Book review: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Friday, November 11, 2016 Permalink

It’s rare that I include a re-read on the blog. Although in all honesty I’m not sure I’ve ever finished The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. A friend put me onto it in 2006/7… and I sought out a copy at the time. I started working through the exercises and could very much appreciate what they offered, but flailed at some point. And life took over. In 2010 I again pulled the cobwebbed book off the shelf. And I wrote about my plan to unlock my creativity via the post: Morning Pages and Basketball Shots.

I cannot remember what happened with that attempt. However… as regular readers would know, life has changed a lot for me in the last 4+ years and I’m probably ready to delve a little deeper and recover my creative self.

Book review: The Artist’s Way by Julia CameronThe Artist's Way
by Julia Cameron
Published by Macmillan
on November 8th 2016
Genres: Non-fiction
ISBN: 9781509829477
Pages: 224

The Artist's Way provides a twelve-week course that guides you through the process of recovering your creative self. It aims to dispel the 'I'm not talented enough' conditioning that holds many people back and helps you to unleash your own inner artist. Its step-by-step approach enables you to transform your life, overcome any artistic blocks you may suffer from, including limiting beliefs, fear, sabotage, jealousy and guilt, and replace them with self-confidence and productivity. The Artist's Way will demystify the creative process by making it a part of your daily life.

First published in 1993, this latest version comes with a new preface by Cameron and lots and lots of celebrity endorsements. In the preface Cameron mentions her surprise at the success of the book and recognition that goes with it.

Her introduction explains how she came to be ‘teaching’ the art of creativity. It was something she said, she discovered through trial and error and she comments on feeling almost resentful that those of us coming later, were benefiting from her hard slog. It wasn’t until she recognised that sharing her tools and helping ‘unblock’ others whose creativity felt stifled, was perhaps the gift she had to offer the world.

Cameron believes we’re all creative in some way, and her teachings (and resources, such as this book) are about ‘allowing’ ourselves be creative.

I touch on some of Cameron’s tools in my January 2010 post but it’s worth mentioning them again.

1. Morning Pages

MPs, as I like to call them because I’m lazy, are a non-negotiable part of Cameron’s teachings. Doing one’s MPs involves three pages of longhand writing first thing each morning.

In my earlier post I mentioned I worried mine felt a bit like a diary. ‘What was the point?’ I wondered.

Until one day I found myself examining something  (in my MPs) I hadn’t realised had been playing on my mind. I found I unearthed things I didn’t expect. It might not surprise you that I can usually babble on endlessly however… being forced to write THREE pages means you often run out of ‘I slept like crap and don’t want to go to work,’ comments. That stream-of-consciousness thing takes hold and find yourself writing something. Anything.

Cameron views the MPs as akin to meditation and talks about it forcing us to turn off our Censor (her capital, not mine). I suspect, by quietening that inner critic, we start to let our creative juices flow. Or worse case scenario we get the bullshit stuff off our minds before we start the day.


2. The Artist Date

This is what I’ve struggled with in the past, and where the ‘basketball shots’ featured in the earlier post. Kinda. The Artist Date is exactly that. Us, taking ourselves (our inner artist / creative child) somewhere, to do something outside of our normal life.

I’m fairly sure I haven’t shot a basketball since 2010 – and even then it had been a very long time between drinks bball-shots. However, it was something that reminded me of a fun element of my childhood (not basketball training per se, but the mindlessness that came with shooting hoops by myself) as it allows my mind to freely wander.

However… this time around I’m going to be more inventive and orderly. This element dropped by the wayside previously (as I’ve always lived alone and spent most of every day with only my company anyway), so I’m actually going to put a couple of hours in my electronic diary every week and do something different. It may just involve going to a cafe with my laptop (something I don’t ordinarily do). Or perhaps it’ll be my beach walk. Or maybe I’ll buy another basketball.

Cameron explains the way the MPs and Artist Date work:

Think of this combination of tools in terms of a radio receiver and transmitter. It is a two-step, two directional process: out and then in. Doing your morning pages, you are sending–notifying yourself and the universe of your dreams, dissatisfactions, hopes. Doing your artist date, you are receiving–opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance. p 18

3. The Contract

I probably find this a bit wanky but I get that it’s about making a commitment. It’s unlikely I’ll do it in writing as recommended, other than sharing my commitment to working through the book here.

From memory Cameron asks us to get in touch with the child within… to remind ourselves what once made us happy. What we once enjoyed. She talks about our left and right brains, as our logical and creative / artist brains and offers exercises to help us better utilise the latter.

Her theories very much rely on us engaging with the ‘Great Creator’ to discover / recover our creative powers. As an agnostic I struggle with the concept of God and anyone – even gently – shoving religion down my throat (a problem I had with Cameron’s book, The Writing Diet). However she encourages readers to consider this ‘good orderly direction or flow’ in any way we prefer: as a source / higher power / spiritual energy / Fred. (Okay, that last one *may* have been my own suggestion.)

As I said, my eyes glaze over at this point but Cameron reminds us, “Do not allow semantics to become one more block for you.” And suggests, “There seems to be no need to name it unless that name is a useful shorthand for what you experience.”

So… Great Creators (or Fred) aside, I’m excited at the prospect of working through this book. Post seachange a significant proportion of my time and life can (now) be allocated to creative pursuits…. and yet I often still feel stifled.

For The Artist’s Way virgins, I cannot understate how many people credit this book with changing their life in some way. I’m not usually one to mindlessly follow the masses but it seems there’s most definitely something magical about what this book offers. And this time I’m seeing it through to the end.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron was re-published in Australia by Pan Macmillan and is now available.


  • sarahjbowen1983
    November 12, 2016

    Sounds like an interesting book, might have to get me a copy!

    • Debbish
      November 12, 2016

      Oh yes… I’ve started working through it again!

  • Trish Hannon (@TrishHannon)
    November 12, 2016

    I’ve ordered a copy! Sounds like an interesting experiment.

    • Debbish
      November 13, 2016

      Oh great Trish! I hope you enjoy it and look forward to hearing what you think!

  • kimbacaffeinate
    November 13, 2016

    When I was in high school in a writing class, we were forced to write without thinking three pages each night, and I was amazed that once my mind relaxed the things that poured from me.

    • Debbish
      November 13, 2016

      I haven’t gotten to that point yet Kimberly but am venting a lot or writing about things that worry me. I know the art of journaling helps so that’s a good thing!

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