The Artist’s Recovery
Excerpts from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
This is, perhaps, the final entry in my series about “How to Keep Doing It” as an artist.
Not all students become full-time artists as a result. In fact, many full-time artists report that they have become more creatively rounded into full-time people.
A decade of writing and all I knew was how to make these headlong dashes and hurl myself, against all odds, at the wall of whatever I was writing. I fell upon the thorns of prose. I bled. If I could have continued writing the old, painful way, I would certainly still be doing it.
In retrospect, I am astounded I could let go of the drama of being a suffering artist. Nothing dies harder than a bad idea.
There is no such thing as being done with an artistic life. Frustrations and rewards exist at all levels on the path.
I was living in Taos, New Mexico. I had gone there to sort myself out into what, I didn't know. For the third time in a row, I'd had a film scuttled due to studio politics. Such disasters are routine to screenwriters, but to me they felt like miscarriages. Cumulatively, they were disastrous. I wanted to give the movies up. Movies had broken my heart. I'd gone to New Mexico to mend my heart and see what else, if anything, I might want to do.
Boredom is just “What’s the use?” in disguise and “What’s the use?” is fear, and fear means you are secretly in despair.
Any extended period or piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well. The truth is that work can dry up because it is going so well.
In filling the well, thing magic. Think delight. Think fun. Do not think duty. Follow your sense of the mysterious: if I drive this road, not my usual road, what will I see?
Remember that in order to recover as an artist, you must be willing to be a bad artist. Give yourself permission to be a beginner.
The essential element in nurturing our creativity lies in nurturing ourselves.
In order to stay easily and happily creative, we need to stay spiritually centered. This is easier to do if we allow ourselves centering rituals.
Exercise teaches the rewards of process. It teaches the sense of satisfaction over small tasks well done.
As your recovery progresses, you will learn that it is actually easier to write than not write. You will discover the joy of practicing your creativity.
RULES OF THE ROAD
In order to be an artist, I must:
- Show up at the page.
- Remember that it is far harder and more painful to be a blocked artist than it is to do the work.
Anyone honest will tell you that possibility is far more frightening than impossibility, that freedom is far more terrifying than any prison.
Practice being kind to yourself in small, concrete ways.
Most of us harbor a secret belief that work has to be work and not play. This is not true.
It reminded me of the vulnerability of all artists, even very famous ones, to the shaming, “I should be working” side of themselves that discourages creative pleasures.
What gives us true joy? That is the question to ask.
Jealousy is always a mask for fear. The truth, revealed by action in the direction of our dreams, is that there is room for all of us.
Just like the career of any athlete, an artist's life will have its injuries. These go with the game. The trick is to survive them, to learn how to let yourself heal.
Simply, brutally ask: “How can this loss serve me? Where does it point my work?” The answers will surprise and liberate you.
I have learned that the key to career resiliency is self-empowerment and choice. Artists who take this to heart survive and often prevail.
“It’s such a long way,” we tell ourselves. It may be, but each day is just one more day with some motion in it, and that motion toward a goal is very enjoyable.
In a sense, no creative act is ever finished. You can't learn to act because there is always more to learn.
The grace to be a beginner is always the best prayer for an artist. The beginner's humility and openness lead to exploration. Exploration leads to accomplishment.
A creative life is grounded on many, many small steps and very, very few large leaps.
Most blocked creatives have an active addiction to anxiety. We prefer the low-grade pain and occasional heart-stopping panic attack to the drudgery of small and simple daily steps in the right direction.
Work begets work. Small actions lead us to the larger movements in our creative lives.
First of all, you must give yourself permission to begin small and go in baby steps.
Fear is what blocks an artist. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of not finishing. The fear of failure and of success. The fear of beginning at all. There is only one cure for fear. That cure is love.
As artists, grounding our self-image in military discipline is dangerous. In the short run, discipline may work, but it will work only for a while. Over any extended period of time, being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline. It is a spiritual commitment.
True, our artist may rise at dawn to greet the typewriter or easel in the morning stillness. But this event has more to do with a child's love of secret adventure than with ironclad discipline.
Remember that art is a process. The process is supposed to be fun.
A productive artist is quite often a happy person.
Fame is not the same as success, and in our true souls we know that. It is often a by-product of our artistic work, but like nuclear waste, it can be a very dangerous by-product. Fame, the desire to attain it, the desire to hold on to it, can produce the “How am I doing?” syndrome. This question is not “Is the work going well?” The point of the work is the work.
Focusing on fame on whether we are getting enough creates a continual feeling of lack. There is never enough of the fame drug.
What we are really scared of is that without fame we won't be loved as artists or as people.
Somebody, somebody you know, has gone further, faster, toward your dream. When we are ogling the accomplishments of others, we take our eye away from our own through line.
Showing up for the work is the win that matters.
The idea that money validates my credibility is very hard to shake. If money determines real art, then Gauguin was a charlatan.
As an artist, my self-respect comes from doing the work.
When we are not creating, artists are not always very normal or very nice to ourselves or to others.
We reach plateaus of creative attainment. Yes, we are successful. Yes, we have made it, but… just when we get there, there disappears. What are going to do… now?
As artists, we are asked to repeat ourselves and expand on the market we have built. Sometimes this is possible for us. Other times it's not.
Attempting to insure our finances by playing it safe, we lose our cutting edge. As success comes to us, we must be vigilant. Any success postulated on a permanent artistic plateau dooms us, and it, to failure.
“Can't I rest?” we wonder? In a word, the answer is no.
The choice is very simple: we can insist on resting on our laurels, or we can begin anew. The stringent requirement of a sustained creative life is the humility to start again, to begin anew. It is this willingness to once more be a beginner that distinguishes a creative career.