the wound to air and light, the artist’s act, is often reacted to with shaming. Bad reviews are a prime source of shame for many artists. The truth is, many reviews do aim at creating shame in an artist.

Often we are wrongly shamed as creatives. From this shaming we learn that we are wrong to create. Once we learn this lesson, we forget it instantly. Buried under it doesn’t matter, the shame lives on, waiting to attach itself to our new efforts. The very act of attempting to make art creates shame.

Does this mean no criticism? No. It means learning where and when to seek out right criticism. As artists, we must learn when criticism is appropriate and from whom. Not only the source but the timing is very important here.

Creativity is the only cure for criticism

Growth occurs in spurts. You will lie dormant sometimes. Do not be discouraged. Think of it as resting.

More than anything else, experiment with solitude. You will need to make a commitment to quiet time. Try to acquire the habit of checking in with yourself. Several times a day, just take a beat, and ask yourself how you are feeling. Listen to your answer. Respond kindly.

Working with the morning pages, we begin to sort through the differences between our real feelings, which are often secret, and our official feelings, those on the record for public display.

Art lies in the moment of encounter: we meet our truth and we meet ourselves; we meet ourselves and we meet our self-expression. We become original because we become something specific: an origin from which work flows.

By tossing out the old and unworkable, we make way for the new and suitable. A closet stuffed with ratty old clothes does not invite new ones. A house overflowing with odds and ends and tidbits you’ve held on to for someday has no space for the things that might truly enhance today.

Each day’s morning pages take a swipe at the blur you have kept between you and your real self. As your image becomes clearer, it may surprise you. You may discover very particular likes and dislikes that you hadn’t acknowledged.

The snowflake pattern of your soul is emerging. Each of us is a unique, creative individual. But we often blur that uniqueness with sugar, alcohol, drugs, overwork, underplay, bad relations, toxic sex, underexercise, over-TV, undersleep—many and varied forms of junk food for the soul. The pages help us to see these smears on our consciousness.

Reading deprivation casts us into our inner silence, a space some of us begin to immediately fill with new words—long, gossipy conversations, television bingeing, the radio as a constant, chatty companion. We often cannot hear our own inner voice, the voice of our artist’s inspiration, above the static.

One reason we are miserly with ourselves is scarcity thinking. We don’t want our luck to run out. We don’t want to overspend our spiritual abundance. Again, we are limiting our flow by anthropomorphizing God into a capricious parent figure. Remembering that God is our source, an energy flow that likes to extend itself, we become more able to tap our creative power effectively.

One way we listen is by writing our morning pages. At night, before we fall asleep, we can list areas in which we need guidance. In the morning, writing on these same topics, we find ourselves seeing previously unseen avenues of approach.

Dependence on the creator within is really freedom from all other dependencies. Paradoxically, it is also the only route to real intimacy with other human beings. Freed from our terrible fears of abandonment, we are able to live with more spontaneity. Freed from our constant demands for more and more reassurance, our fellows are able to love us back without feeling so burdened.

By holding lightly to an attitude of gentle exploration, we can begin to lean into creative expansion. By replacing “No way!” with “Maybe,” we open the door to mystery and to magic.

we are learning to give up idolatry—the worshipful dependency on any person, place, or thing. Instead, we place our dependency on the source itself. The source meets our needs through people, places, and things.

There are powerful payoffs to be found in staying stuck and deferring nurturing your sense of self. For many creatives, the belief that they must be nice and worry about what will happen with their friends, family, mate if they dare to do what they really want to constitutes a powerful reason for nonaction.

Many people, caught in the virtue trap, do not appear to be self-destructive to the casual eye. Bent on being good husbands, fathers, mothers, wives, teachers, whatevers, they have constructed a false self that looks good to the world and meets with a lot of worldly approval. This false self is always patient, always willing to defer its needs to meet the needs or demands of another.

All too often, we become blocked and blame it on our lack of money. This is never an authentic block. The actual block is our feeling of constriction, our sense of powerlessness. Art requires us to empower ourselves with choice. At the most basic level, this means choosing to do self-care.

It reminded me of the vulnerability of all artists, even very famous ones, to the shaming, “I should be working” side of themselves that discourages creative pleasures.

Creative living requires the luxury of time, which we carve out for ourselves—even if it’s fifteen minutes for quick morning pages and a ten-minute minibath after work.

Creativity lives in paradox: serious art is born from serious play.

When we get something down, there is no strain. We’re not doing; we’re getting. Someone or something else is doing the doing. Instead of reaching for inventions, we are engaged in listening.

I remind my students that their movie already exists in its entirety. Their job is to listen for it, watch it with their mind’s eye, and write it down.

Instead of creating freely and allowing errors to reveal themselves later as insights, we often get mired in getting the details right. We correct our originality into a uniformity that lacks passion and spontaneity. “Do not fear mistakes,” Miles Davis told us. “There are none.”

To the perfectionist, there is always room for improvement. The perfectionist calls this humility. In reality, it is egotism. It is pride that makes us want to write a perfect script, paint a perfect painting, perform a perfect audition monologue.

Jealousy is always a mask for fear: fear that we aren’t able to get what we want; frustration that somebody else seems to be getting what is rightfully ours even if we are too frightened to reach for it. At its root, jealousy is a stingy emotion. It doesn’t allow for the abundance and multiplicity of the universe. Jealousy tells us there is room for only one—one poet, one painter, one whatever you dream of being.

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