Overall, I was severely disappointed with “The Artist’s Way.” I was expecting it to be a practical book, I suppose – a myth that was quickly dispelled by the subtitle, “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.”
There are several inherent problems with the book. First, Julia Cameron does not seem to know how she wants to talk about creativity. It is either a mystical force she can’t quite explain, or something you can work at building like a muscle, or a mental process that can be honed with discipline. Her confused approach to the concept makes the book contradict itself in several places.
I should say, out of the gate, for me, as a (now) professional writer, dramaturg, director, and sometime-actor, creativity is a process.
As of early August, I write for a living, but what I write is on topics that I don’t have full control over. These are not topics I would choose for myself if I could freelance write about anything I wanted, but such has been the tale of writers throughout the ages. However, I do have some leeway about how I approach the topics, which is where creativity comes in. There are days when I have a very hard time finding something worth writing about (those are days I spend doing research into social media or SEO optimization or something else related to the job), and then there are days when an article about bike helmets, for example, sends me into a research tizzy and I end up with 1,000+ words that I then have to pare down into an informative but easily-digestible blog entry. Some days, I can write a mere 300 words, but I manage to get 7 blog entries out. What stymies me in this particular job is not that I’m having a bad day creatively, but that there’s not enough research for topical articles relevant to the position.
As a theatre artist, creativity is a little different. I’ve been very lucky as a director and have either had the leeway to choose plays in a season that I was interested in, or I have been approached with material that sparks my interest. That said, I’ve definitely had to creatively rein in my ideas based on actors available, designers’ and techies’ capabilities, and budget constraints. As a dramaturg, I’ve worked on several shows that I would not have chosen for myself, but that I have managed to find interest in through researching the history. This process has made me love plays I would not otherwise have appreciated. Creative writing is the hardest for me, partly because I’m a verbose person on the page, and partly because, when I come up with a story, it is a flash of imagery, an emotion, a character or two, and the rest needs to be fleshed out. Creative writing is a much slower process, and one that I admittedly do not practice as much as I feel like I should.
It is the challenges to all these artforms, however, that make me feel creative. Creativity is the process of finding a solution to a problem, in other words. When you dream up seasteading on Jupiter’s moon Europa, what is the best way to execute this world? What are the characters like, and why would anyone want to homestead anyway? What the hell is homesteading?
These questions, to me, are fun. The idea was certainly creative, but it is a culmination of ideas that have been swimming around in my head for awhile. Creativity continues when I begin the process of research and writing that makes this concept a reality.
So that’s the approach I take toward art in general. Over the years, I’ve stopped viewing art and creativity as these loose forces out there somewhere that I may or may not be able to harness with enough time and patience and training, and started seeing art and creativity the same way I see any job. There are steps to take, and time that must be set aside, and, as much as it can be very rewarding, it is not always fun. Sometimes you have to write when you least want to. Sometimes you have to go in rehearsal and be a strong leader even though you dread the melodrama created by two cast members who are butting heads. You just freaking do it.
Julia Cameron takes that approach in very small ways, but she misses the boat and contradicts herself and promotes terrible habits and victimizing ways of thinking that are not conducive to a lifetime of professional artistry. Ultimately what I plan to do with the book “The Artist’s Way” is, chapter by chapter, quote her and discuss what I think is going on and whether it may or may not be sound advice, and offer some advice of my own. For this installment, I’m going to focus on the introduction and short chapter leading up to the First Week.
I will probably get a little opinionated. That’s part of why I’m an artist – I have a point of view to communicate to the world.