The Artist’s Way: A Guide to Creative Recovery (Something you never knew you needed!)

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Every Wednesday night, Mitch and I welcome seven people from our church into our home. They come into the kitchen and make tea. One woman enjoys matcha. A couple of us drink sleepy tea. A pot of my rooibos chai steeps. We crowd into the living room.

How was your week?
How were your morning pages?
Did you take yourself out on a date?

We’re reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s a twelve week course about creative recovery, removing blocks in your life and mind so that you can pursue your creative gifts with gusto. 

“The act of making art exposes a society to itself. Art brings things to light.”

It could not have come into my life at a more perfect time. Although The Artist’s Way was first published 25 years ago, I had never heard of it until this spring. My friend and pastor, Michelle, gently handed me her beloved copy to look through. It looked exactly right. Without reading it, I ordered a copy on Amazon and signed up to lead a small group through the book.

So, backstory—I have never led a small group. It has been ages since I’ve led anything in the church. Anyone remember when I was a youth pastor? Anyone? No? Yeah, 2006 was a long time ago. But lately I have been longing to teach and lead. So with very little prompting from Michelle, I moved into this opportunity with confidence. 

“The reason we think it's weird to imagine an unseen helping hand is that we still doubt it’s okay for us to be creative.”

Also leading up to this has been six months of personal transformation. In March, I followed a spiritual instinct to fast from sugar, caffeine, and alcohol for sixty days during. I gained a new awareness of myself, my habits, and my daily highs and lows. 

About a month into the fast, postpartum depression ripped through my world. I was really struggling. Around that time, I learned my Enneagram number (also at Michelle’s prompting. Hmmm…thanks pastor). I’m a nine—the peacemaker. The Enneagram is a personality typing system that, among many other things, can help you understand your primary sin. Mine is sloth. I was incredulous, at first. I am productive! I never stop moving! 

“Experiment with this two-step process: ask for answers in the evening; listen for answers in the morning. Be open to all help.”

But, thanks to the counseling sessions I was also attending, I realized that when it comes to my personal desires and goals, I often shut them down, put them off, and numb out to avoid the pain of saying no to myself. Without my favorite ways of numbing out (sugar and alcohol) I was suddenly aware of how dissatisfied I was with my creative life. I felt disconnected from my gifts, my self, and from my Creator. 

“Afraid to appear selfish, we lose our self.”

Basically right at that moment, The Artist’s Way entered my life. It’s all about working through creative blocks so you can pursue your gifts. Couldn’t be more perfect, right? Cameron calls that “synchronicity.” She says to start expecting God to bring you what you need and to receive those gifts. The language of the book can feel a touch woo-woo but you just gotta go in with a non-judgmental heart. 

18 people signed up for my group during the small group fair. Thankfully, only three showed up the first time and we gradually grew to nine. 

In my living room, we are scrunched together on a couch, two armchairs, and a chair stolen from my dining room. Someone insists they are comfortable on the floor. We chat about our week and if we used the two tools that Cameron prescribes. 

The first tool is Morning Pages—three pages hand-written every single morning before you do anything else. They’re supposed to clear out the junk and move you to action.

“In short, the morning pages point the way to reality: this is how you’re feeling; what do you make of that? And what we make of that is often art.”

I use the morning pages to think about the day ahead and process difficult situations. Everyone in the group approaches them a little differently. One woman uses them to ask God questions and then she just waits and writes down what she feels God's response is. One woman uses very small paper so that three pages takes her no time at all. Two people have used their pages to finally work through some really, really old wounds like the death of a parent and the diagnosis of a child.

The other tool is the Artist Date. You take yourself out ALONE to do something fun or inspiring. A bike ride, a manicure, a leisurely visit to a used book store or an art museum. No pressure. Just filling your cup. 

We’re just over half-way in. This book has changed all of us and meeting is a highlight of our week. One woman has gone from wistfully talking about making jewelry to submitting her metalwork to a local gallery. Another woman received weekly encouragement to take a class in Hawaii. Even though every week she doubted that she would actually do it, tonight she is going to be phoning into our meeting…from Hawaii. We’re all holding out for her to reach her biggest goal by the end of the twelve weeks—to dance again. 

“Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves.”

And how has it impacted me? These people have cheered me on each week as I draw closer to bringing my first children’s book to life. 

I wrote the first draft before the small group fair. This fall, I have been through the text dozens of times. I’ve partnered with an artist who will illustrate it, signed on with a local publisher, created a fundraising and marketing plan, and worked with editors to develop the book into its best version. 

It has been the most fun and fulfilling creative work I have done in so long. I am in the center of my calling, my gifts. I feel confidence and joy about how my work will unfold, day by day into the future. I do not feel despair. 

This is the culmination of a long journey but it owes a lot to The Artist’s Way. It’s uncanny how it has provided exactly the wisdom I need when I need it. The week I was working with Mitch and my best friend Carolyn to set a fundraising goal for my Kickstarter (a task that was full of worry for me), we were reading and discussing a chapter all about money, the false stereotype of the struggling artist, and how God is a Provider—capable and happy to provide for our artistic needs.

“You are seeking to forge a creative alliance, artist-to-artist with the Great Creator.”

Each week the book asks questions that generally affirm the same desires. I feel more connected to myself—what I want and love—than ever before. And it has brought me closer to understanding God as Creator and myself as his Beloved Creation. That is a word I desperately needed.

Another plus side is that we have formed strong relationships with each other relatively quickly. We were all strangers and now we know each other's deepest desires and creative blocks. Our meetings are one hour of conversation that you know is going to be honest and thoughtful, sometimes difficult and awkward, but worth it. Worth showing up for. 

If you have the desire to do anything remotely creative, whether that is playing the drums, quilting a blanket, or developing a new business, I wholeheartedly recommend spending 12 weeks going through The Artist’s Way. If you are in a transition period or have reached the end of yourself or found every door to be closed shut, try this book. There is wisdom here for everyone. The chapters are very short. You will spend way more time doing your pages, the artist date, and the exercises. You can choose how much time to devote to it. 

“Looking at God's creation, it is pretty clear that the creator itself did not know when to stop. This creator looks suspiciously like someone who just might send us support for our creative ventures.”

And let me know how it goes. I always love gabbing about morning pages, creative goals, and cheering on my friends to do what they really love. Next week I’ll share more about the book and give you all the details about how you can join in the fun of The Love Love Bakery: A Wild Home For All. 

All quotes in bold are by Julia Cameron.