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The Artist’s Way – Week 5: Recovering a Sense of Possibility

This Week, The Artist’s Way Cautions to be Careful What You Wish for Because You Just Might Get It

Cameron talks a lot about God in this book, about a higher power who is on your side and wants you to achieve your goals. I have tried to ignore this until now, glossing over any mention of God or the idea of a benevolent universe that is prepared to work in my favour.

As a lapsed Catholic, the notion of God or even a higher power has negative connotations. I think more of a force that is there to keep me in line and punish me for any transgressions. I cannot envision a God that has an interest in what I want, or in making my creative dreams come true. The God I grew up with demanded conformity and service, sacrifice and submission. The God I grew up with was not there to help me on my journey to creative self-fulfilment. He was there to be worshiped and obeyed. My personal fulfillment or anyone else’s did not come into it at all, except where it coincided with service to God.

At their funerals, the elder women in my family have been praised for their self-sacrifice, of always putting others before themselves. This is regarded as the highest level of achievement for Catholic women; to become as great a martyr as Christ Himself. To want things for yourself, things that have nothing to do with the service of others, would be considered selfish in the extreme and not worthy of God’s blessing.

Growing up, I was often told that my dream to be a writer was highfalutin and ridiculous. And so, I watered down my ambition to write novels to the more practical one of being a journalist. At least I could still make a living from writing. But even this was too much to hope for. I was told that journalism was such a competitive field that it was not even worth bothering. And so I didn’t. On leaving school, I took the first job that came along, and thought myself lucky to get it.

Shamed out of my writing dreams, I put them aside. Being a writer was not for me. Being a writer was for other people. There were only a select few that were chosen for this vocation and I wasn’t one of them.

This week, The Artist’s Way offers an exercise where you write down a series of wishes. As with the free writing of the morning pages, you must write the wishes down automatically. You cannot put too much thought or censorship into this exercise, you simply write what you feel. The last wish you must write down is for the wish you most especially want to come true. I wrote down that I wanted to make a living from my writing.

Over the past few months, I have been keeping a journal of my experiences during the COVID lockdown, which I sent to a small press. I was pleasantly surprised when they emailed back and said they would like to include several of my stories in their anthology.

While I was over the moon by this validation of my work, I could barely trust myself to believe it. I thought that the publisher would change their mind and decide not to make the book. I thought that they would find better stories from other writers and decide to leave mine out. I thought that they would go broke and the bailiff would come and take all their furniture.

For my artist’s date, I went to my favourite coffee shop. For the first time since the lockdown started, I sat down at their little wooden table and the friendly staff bought me a latte with a love heart on the top.

As I scrolled through my emails, I found one from the publisher. It congratulated me on having five of my stories included in their anthology and confirmed that the book would be available in June 2020.

I smiled, sipped my coffee and thanked my higher power.

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Artist's Way, 11 comments

The Artist’s Way – Week 4: Recovering a Sense of Integrity

This Week is the Catalyst for Subtle and Seismic Changes 

Week 4 is the week where a lot of people stop doing their morning pages. Cameron says that the uncomfortable feelings that can emerge at this stage of the course often have people running for cover. As our free writing brings our true feelings to the surface, we can no longer ignore what we have been hiding from both ourselves and others.

Perhaps we have been plodding along in a job that does not fulfill us or putting up with aspects of our relationships with others that compromise us too far. Perhaps we have been telling ourselves that it’s all ok, that we can put up with it to keep the peace and to keep the money coming in. But the morning pages tell us that it’s not ok to accept conditions that are detrimental to our physical and mental wellbeing and they challenge us to do something about it.

The consequence of not listening to our truth and pushing ourselves beyond our limits may result in a breakdown in our physical or mental health. Cameron describes this breakdown as a “spiritual emergency,” which stops us in our tracks and prevents us from going further.

I have had the experience of working in places that were so toxic, people were always physically ill. Long hours, lack of recognition and a culture of bullying, led to high rates of absenteeism, or worse, presenteeism. Afraid of losing their jobs, my colleagues would turn up to work coughing and sneezing and spreading their germs to everyone else. These red flags should have been a wake-up call to both management and employees alike. However, management ignored what was right in front of them, insinuating that employees were malingering and expecting the walking wounded to solider on.  This situation carried on for several months, until finally, there was a mass exodus of staff who left the company to go and work for the opposition.

