Monday, February 27, 2017

The Artist's Way (and reading) by Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

A couple of Mayhemmers have recently blogged about their experiences of  either The Artist's Way (Caroline's Morning Pages One Year In) or going on a reading fast (Joanna's Fasting Story.) Since I am currently working my way through The Artist's Way, part of which requires giving up reading for a week, I thought I'd share my own progress report.

Caroline's piece actually was the boost that got me back to the practices Julia Cameron writes about it her book, the subtitle of which is "A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity." Towards the latter part of 2016, I was in a complete creative funk--a lot of which I trace back to the election and its aftermath. Add to this that, after parting ways from my agent, I had been having no luck querying my latest novel (lots of full requests and nice rejections, things like "not for me, but I can see this being a smash hit with the right agent,") I was finding it hard to hang on.

Intellectually I knew that the sun would rise again tomorrow, but my creative child was really feeling the slings and arrows. I'd had a similar creative crisis in 1997, after the birth of my first child, and the knowledge that I was soon turning THIRTY-FREAKING-FIVE (!) and that my creative dream of being a published author was still in embryo. (Fast forward 20 years, and here I still am.)

My wise wife gave my a Christmas gift, paying for me to attend a 12-week course on The Artist's Way. There were about twenty of us, and we met weekly in the back room of a music store. Our facilitator was funny and down-to-earth, and soon we were engaged in all sorts of kooky things, like making collages, writing affirmations, and bidding farewell to negative messages.

Week 4 of the course, however, was tough. That was the week where we had to give up reading and watching of any sort for one whole week. (The internet wasn't ubiquitous then so, looking back, it was not so tough.) But I freaked out. The Winter Olympics were being held in Nagano, Japan, and I really wanted to see a couple of my favorite skaters--Elvis Stojko and Michelle Kwan--compete. But, being the rule-follower I am, I buckled down. I also kept my wife busy: she had to remove the newspaper off the front porch in the mornings so I wouldn't be tempted to read the headlines, and then she had to videotape the events for later viewing. (Yes, after Week 4's dastardly task was over, I did binge watch hours of the Olympics!)

Here we are in 2017, and I am older and maybe just a smidge wiser. Week 4 was hard yet again, not because of The Olympics, but because I had to come face to face with my social media obsessions. Although a late adapter of Facebook and the like, I find it's a little like a morphine drip for me--a squeeze here, a squeeze there throughout the day and whoops! Where did the time go? (Twitter's even worse.)

What did I discover with my week off from reading screens and magazines and other people's books? First, my worry-levels dropped dramatically. (The media-free week coincided with the Inauguration, and during that blackout I was as happy as a clam.) Also, since I wasn't losing myself in others' stories, some of my own started to emerge. I'm not quite back at my fighting weight yet, but I'm getting there.

The creative life ebbs and flows. We all have wounds and scars, but we also have champions and companions on the road. (My friends on this blog are part of this support.) Julia Cameron is also a firm believer in serendipity and the opening of doors when we are ready. And that is happening to me now too. A young, highly creative friend from church has invited me to write the script for an animation series he's creating. We're having a lot of fun brainstorming ideas together. As Julia Cameron says, "Artists like other artists."

I've got three more weeks to go on The Artist's Way. I've been religious about my Morning Pages, and have done Artist's Dates most of the time. (I've put links to Julian Cameron's website, where you can find explanations of what these two practices are.) I'm sitting with and pondering these words in Week Ten:
"In a creative life, droughts are a necessity. The time in the desert brings us clarity and charity. When you are in a drought, know that it is to a purpose. And keep writing morning pages."

Have you ever read The Artist's Way? If so, what were your experiences? Do you think you could go a week without consuming text or media? Are you willing to try?


  1. I'm glad you've found and enjoyed the Artist's Way! Last fall I participated in a facilitated Artist's Way program. At the time, I was having a lot of anxiety and feeling the commercial pressure of my debut year. With AW, I hoped to get back in touch with the reason I write. It worked. I still do the morning pages (at least on weekdays), and I'm much easier on myself when I take time for self-care (including Artist's Dates!). I still get together with my AW group, and soon we're going to start Walking in this World, another Julia Cameron book. I highly recommend AW!

  2. I hear you about being in a creative funk after the election. I felt paralyzed and couldn't write for quite a while. And now I'm querying but not getting any requests for fulls.

    Although I've never read The Artist's Way, I do take social media and TV breaks periodically just to rejuvenate. It appalled me to realize I was spending HOURS each day on Twitter or Facebook and/or reading the news on various digital subscriptions. Now I try to take more walks, spend more time with family and friends, as well as write and read books. Giving up reading books for a week would be a hardship, I admit.

  3. Wonderful post and very inspiring! I may take up morning pages again. Thank you, Michael!

  4. I haven't read The Artist's Way, but I do Morning Pages. They help me manage my anxiety and explore ideas. Media has been rough for the last year. I should spend less time on the Internet.

  5. Michael, I'm so happy for all this -- honored my post encouraged you to return to the Artist's Way, that you did the hard work of a week with no reading (something I've as yet been too scared to try), and that you wrote about it to inspire the rest of us!

    Sharing...and seriously considering following your example.

  6. Michael, I am so glad you mentioned this book! It's been brought to my attention many times and I've been meaning to read it. Serendipity here? :) . I too am a firm believer in serendipity and the opening of doors when we are ready.

    1. p.s. One book in this same vein that I love is Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit: learn it and use it for life.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!