“The Artist’s Way” Concepts

In a previous blog I mention this book. In today’s blog, I would like to share with you all some of the principles of the best book on creativity that I have ever read, “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron © 1992. You can still get the book on Amazon but for those of you who will not buy the book, I wanted to share some of the concepts and some of the exercises with because this book changed my life in relation to how I treat my singing, my talent, the business of singing and even my life now. These are not my ideas, they are Julia’s, but I will interject here and there as her principles relate to singing/Cabaret. The book itself is not specific to any particular art but on creativity across the board. She does explore the concept of a higher power and getting closer to God through honoring his gift of creativity to us all, but I will keep to the general concepts sans religious references.

  • Leap and the net will appear.
  • Art is born in attention.
  • Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is pure energy: pure creative energy.
  • We are ourselves creations. And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves.
  • The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.
  • Stop waiting until you make enough money to do something you really love.
  • Stop telling yourself, “It’s too late.”
  • Stop telling yourself that your dreams do not matter, that you should be more sensible.
  • Stop worrying about what the neighbors will think (or your family).
  • If you are creatively blocked, one of the major reasons could be jealousy or what I (Sue) personally call “The Green Eyed Monster”!
  • Take your creative potential seriously.
  • Create an “Artist Date” – this is a block of time maybe 2 hours weekly to start where you totally commit to your creative process.
  • For those of us in Cabaret, the exercise above is also a good rule of thumb when you are doing a show or recording a CD, block a certain amount of time each day to write, study, sing, send out demos, and do PR…whatever. Treat your singing like you were working for someone else.
  • Honor your talent and time like you were getting paid for it. (Sorry laughing too hard here to continue typing!)

This is my idea and comes from other areas of my reading. It basically takes 20 days to make a habit so, if you have 5 habits you want to change right now that will allow you more time to create, write them down on yellow stickies and put them all over the place…by your bed, the bathroom, the frig, your computer, your car and just leave them there for 20 days. You do not have to read them every day, but they will be there, and they will just sink in. Write things like:

I will get out of my own way and let the creativity flow.

I will devote at least _____ hours a week/day to my talent.

I will do the Morning Pages for 20 days to see how I feel. (See below.)

I will sing out at one open mic at least twice a month.

I will be willing to risk being “bad” in my art in an effort to grow.

These are YOURS to write based on whatever issues YOU feel you have and need to change.

Here are some of the stages of the creative process:

  • At the start of the project there is a joy and giddiness of what the project will be up to the about the middle of the project.
  • This can be followed by explosive anger at things not going the way you wanted them to go or some kind of wrench in the works that has to be dealt with.
  • The next phase could be a strong urge to abandon the process and just return to life as we know it.
  • If you find the energy to re-commit to the project in a glimmer of another idea or just the will to follow through this usually triggers the surrender of the ego.
  • Next? A new sense of self followed by a new sense of excitement or as I (Sue) like to call it the, “I think I can, I think I can” phase.

Another exercise that really works for me deals with what I call “mind chatter”. How many of you suffer from this? You cannot rest your brains at night because ideas and “stuff” keep flooding your thoughts? This does not allow for a restful sleep and impedes creativity the next day because you’re exhausted. Julia offers an exercise called “The Morning Pages” which is simply to wake up and write 3 pages of longhand writing strictly stream-of-consciousness stuff. Mine always start with, “I don’t have anything to write so I’m just writing but last night I…and today I…, etc.” and if a few minutes you have 3 pages of “stuff” that is no longer in you. You have freed up and focused your brain” In fact, Julia calls this a “brain drain” but what I have found is that as I write and “stuff” comes out of me, I am also organizing my day, and venting and purging the junk that kept me awake and the stuff that will keep me awake this next evening and ta da…I’m just better. I’m more focused. I sleep better. I swear this works. I have been doing this exercise on and off for almost 20 years.

You should not read these Morning Pages notes for at least 8 weeks but I found that I never really re-read them. I didn’t have to. I use those black and white pads like we had when we were kids and just destroy them when I fill one up. By doing these Morning Pages as soon as you fall out of bed you evade the Censor Babble that you would use like you do during the day at your job. Clear your minds and open up space for creativity to come in. Remember, a mind TOO active is no mind at all!  A logical brain is our Censor; the Artist’s brain is our inventor.