In the same way, we ignore the signals from our minds and bodies at our own peril. If we do not listen to ourselves, if we continue to push ourselves beyond our spiritual and physical limits, we will suffer a major mutiny in the form of a physical or mental breakdown.

We need to honour the call to action we are sending out to ourselves, and Cameron says that the best way to do that is to direct these feelings into our creative work. We can take our feelings of unhappiness, betrayal and anger and we can turn them into something beautiful.

We can create a work of art.

Writing has always been a great release for me. When I am upset and confused, I have always confided my feelings in the page. I write down the things that are concerning me and try to make sense of them; to corral the disarray into a shape that pleases me.

Another thing I have noticed over the past couple of weeks is that I have been doing a miniature stocktake. I have been putting aside clothes I no longer wear, cleaning out my desk drawer while I listen to podcasts and throwing out pantry items that have past their use by date. Indeed, Cameron says that many aspects of our lives will “stop fitting” and that we will begin to clear them away to make room for the better changes to come.

The biggest challenge I have in Week 4 has been the reading deprivation. As a writer, I know how important reading is to develop my craft, but this week, Cameron says you need to keep yourself empty from the input of others to allow output from yourself. Rather than fill yourself up with “junk food for the soul” in the form of TV, newspapers and social media, Cameron encourages you to tune into your environment, and to get up and do things, like rearrange the furniture or dance around the room.

While I didn’t follow the reading deprivation challenge to the letter, I certainly cut back on consumption of other people’s input and concentrated on my own work. I had to rearrange my schedule and reassess my deadlines and responded only to emails that required my immediate attention.

As I cleared my reading slate for the week, I was forced to confront a task I had been putting off for some time: querying my novel. Sending my novel to a traditional publisher has always been the endgame for me.  But having arrived at my self-appointed milestone, I sit at my computer with a sickening feeling of dread. I know that rejection is part of the game and that publishing is a business, not an art and that I can’t be everybody’s cup of tea but all the same, I feel like I’m leaving my baby with a sitter for the first time.

And so, with as much courage as I could summon, I polished up my query letter and prepared my list of prospective agents and publishers. I concentrated on this task to the exclusion of all others, and by the end of the week, I had sent out my first batch of queries.

For my artist’s date, I cashed in the gift voucher I had been saving since Christmas and bought a new quilt cover. It’s midnight blue and velvety and adorned with bright tropical flowers.

I bought it home, washed it gently in fragrant eucalyptus soap and hung it in the sunshine to dry. Then I went to my bedroom and removed the yellowing, faded doona cover that has been on my bed for the past twenty years.

It simply would not do anymore.

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Artist's Way, 2 comments

The Artist’s Way – Week 3: Recovering a Sense of Power

The Unlikely Combination of Anger and Synchronicity Made This a Week of Empowerment.

Anger and synchronicity have been at the forefront of my journey this week in The Artist’s Way. They may seem like an odd combination, but you would be surprised how well they compliment one another.

Anger is often regarded as a negative emotion, one which arises as a lack of self-control. At its worst, anger is destructive and violent but at its best, anger is a force for self-preservation. Anger tells us when we have been wronged, when the boundaries that protect us have been crossed. Arousing physical symptoms that are impossible to ignore, anger challenges us to right the wrong that has been done to us.

Anger, Cameron tells us, is an invitation.

I have had an idea for some time about a project I would like to pursue involving a difficult incident in my life. I have put this project on the backburner because of the unpleasant feelings it aroused. Rather than face up to these feelings, I chose to tamp them down and as a result, they turned into guilt and ennui.

To avoid the discomfort that anger would bring, I told myself that my feelings didn’t matter, that I would upset too many people and that there would be possible legal ramifications if I proceeded with my project. This cop-out seemed an easier option than facing up to my feelings and speaking out.

Earlier in the book, Cameron says that it’s the artist’s job to shine a light on the dark corners that people would rather not see. Artists produce work that holds a mirror up to society, and it’s not always a pretty sight.

