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Review: The Artist’s Way

Joey Gompels re-discovers creative inspiration by using the practices of the 'Original Self-Help Guru' Julia Cameron

This is both a book review and a book recommendation. Julia Cameron’s book – The Artist’s Way – is the perfect book to pick up, read, and do during isolation. It’s not a new book by any means. It was first published in 1992 but it remains important and useful today. The essence of the book is about rediscovering or discovering your creative self. I’m hoping this review will persuade you to read the book itself but, at the very least, try some of her key practises for a week even if you are tempted to deride it as ‘spiritual nonsense’.  

A recent feature in the Sunday Times on Julia Cameron described her as ‘The Original self-help Guru’. Julia Cameron, commenting on the current lockdown, said “Westerners have a hard time doing nothing. Writing is empowering.” Julia Cameron already lives in her own sort of ‘splendid isolation’ in the New Mexico Mountains with her dog. She has no email. No social media. But she does have a phone for use in emergencies, or magazine interviews with the Sunday Times. In case you’re doubting the commitment of Julia Cameron, she writes everything by hand – including her books – and writes cards rather than emails to her friends. She has published forty books and has lots of penpals. 

The essence of the artist’s way is two key practises; ‘morning pages’ and ‘the artist’s date’. Morning pages should be done every day without fail. They should be 3 sides of A4 paper, handwritten (if possible), and come totally from your stream of consciousness. You do not re-read them until Week 9 of the course. It is as simple as that. The second tool – the artist’s date – involves doing something by yourself just for the sake of it. Cameron suggests shooting a whole roll of film and not showing it to anyone. Ironically, film was in fashion when she wrote the book and now #35mm is everywhere again. 

The rest of the book is exceptional at helping you to identify what helps you be creative and what holds you back. It is also extremely revealing but it might put some people off because it involves more self-reflection than most British people are comfortable with. I’m in the 10th week of ‘The Artist Way’s’ 12-week program. I haven’t read my morning pages back yet but I was meant to in week 9, you don’t have to stick totally to the rules but I look forward to reading them after exams are done. I’ve written for 60 days and counting and it doesn’t matter that most of it is nonsense. Morning pages have helped me start a radio show, develop a short story and even write this article.

It shouldn’t take successful people to get us to try something, but it normally does. Morning Pages have been used by so many people to help them out of a creative rut, some were admittedly creative before but many others are scientists or lawyers or are just people who want to get back into painting or writing after a long hiatus. The famous people include Alicia Keys, Helmut Newton and the ‘inventor’ of the four day week – Tim Ferriss and, last but not least, Elizabeth Gilbert – the author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. Don’t wait till after exams, don’t wait till you’ve got your perfect new paper pad or journal. Start tomorrow morning as soon as you wake up. 

I’d like to finish with three quotes from Julia Camera, which summarise the book and specifically morning pages. 

“There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages” 

“You’re trying to catch yourself before your ego’s defences are in place.”

“The second page-and-a-half comes harder, but often contains paydirt.”

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