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The Artist Way or the Highway: my self-help book recommendation for creatives

Updated: Jan 15

In January, I am offering Self-Help Book Recommendations, because sometimes the best advice comes from a book.

A pink planner with a hand lettered quote from The Artist Way

Often when I see beginning writers gathered to ask advice from more experienced writers, someone inevitably asks for a recommendation for something to read to prepare them for becoming a writer. Often they want craft books, but experienced writers will always hedge and tell them, “Just read everything you can get your hands on!”


This is possibly because there is no perfect craft book to prepare anyone for being a writer. 


However, one book that popped up on lists of books for writers over and over again was Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Now, The Artist Way comes down from my bookshelf twice a year. I reach for it whenever I feel as if I am in a rut. 


A hand-lettered quote from The Artist Way.

The book is constructed like a 12-step program, and with each of those steps, Cameron provides guidance and exercises in order to kindle or rekindle a creative flame. 

She doesn’t use a tough love self-help approach. Instead she affirms over and over again that the reader will be faced with a series of challenges and they can overcome them. It’s a path that starts with enthusiasm, then doubt, then eventual acceptance. 


The primary things I find helpful from this book whenever I grab it are:

  1. The artist date. According to Cameron, in order to rekindle my fire, I must take the time to allow myself to feel creative in order to be creative. My favorite artist date is to go to a bookstore or the library and touch all the books. I need that time to see the books in their natural habitat. I will just go through and touch the spines. Sometimes I don’t even need to buy one - but I often will- I just need to see them, silently waiting for someone to pick them up. And as everyone knows, the library is like book shopping except it’s all free. 

  2. The Creativity Commandments. The ability to spare the time to write is an incredible privilege, one that I do not always feel deserving of. In fact, I feel quite selfish that I sit down to write a story instead of using that energy to other endeavors, noble endeavors. But the creative commandments remind me that it’s okay that my passion is writing because people need things to read. Sometimes I will start my morning pages by writing down one of the Creativity Commandments that speaks to me most that day.

  3. The Morning Pages. Cameron suggests that first thing in the morning, it’s a great idea for creatives to take the time to freewrite for three pages. The reason is because after you wake, there is still a connection to your dreamspace. By writing down what pops into your head first thing in the morning you’d be amazed why type of ideas you will develop. Freewriting is a way to clear out the junk, like cleaning out a cabinet, and look at all this space now available for new thought, new innovation, and new ideas. 


The primary criticism of this book is how it is rooted in spirituality and it’s structured like a 12-step program. Sometimes writers want something agnostic and prescriptive. However, the spirituality and the structure were assets for me. I like how I could read a chapter a week and spend the time in between working on the exercises. This is actually a book I take in the order that is assigned. 


My only complaint is how it is shaped like a workbook. It’s an odd square shape with lots of room for completing the exercises in the book. I don’t like writing in my books – I used a cheap notebook when I worked through my exercises. 


If your New Year’s Resolution is to be more creative – then definitely take the time to work your way through this book. I think the tasks assigned as so beneficial that I offer some of them as extra credit challenges for my creative writing students. 


Also, if writing is your New Year’s Resolution and you are thinking about getting that novel of your dreams off the ground, please join me this month at Bookmiser where I am going to be hosting an “organizing your novel” workshop! We will be discussing organizing your time, your space, your ideas, and materials. Go to this link for more information. 


Read Books. Wear Boots.

XOXO,

B.

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