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 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?

A Sense of Abundance

I am a bit behind in my series on The Artist’s Way. I have a tendency to be easily derailed, one of the faults I am attempting to remedy through this process.

In the sixth week on the “Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” The Artist’s Way delves into our attitudes toward money. What does money have to do with creativity? Often what prevents us from pursuing a passion for art, in whatever form it takes, is a fear that we can’t make any money at it. We have to pay our bills, after all. We need something to “fall back on,” so we put all of our time and energy into a “practical” career, often smothering the creative passion within.

The chapter on Recovering A Sense of Abundance is designed to unearth those attitudes that hold us back, attitudes that are often rooted in our belief system. Is your god stingy or generous? A god of punishment or pleasure? Whether you believe in one omniscient, omnipotent being or a collective of higher forces–angels, ancestors, and animal guides–or in Star Wars terms “The Force”–do you believe he/she/they will support your dreams?

baby-stepsIf so, should you take a leap of faith, quit your job and move into your parents’ attic to write that best selling novel? Probably not. But you can start with small steps. Set your alarm an hour early and write before work. Keep a sketch pad in your car and stop on your way home to capture a scene that strikes your fancy.


Leo Tolstoy said, “True life is lived when tiny changes occur.” Here are some ways our Artist’s Way Cluster members are making “tiny changes” to reignite their creative passions:

Image 6

It is so exciting to watch people bloom!

Kathy, an artist working as a graphic designer, is experimenting with new painting techniques and selling her work.

Nick, a technical writer, is writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month.

Sharon has returned to her love of photography and carries her camera everywhere she goes.

Dani has entered her artwork in an exhibit.

Yvonne is visiting art studios and craft shows, allowing herself to explore multiple creative outlets to discover what she loves best.

(For more inspiration, read this excellent article on taking baby steps to our goals: http://mariashriver.com/blog/2013/04/hundreds-of-baby-steps-kristy-campbell/)

So how do those baby steps lead to abundance? First, I believe nurturing creativity and indulging a passion for art, literature, music, dance, brings a richness into our lives that has nothing to do with money.

I also believe talent, skill, and perseverance deserve monetary compensation. A friend recently asked on Facebook, “If I wrote an autobiography, would anyone read it?” Another responded, “Is it free?”

Why are artists expected to give away what costs them time, money, and often a lot of angst? John Milton said, “A good book is the precious life blood of a master spirit.”

Where is the line between giving away a talent and skill for the purpose of gaining experience or mentoring someone, and valuing that skill enough to put a price on it?

I leave this question open ended, because I don’t have an answer for myself yet. How about you?