Remember, be honest with yourself and your feelings, no one reads these. You destroy them…have at it gang and VENT! PURGE! FREE YOU MIND!

Another way to use the Morning Pages later on is to write a question on the top of the page and just sit for a minute and “hear” with your heart what you feel and start to write. If you are a spiritual or religious person you can ask God or a higher power for guidance, but you can also do this and just “be” with your own thoughts and write. You’d be surprised how wise you are once you get out of your own way! Julia calls this “Inner Wisdom”.

  • One of our chief needs in creativity is support which isn’t always easy to come by. We all have nay sayers in our families and judgmental people all around us, but the biggest obstacle sometimes is ourselves. We block our own creative process with excuses and fear of failure (and in some cases, a fear of success!) Stumbles are normal…they are your baby steps. Julia quotes Joseph Chilton Pearce as saying: “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”

Here’s an exercise for you…What are your 20 core negative beliefs (they do not have to be true)? Write them down but lead with:

I cannot be a successful ___________ because:

I’m not enough.

They won’t like me.

I can’t spell or type!

Negative beliefs are just that…beliefs, not facts! They usually come from our parents, our religion, our culture, our friends, our spouses and other singers.

This is from Sue:  I’ve said this before, if you honestly believed all these negative things about yourself and your talent, then how pathetic would you have to be to want to be on stage thinking you are not good enough? Why on earth would anyone put themselves up on stage if they really believed all these things about themselves? Let me suggest to you that all that this may mean is that you are scared and that deep down you do believe in your talent but you’re afraid to risk failure. Julia says that Core Negatives keep you scared.

  • What if you wrote down 20 affirmations about yourself that could lead you to a more creative person?  Here are some of Julia’s other ideas to nurture your Artist’s Soul when you get the blahs and the “I’m no good” blues.

Take yourself on an Artist’s Date – Go see a great show. Go to the store and buy gold stars to put in your diary when you achieve one of your goals. Hire a director or coach to work with you on a specific issue.

List 3 old enemies of your creative self-worth.

Write out one old horror story about how you felt in a circumstance that rattled your creative process then bless the lesson and burn it.

(I love this one!) Write a letter to the editor in your own defense and then mail it to yourself.

List 3 champions of your self-worth and creative process.

Ask yourself: If you had 5 other lives to lead, what would you do in each of them?

After getting all this information down, take your artist for a walk and talk to them about what you discovered. Remember:  The essential element in nurturing our creativity lies in nurturing ourselves, not beating ourselves up!

  • Julia also introduces us to the concept of a “Shadow Artist” which is someone not quite authentic in their own talent but who “shadows” the talent of someone else whom they respect (a mentor or star). They stay in the shadow of imitation rather than risk stepping out into their own light…or spotlight in our case!
  • Answer the following questions just for fun and see what it tells you about who you are today:

My favorite childhood toy was…

The best movie I ever saw as a kid was…

I don’t do it much now, but I enjoy….

If I could lighten up a little, I would let myself…

If it weren’t too late, I’d go for…

My favorite musical instrument is…

Taking time out for me is…

I’m afraid that if I start dreaming…

If I had the perfect childhood, I would have grown up to be…

If it didn’t sound crazy, I would…

My favorite cheer me up music is…

Again, from Sue: What does this tell you? Why was that toy so special? Does any of it apply now or could it be applied to your creative process today? What are 5 things that you loved about yourself when you were a kid? Explore this. Do you watch a lot of TV that you don’t even like? What could that time be used to do that would make you even more creative or better at your craft? Make a list of the people who DO support and nurture you and another list of people you really admire. What traits do the people in both lists have or share?

There is SO much more to this fantastic book…I have just touched upon the surface (and only on a few chapters). I do not want to take credit for what Julia Cameron so wonderfully created so, if any or all of these concepts intrigue you, go get the book. This book is written as a lesson in each chapter and then with an exercise for you to do/use to uncover all that could be holding you back as an artist.  My favorite concept in the entire book is the “NAME IT AND CLAIM IT” concept.

So…let me ask you: What do YOU want from your art? Are you willing to work for it? After reading this column, do you think you have done enough to explore all that you can be as a creative person? Do you do the homework to get the results? How many hours a week do you spend on your art? I know, I too worked a day job for 23 years but if you want the results, you have to do the work and make yourself and your art/creative process a priority. You’re worth it!

Sue Matsuki

Dream It, Believe It, DO IT!