Working through The Artist’s Way, a book by Julia Cameron about unblocking our creative energies, has been quite a journey for me.
The book is dense with self-help concepts, advice, and hours upon hours of journaling exercises.
And that’s not even to mention the arduous activity the book is perhaps best well known for, The Morning Pages, a daily activity of writing three pages first thing in the morning, every morning.
Since I just finished Week 9, I’m only writing about a couple of things in Week 9’s material and exercises.
Week 9 introduces the concept of a “Creative U-Turn,” which Cameron loosely defines as a sort of self-sabotage that we may engage in when we are feeling scared of actually attempting or finishing a project that means a great deal to us. It is also a behavior that keeps us stuck just for the sake of being stuck. She says:
“Those of us addicted to sympathy in the place of creativity can become increasingly threatened as we become increasingly functional. Many recovering artists become so threatened that they make U-turns and sabotage themselves.
We usually commit creative hara-kiri either on the eve of or in the wake of a first creative victory. The glare of success … can send the recovering artist scurrying back into the cave of self-defeat.”Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
Cameron says that artists who are blocked may reap some benefits from that blockage: in complaining to others, they get sympathy; in being hopelessly “blocked,” they get a free ticket to fantasize about how great they could be “if only;” in being unhappy, they may get taken care of by others.
In the medical world, these are called secondary gains. A secondary gain is essentially a positive advantage of an otherwise negative condition or illness. For example, a secondary gain to being temporarily disabled from work is not having to go to work. This can create a psychological push and pull between wanting to get well and wanting to hold onto any secondary gains. In practice, even when a person is not consciously aware of this psychodrama, it can make it harder to recover from the illness, injury, or condition.
For myself I think the big secondary gain of not making my art is not having to make “bad” art (I’m putting “bad” in quotation marks because there is art that is bad because it didn’t turn out how we wanted it to, but because art is subjective, sometimes bad just means art that someone somewhere finds fault with, regardless of its overall quality). It’s being able to imagine all the great art I want to make, without the pain of having to attempt to make it and being faced with it not turning out as well as I’d hoped.
Hand in hand with this is the fear of making the bad art. Fear of imagined criticism and ridicule. Fear of disappointment. Fear that you’ll never be able to make what’s in your head.
Julia Cameron says this about fear and U-Turns:
Have compassion. Creative U-Turns are always born from fear- fear of success or fear of failure. It doesn’t really matter which. The net result is the same.Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
Creative U-Turn Exercises
Though there are a lot of exercises in this chapter, I’ll write a little bit about one of them only.
Cameron invites us to write down a list of our own Creative U-Turns. Especially any that just kill us to think about.
One that comes to my mind is a project I started in sixth grade making comic strips about an imaginary character I liked to fool around with named Bob the alien.
I remember making a few comic strips, painstakingly coming up with the ideas, writing the jokes, sketching, inking, and coloring with Prismacolor pencils.
At the height of my zeal made a little book with a cover and full page fake advertisements inside. I was so proud of that book.
And then I lost it.
My current theory is my teacher took it, but I honestly have no idea.
I was so devastated I never drew another Bob comic until I was in my 30’s.
Cameron encourages us to forgive ourselves for these U-turns.
Cameron suggests creating affirmations to help us in the future when we come up against future impending U-Turns.
I wrote some out and then put them into a graphic for myself (feel free to use these if you feel like they’re helpful for you).
- “I am learning to be braver every day”
- “I have a lot of creative potential”
- “I want to see it through for ME”
- “It’s never too late to work on a project that still inspires me”
- “The only person I need to impress or please is my inner artist”
Next Cameron advises to choose an “artist totem.” She says it might be a doll or toy or figurine, something physical that you can place somewhere you will see it. She says “The point is to choose something you immediately feel a protective fondness toward.”
Then every time you see that artist totem, you will remember not to beat up on yourself.
I happened to already have a few toys sitting on my desk, so I looked at them to see if any would be suitable to the task.
I immediately chose this little Gudetama squishy guy (Gudetama is a lazy egg character from Sanrio).
I chose it because his little face is so pathetic that I can’t help but think that this is a little guy that needs protecting!
Into Next Week
So into next week I’ll be looking at my affirmations, which I’ve printed out and taped to my desk, and my little Gudetama artist totem.
And onto week ten!
(This week’s blog was something a little different – did you enjoy it? Let me know if so)