A Sense of Autonomy

Do you find yourself getting derailed during this busy time of year? It seems as though demands on our time rise exponentially between Thanksgiving and New Year. Parties, shopping, wrapping, sending cards, baking cookies. No offense, guys, but much of the burden falls on women.

10-Tips-for-a-Stress-Free-HolidayI decided long ago not to get caught up in doing things I don’t enjoy just because they were expected of me as a woman. I don’t bake dozens of cookies, and I send a minimal number of cards, just to name two examples. This makes me a bit of an oddball in social circles, and I’ve noticed our party invitations have dropped off in the past few years. I miss the interaction with friends and neighbors, even though I always have that awkward sense of not fitting in with the crowd.

In Chapter eleven of The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes about the artist’s temperament in a way I found myself relating to. If I’m not creating (which for me means writing), I am out of sorts, restless, crabby. If I’m trying to conform to the expectations of others, I feel stifled and phony.

Claiming, or reclaiming, a sense of autonomy is essential for creative expansion. Twelve weeks ago, one week before starting The Artist’s Way, I set up an expectation for myself to write a weekly blog about each chapter of the book and my insights from it. Honesty compels me to admit that I am struggling to complete that commitment in the midst of all the holiday busyness.

There is so much more that I could write about on this chapter and all of the others before it, but here is what is resonating with me today:

  1. As an artist, be yourself and don’t be afraid to be a little “odd.”
  2. Live up to your own expectations.
  3. It’s okay to ease up on your expectations occasionally.
  4. Guard your space, physical and emotional space, that you carve out for your art.
  5. As a minimum, cling to your morning pages as a lifeline to your creative self.
  6. Buy your artist child a present.

I wish you all whatever fills your heart with joy.

And if there is anyone reading this for whom this is not a season of joy–I see you, too–and wish you peace.


A Sense of Self-Protection

Chapter ten–almost through the twelve-week Artist’s Way recovery course–is where we learn about recovering a sense of self-protection. We all need to learn to protect ourselves from the crazymakers in our lives (see chapter two) and when to say “no” to infringements on our creative time and space.

But I took a different twist on this chapter. Cameron writes about the “dangers of the trail.”  When creative energy starts to flow and you’re not sure where it’s leading, you might feel shaky and out of control. Where is this path taking me? You slam your foot on the brakes; your artist child sits down in the middle of the road and refuses to take another step. This, in a sense, is another form of self-protection: we protect ourselves from fear of the unknown.

As a writer, I have heard and read, written, and spoken a lot about writer’s block, but I am only recently beginning to understand that there is only one thing responsible for writer’s block: ME. Wether we realize it or not, we all have our favorite ways to block creativity (because, you know, that Muse can be a scary bitch).

My go-to blocks are sleep, daydreaming, reading, television, and Facebook. And sometimes food. I need a muffin. Now.

For some, alcohol, drugs, or destructive relationships might be the chosen blocks. Others escape into busyness–work, work, work to numb out those nerve-wracking creative ideas.

How to stop reaching for blocks? Make friends with creativity-induced anxiety. Allow yourself to feel the anxiety and use it to fuel your imagination. Put on some calming music, or whatever music motivates you and helps you focus. Exercise. A simple twenty minute walk can calm nervous energy, un-jumble anxious thoughts, and bring clarity to your path forward.

I don’t mean to over simplify what can sometimes be a crippling issue, but here is another situation where small steps can bring about big changes. If you recognize that your artistic blocks might be self-induced, that can be the first step to overcoming them.

o-CALIFORNIA-DROUGHT-facebookIt is easy to confuse a block with a time of drought. While blocks are often self-induced, droughts “appear from nowhere and stretch to the horizon like a Death Valley vista.” (p.169).


A creative block is when the Muse is speaking, but we are not listening. In a drought, she is silent. “A drought is a tearless time of grief. We are between dreams.” (p. 170) I am learning to appreciate these periods as a time of gestation. A new dream is being implanted.

But how can anything grow in that parched landscape? Think of your morning pages as rain. To continue the practice of writing, stream of consciousness, three pages every morning when you feel it is an empty exercise–that is an act of faith. It will water the tiny seed that you may not be aware of yet and eventually, it will bloom and the drought will end.bloom-where-planted

What do you do when you feel creative energy carrying you along at a faster pace than you want to go, or you’re not sure what direction it’s leading you? Do you go with the flow or do you go into self-protection mode and reach for one of your favorite blocking devices to slow things down? Are you even aware that is what you are doing?

Have you experienced a creative drought? Are you in one now? Hang in there. Keep writing morning pages, and a path will emerge.

A Sense of Compassion

Before delving in to chapter nine of The Artist’s Way, I want to pause to thank you, my readers. Without your loyalty and encouragement there wouldn’t be much point in continuing to write this blog. I hope you are benefitting as much from reading it as I am from writing it.