This week, I re-examined the project I wanted to undertake. I thought about what happened and allowed myself to see the incident for what it was, and to feel all the uncomfortable feelings of shame, betrayal and anger. Acknowledging my feelings rather than minimising them spurred me into action and I sought legal advice. It turns out that with a few small changes, there are no real concerns about my project from a legal standpoint.

That knowledge was empowering and has given me the courage to prepare for any negative reactions that may come my way. I realise that my project may be upsetting for some people, but us artists are not responsible for making everybody happy.

Cameron says that once we begin taking action to achieve our goals, the universe steps in and presents us with opportunities to help us on our way. These opportunities may seem like co-incidence but are a result of the domino like effect our action sets in motion.

This week, I had a couple of serendipitous occurrences, happy accidents I stumbled on as I progressed towards my goal of finding a home for my novel. I am new to querying, and not knowing where to find a small publisher that would be suitable for my novel, I decided to reach out to one of my Facebook writer’s groups for recommendations.

As soon as I went to the page, I found a post at the very top from a small press looking for submissions! Was it just co-incidence I found what I was looking for straight away, or did the universe put that post there on my behalf?

Similarly, I discovered an agent I want to query represents a writer I know. I asked her for advice on how best to approach the agent and she gave me some helpful tips and even offered to read my query letter.

I’m not convinced that the universe could care less whether or not I publish my novel, but this week I felt as though things were going my way. The anger that I started with earlier in the week galvanised me into action and from that action, I received help, advice and support.

Identifying what I wanted to achieve was the first important step I took this week followed by asking for help and acting on the good advice I was given given. At the end of Week 3, l feel confident is saying that I have recovered a sense of power.

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Artist's Way, 2 comments

The Artist’s Way: Week 2

The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self

The Artist’s Way is a 12-week program designed by writer/director, Julia Cameron, to help develop creativity. The program is for creatives of all types, and has weekly exercises based on free writing, affirmations and regular excursions. Come with me as I take this 12-week course and see what I discover along the way.

Week 2: Recovering a Sense of Identity

With my new routine now established, I sit down at my dining room table every day to do the morning pages. They no longer feel like an imposition on my time, but a necessary kick start to my day, just like my morning coffee.

For some reason, I prefer this space I share with my family, to the privacy of my desk in the spare room. If anyone’s up and about, they’ll stop to have a chat, turn on the TV or generally go about their day. Usually, I would find this background noise distracting while I write, but with the morning pages it’s different. I need the stimulation they provide to give me ideas.

Cameron often stress the importance of paying attention to what’s going on around us in order to fill up the creative well and stimulate our imagination. We must learn to balance our outside experience with the times when we sit down to write, and that’s where the morning pages come in.

This week, an idea literally came to me in my sleep and the next day when I sat down to do my morning pages it wouldn’t leave me alone. Rather than fight it off and save it till after I had finished my morning pages, I incorporated my story idea into my free writing and then developed it over then next few days.

When this story was complete, I shared this it with a few trusted friends and received some honest and helpful feedback. It is very important who you decide to take on your creative journey with you and Cameron cautions against “poisonous playmates.” Just as we would steer our children away from others we would consider a bad influence, so too, we must avoid those who we know would undermine our creative efforts. There are exercises in the book that help clarify who you should and should not allow into your creative circle.

Just as we must be selective in the company we keep, so too, we must be selective in the use of our time. Cameron dispels the myth that an artistic life requires “great swathes of aimlessness,” but argues that artist need to be extremely focused. We must pay attention to our surroundings and be present in the moment, so that we have plenty of supply when we go back to produce our art. The exercise on mapping out how I used my time each day was vey telling and has help we avoid some of the pitfalls of wasting this precious resource.

For my artist date, I went to the bookshop and browsed the mystical section. I bought a small pack of tarot cards for a nominal amount of money. I have always had an interest in tarot readings and put it on my list of 20 Things I Enjoy Doing, and l wrote next to it the last time I had a tarot reading. It was over thirty years ago. I took the cards home and spent time reading the instructions and learning how to set up and interpret the cards. It was a fun little exercise, that as an ex-Catholic, felt a little bit daring.

