When the Student is Ready

Since its publication in 1992, I have treasured my copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a seminal book about the spirituality of creativity, which also includes a 12-week program to clarify and deepen the artist’s path. I loved the chapter titles, the quotes, and the ideas. I even read the book several times—sometimes in bits and pieces and at other times, front to back in a few sittings.

But I never actually followed the 12-week course. This is not to say my life didn’t benefit from Cameron’s work; it did, and I hope the friends and students and patients with whom I shared Cameron’s ideas were also led to deeper engagement with their arts.

A few months ago, faced with more books than I could house (seriously overcrowded: imagine Miss Havisham with a book jones), I took boxes and boxes off to St. Vinnie’s, feeling very noble and much lighter. I remember hesitating with The Artist’s Way, but felt I’d yielded what wisdom I could from it; now it was another seeker’s turn.

So there I was last Saturday, browsing in Vinnie’s. I scanned a shelf of books, and reached for my old copy of The Artist’s Way. I flipped through the pages, landing on one of those wonderful quotes peppered throughout its pages and flipped back to the beginning…I bought it back for a dollar, came home, and earnestly began the 12-week course Cameron has outlined.

All the lovely excuses that for years had kept my relationship with the book confined to air-kissing and benign but surface-only involvement, have crumbled. Finally, I am ready and the teacher has appeared. Again.

All I can say is that it’s a far, far better thing than I have ever done. I’m one week in, and cannot believe what’s been excavated and revealed, just by following the “Morning Pages” writing exercise. It’s explained by Cameron, here (along with other aspects of the course and information about a live video version: http://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/.) Note well, dear reader: You do not need to spend money; get the book (at a library) and dig in…if you’re ready. Or buy it used–my copy only cost a dollar. The second time.

Basically, the Morning Pages are three pages of free-writing done every morning, faithfully. Regardless of the form your artistic expression takes: painting, writing, cooking, gardening, composing, photography, teaching, healing, cake-decorating, doctoring, lawyering, whatever…Cameron prescribes the Morning Pages and asks that they be handwritten. (There are studies that emphasize the benefits of doing this type of writing by hand rather than typing. I type, because it flows better for me, but try both and see what works best for yourself.) She also stresses that no one else should ever read these and even recommends that you don’t re-read them; they’re strictly for “off-loading” your brain’s white noise and helping you encounter your critics, blocks, shadow and emotions…and for me, they’re doing this in spades and more. My dreams have been parading across my Morning Pages, along with memories and feelings that are surprising me and freeing my spirit. Connections have been made that are startling.

What I love about Cameron’s book is that it’s for everyone, of any age. It doesn’t matter how creative energy is translated through your talents (or how you would like it to be), your art will benefit from following the program. I’m excited to see what transformations will bud and bloom over the next 11 weeks…let me know if you’ve completed the course or considered it.

If you’re not ready, file this for later; if you’re ready, the teacher is, too. Joy to you.

Two other authors whose works have energized my creativity: Eric Maisel and Cathy A. Malchiodi

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13 thoughts on “When the Student is Ready

  1. I, too, have this book and have tried to work her program many, many times….but I always seem to get sidetracked. Perhaps you are my teacher who has just appeared and I, the student, am ready.

    Jo

  2. Great book…..I got 1/2 way through then it faded away. After the move I think it will be a good time to do it from start to finish. Thanks Catherine! VK

  3. I’ve also had the book since it appeared, and have started the program seriously three times . . . and have gotten stuck/stopped/”sidetracked” at chapter five every time. But I do the Morning Pages, and starve when i stop them, although I’ve found it best for me not to do stream-of-conciousness writing. That exacerbated and solidified the negatives for me, rather than cleansing or clarifying them. The Artist’s Date was an interesting challenge, also. She is very insightful. Have a fun trip, it is a road less travelled.

    • Always appreciate your insights: I have such wise friends visiting this blog! Your experience with soc-writing is interesting to hear about; so afar, I feel good about how it’s going for me…trying to stay open, and we shall see.

  4. I had never heard of Julia Cameron or her book till I read your post, and I looked her up on the net, and read a little about her; found her website, and read a little more. I suppose there are as many different paths to producing art as there are artists. And certainly, not every artist suffers from ‘writers’ block’ or something parallel to that in the other medias. But if one did suffer from that, I can imagine that her discipline for clearing up the mind would be quite effective. Most of the artists I’ve known, do like to warm up in the morning, and do sketches, or sometimes plan their workday. Thank you for introducing me to Cameron.

    • You’re welcome, Shimon. I always appreciate actual tools rather than endless theories, so TAW works well for me and stimulates my creativity, blocked or not. I agree that we’re all different regarding such creative nutrients, but I thought I’d share how well this one is working for me, now that I’ve given it a chance. I also recognize that I’m fortunate in having more time to delve into it right now than I’ve been in the past, and that makes a huge difference in a 12-week commitment.

  5. Catherine, I have worked though the Artist’s Way several times. It completely changed my life. Stick with it, it can be sometimes painful and disconcerting but ultimately liberating. After 13 years of working with it, I continue to write “morning pages” and they have yielded many many ideas. I and several colleagues have recommended this book to our music students with great results. The hardest part is not doing the morning pages but yielding to the adventure of the Artist’s Date 🙂
    Hooray to you for undertaking this journey!

    • Thank you for the encouragement…you bring up a good point in mentioning that a program like this can lead to encounters with the self that are challenging, like any well-designed “12-step” program. I’m grateful for the healing and inspirations offered and yet to come. The ride may get bumpy, but I’m open to the discoveries and, as you say, liberation. Thanks again!

    • Please share it with her, Sophy, if you’d like to; she deserves to hear again and again what a great gift she’s given the world. I’ve been faithful, through some truly anxious weeks (lost a manuscript to the ether, an angel pulled it out and back, after a week of my psyche’s circling of hell’s inner ring)…and the Morning Pages have helped me through that and into the deep shit of spiritual-psychological excavation I’m standing in this week…and AH! The sparkles of mirror shards I’m polishing up as they shine me back at myself! I’m sosososososo happy Julia’s book came back to me and is leading me on this excellent adventure.

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