Discipline vs. Enthusiasm
Week nine on the path to higher creativity leads us to recovering a sense of compassion. Compassion for whom? For yourself–your inner artist, the child who’s afraid to come out and play. If you are anything like me, you may beat yourself up for not working more, not having more discipline. That’s why when I read, “being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline,” (p. 153) it was a liberating concept for me.

“Enthusiasm (from the Greek, ‘filled with God’) is an ongoing energy supply tapped into the flow of life itself. Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work.” (p. 153) More on that thought in a minute.

Creative U-turns

Do you take creative U-turns?

Do you take creative U-turns?

I have found that, when I allow myself to dream and start to nourish those dreams by taking steps to fulfill them, dreams tend to grow. My imagination takes flight and the dream gets bigger than me. And I get scared. “I can’t do that!” My mind balks at the prospect looming before me, and I take a creative U-turn.

Often what causes me to turn back from the path I’m on, or to back away from a project is looking too far ahead, trying to comprehend the complete picture. In other words, getting ahead of myself. Remember the concepts of taking baby steps and filling in the form?

I am learning, though, that by narrowing my focus to take that next little step, to complete the next task on the “to do” list, I can slowly make my way into the bigger picture. Creative U-turns may be a necessary part of growing as an artist, but remember, two U-turns make a complete 360 and put you back on the right path.

So don’t beat yourself up if you feel the need to back off and turn around. Show yourself some compassion. Gather strength, buck up your courage, but most of all, find the joy again. What made you enthusiastic for that project in the first place? Go back to that point, pick up the missing piece, turn around and start walking again.


Enthusiasm breeds discipline. It creates “the irresistible surge of will.” Find the passion, the fire. Discipline will follow, and U-turns will become a thing of the past.

What stops you in your tracks and makes you want to turn around? How do you maintain the enthusiasm to stay on your creative path?

A Sense of Strength

Chapter eight of The Artist’s Way is about Recovering a Sense of Strength. How do you gain strength to pursue your artistic dreams?

First, by acknowledging and mourning your losses, that is, failed attempts, rejections, non-constructive criticism. Intellectually, we know that these experiences are a natural part of the creative life, but that doesn’t make it any less painful. We may try to brush off that hurt, ignore it, bury it.

Artists are supposed to have a thick skin

Artists are supposed to have a thick skin

Maybe you’ve told yourself, “I shouldn’t let that bother me. I need to grow a thick skin.”

But a creative dream that is unrealized is a brainchild that did not come to term. By not mourning those losses, they become blocks to future artistic endeavors.

Once acknowledged, the wounds can begin to heal. Then the only way to grow and strengthen your inner artist is to start doing again–write, paint, sing, dance–create!



Start “filling in the form.” Start with one small step in the direction of your dreams. Then take another step, and another.


Do you have a creative wound that is still festering, or has it scabbed over or grown scar tissue? Any of these outcomes can block future progress. Recognize the loss. Mourn it. Allow it to start to heal. Then take a step forward.

A Sense of Connection

With chapter seven, we pass the halfway point on The Artist’s Way journey. I should say the halfway point of the book, because the journey will continue long after we have completed the reading, tasks, and exercises. Morning Pages, for many, become a lifetime practice.

So we come to Recovering a Sense of Connection. Connection to what? The creative energies that live all around and within us. By learning to listen, we find that art is more a matter of getting something down than thinking something up.

Artists are the conduits of creative ideas

Artists are the conduits of creative ideas


In other words, “we are more the conduit than the creator of what we express.” (p.118) A conduit can take many shapes and forms, even colors, just as artists are able to receive an idea and shape it by their own personality, adding the color of their own voice.

Make listening a part of your artistic practice. Meditate, go for a walk, or turn off the television as you go about your daily chores. Give those creative ideas a chance to find their way through all the noise.

I think my favorite topic of this chapter, and perhaps the whole book, is that of perfectionism. I have often heard people say with pride, “I am a perfectionist.” But is perfectionism more of a hindrance than a help in the life of an artist? Cameron proposes that, “Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough.” (p. 120)

Don't confuse excellence with perfection

Don’t confuse excellence with perfection

The fear of not doing something perfectly can prevent someone from ever trying in the first place. I used to be so hobbled by this, that I could stare at a blank page for hours, waiting for that perfect first sentence to take shape in my mind. National Novel Writing Month cured me of that for the most part, as it taught me the value of a first draft, though I still struggle at times.

Don’t confuse excellence with perfection. We can always strive for excellence. Perfection belongs to a higher realm.


I hope these posts have encouraged and inspired you on your creative path. What are some methods you use to listen for that creative voice? Does perfectionism prevent you form pursuing those ideas?