Setting up and reading the cards allowed me a little sliver of time, just for myself. It was a time of introspection, focus and fun. It is these little chunks of time out of your usual routine that allow you to nourish your inner artist and give you some breathing space from the usual obligations of life.

This week felt a little gentler than the one before, and I was less resistant to the morning pages, the affirmations and the exercises. I did not feel guilty for taking time out for myself or feel silly about taking care of my artist.

As I gear up for week three in The Artist’s Way, I now feel safe in claiming my identity as an artist.

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Artist's Way, 0 comments

The Artist’s Way: My 12-Week Journey

The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self

The Artist’s Way is a 12-week program based on the book of the same name, by Julia Cameron. The program is designed to enhance creativity, with weekly exercises based on free writing, affirmations and regular excursions. Come with me as I take this 12-week course and see what I discover along the way.

Week 1 – Recovering a Sense of Safety

The first thing I heard about this program were the morning pages, which are one of the “bedrocks” of this course.  The morning pages require you to complete three pages of free writing at the start of every day. You write whatever comes into your head, without censure, you can even write that you don’t know what to write. These pages are for your eyes only, and not even that. The Artist’s Way tells you not to edit and not to look back. And I don’t. The idea is to focus on the process and not the end result.

At first, I thought these pages were a waste of time. I already have an established writing routine, so why waste time writing drivel when I should be getting on with my next novel? But morning pages work in mysterious ways. Combined with writing lines of affirmations, I find a new strength in my writing voice. I have started writing about topics I would usually shy away from and things that other people might not like.

I shared some of these writings with others and I was blown away by their response. They remarked on the tone, urgency and pace of my work and said that I had really found my voice.

And that’s what the program does.

It helps free you from the inhibitions that hold you back; the fear of rejection and the desire to please. It’s ironic, but in trying to please our readers, we are actually short-changing them. We produce work that is disingenuous and wishy-washy, half-arsed and craven. It takes courage to write about what really matters to you, and The Artist’s Way is certainly making me feel braver.

Affirmations are the second part of the morning pages routine. Cameron offers a selection to choose from, and in Week 1, you write ten lines of your chosen affirmation every day.

Writing ten lines of “I, Naomi, am a talented and prolific writer” felt silly at first. I imagined my grandma telling me that self-praise is no recommendation and my mother screwing up her face in disgust. I pictured my cousins giggling and my kindly aunt patting me on the hand and saying, “Of course you are, dear.”

These objections to our affirmations are what Cameron calls “blurts.” Blurts are the negative little voices that pop up when you write your affirmations. Cameron tells us to reverse every blurt we get. If a blurt tells you that you can’t write to save yourself, you simply respond with, “I am a good writer.” Cameron says that our blurts “hold us in bondage” and “must be dissolved.” And it’s amazing how easily dissolved they are. As I continue with my daily affirmations, grandma, my cousins, my aunt and my mum all fade into nonexistence.

The other bedrock of The Artist’s Way program is the artist’s date. The idea is that every week, you take yourself on a little excursion to fill up the “creative well”. You don’t need to spend a lot of time or money. You just take yourself out of your usual routine to see and do something different, to stimulate your senses and kick start your imagination.

No one can come with you on this date, it’s just you and your artist. Your inner artist, that is. According to Cameron, there is a little artist that lives inside us. Like a child, this little artist must be encouraged and nurtured.

Another batty idea. But still, I play along.

Being in lockdown has some limitations, so I decide to use Cameron’s example of going out to buy cheap stationery at a thrift shop. I used this stationery for some of the exercises for this week, which included writing letters to myself about people who have variously encouraged or mocked my creative efforts. In thinking about these things, I am very happy to realise that the positive feedback I have received by far outweighed the negative.

With Week 1 complete, I have formed a daily habit of writing my morning pages and affirmations and of attending a weekly artist’s date. And as silly as the exercises felt in the beginning, I can feel them doing me some good. My inhibitions have loosened and I am writing more what I want to write, not what I think I should.

As the repetitive nature of the exercises becomes ingrained, I feel my writing muscles getting stronger.

As Mr. Miyagi says to his young apprentice in The Karate Kid, “Wax on, wax off.”

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Artist's Way, 4 comments