I’m taking a break from recipes today to talk about something important: intentional creative growth, namely my experience doing The Artist’s Way over the last few months.If you’ve never heard of The Artist’s Way, it’s a best-selling book and program by Julia Cameron that is intended to help adults re-capture their own creativity, and to assist people in creative careers to move past artist’s block. I am in recovery in other areas of my life (six years sober last week!), so when my friend, Angela, proposed that we start the year by doing The Artist’s Way, I figured it would be a way of applying that sort of care directly to my career and creative pursuits. You see, for me, baking and blogging are, first and foremost, artistic endeavors. I’ve always thought of myself as an artist of sorts—a creative type, at the very least—so this seemed “on brand” with the sort of life I want to live.
I had heard of The Artist’s Way before and been clued in when various mentors and acquaintances were starting up, but always passed on the opportunity. It seemed like a lot of non-essential work and there were meet-ups and I was intentionally creative everyday in my kitchen and on this blog and I love art (especially theatre and film) and…as you can tell I had about 47 reasons why I did not feel like I needed “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.”So, why did I agree when Angela suggested we do this? Well…I blame January and the “New Year, New Me” mentality that I love to hate. That, and feeling a little burnt out and blocked from two solid months of holiday baking. Creating content for this blog is one of the great joys of my life, but even doing the things you love can be exhausting. I needed to get back to basics and The Artist’s Way seemed like a good way to attempt that.
As with anything that I agree to do that is beyond the realm of absolutely essential, remorse quickly followed. I am a hardcore introvert, so being out doing anything social is exhausting, but this required homework too. Hard pass…or at least that was the plan. By the time I got the courage to bail, Angela and our friend, Arnab, had both acquired their books and notebooks and created a group text called “Art Squad,” so I gave in, bought my materials, and told myself I could quit anytime I wanted.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t quit! We didn’t quit!
How The Artist’s Way Works
First things first: you have to buy the book. The internet will try to convince you that you need a fancy journal too, but you don’t. Any notebook will do—just make sure the pages aren’t too large (you’ll see why later). This will be for your Morning Pages aka daily free-writing. I got a second notebook for tasks outlined at the end of each chapter, but feel free to skip that extra purchase if you’re not as particular as me.The basic format is that you will read a chapter a week for twelve weeks, complete as few or as many tasks as you are able, and then meet up with your fellow creatives to share your feelings and results. All the while, you will complete daily Morning Pages and weekly solo Artist Dates. It seems like a lot, but it comes down to about 15-30 minutes a day, with the exception of the day you read the chapter and the day you do the meet-up.
The Reading & Tasks
The Artist’s Way is organized so that each week is dedicated to unearthing and “recovering” a part of your artistic self. These include safety, identity, power, integrity, possibility, abundance, connection, strength, compassion, self-protection, autonomy, and faith. Each chapter runs about 8-20 pages and is followed by a list of ten or so tasks of varying intensity. Julia Cameron recommends that you begin your week by reading the chapter and then complete the tasks in the days leading up to your next meet-up. I, however, am simply not that organized and therefore did all my reading and tasks in a day, usually the day of the meet-up. This meant that some tasks were not completed on time (there’s a surprising amount of window-gardening, vintage shopping, and cleaning out of closets), but I found myself doing a lot of them of my own volition before the twelve weeks were up.Some of my favorite tasks were making simple lists of things that make me happy, remembering what I was like when I was 8/imagining what I will be like when I am 80 (hint: I want to be in Maine), and planning a solo road trip. It might be obvious, but a large part of artistic recovery is fundamentally reconnecting with yourself.
I felt like some of the tasks were corny. Like, I am not going to mail myself a letter; I don’t mail anybody letters. I *loathe* the post office. I was also very resistant to a worry box aka a “God Box” aka a vessel in which you put slips of paper with your worries written on them, but I have warmed to the idea. It’s nice to have a tangible way to “let go” of some anxieties. I went to my favorite antique store looking for a little box, but didn’t find anything I loved. Instead, I am using a vase that has sat empty on my bedside table for years. Now it has purpose.
These are simple enough: meet up once a week with others doing The Artist’s Way to discuss your progress as it pertains to the reading and tasks, Morning Pages, Artist Dates, and how you are exercising your creativity. You can, of course, do this alone, but it’s nice to have the support and accountability of a group.For the Art Squad, meet-ups were on a weeknight at one of our apartments so that we could include Lulu and Dottie, Arnab and Angela’s respective perfect dogs. The usual format was to spend an hour going through the list of tasks for that week, pointing out any insights we had on the chapter, and sharing our Artist Dates and the number of days we did our Morning Pages. We are all in different fields and have different artistic pursuits—Angela is an art director and Arnab is a photographer—so while we did The Artist’s Way as a group, our experiences were all different.
The most important thing about the meet-ups? They must be judgment-free zones. Personal information comes up as you work through The Artist’s Way and the meet-ups serve as a safe place for those feelings and insights. This is greatly helped by choosing to do this program with fellow artists who are also trusted friends.While it was a bit of a pain to fit an extra commitment into the week, the meet-ups didn’t take much time and they had the benefits of friends, dogs, and creative progress, so I can’t complain. We have discussed keeping these up on a monthly basis, but we shall see. Either way, we celebrated finishing Week 12 by sharing a slice of Butter & Scotch’s famous Birthday Cake. We all agree: it lives up to the hype.
Morning Pages are one of the pillars of The Artist’s Way. They were the part of this process that I was dreading the most because they are a daily requirement so, of course, they are the part that I value the most. The idea behind these is simple: write three full pages of whatever you want everyday, preferably first thing in the morning.For those of you who are not morning people 🙋♀️, you can write these any time of day. Julia Cameron recommends the morning simply because your brain is usually less cluttered by the outside world first thing after waking up, but I have benefited from writing Morning Pages at many times of day, including an hour before bed. The point is to write them, period. Inevitably, you will miss some days (I have missed three since I started on 1/13/2019), but forgive yourself and go back when you remember. It’s worth it.
I hated the uncertainty of Morning Pages at first—what would I write? I started out with what I had done the day before and my plans for the day to come. As I began to become more comfortable sitting down to three blank pages, my Morning Pages evolved. On blog-writing days, I’d spend the second page writing about whatever recipe I needed to post, and then followed it up by jumping into blogging. This practice frequently resulted in a faster writing process and a clearer, more concise blog. My current Morning Pages don’t have any sort of set “plan,” but I feel like they are still beneficial. If nothing else, they serve as a way of confronting my own anxiety, depression, and artist’s/baker’s/writer’s block, and as a place to put my ideas. There comes a point in the chapter tasks where you go back and read your pages—it’s amazing how many blog ideas I had written down without even noticing!Julia Cameron recommends addressing “blurts,” aka negative statements about yourself, as they come up in your daily writing. One that I noticed is that I write that I will “maybe” do things a lot. I have made an effort to write in more decisive statements because this is my life and my creative journey and I deserve to have decisive feelings about it all.
She also recommends using positive affirmations as part of your Morning Pages. I started with a couple that she recommends verbatim (“Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong” and “I have a genuine talent”), and have expanded the list to include eight more that are increasingly specific to me. I write them everyday in the last half-page of my Morning Pages. I should mention that I have always thought affirmations were a bit silly (and I still do), but I am open to them and taking a minute to write a list everyday certainly isn’t harmful.
A few tips for Morning Pages success:
• Remember how I said to keep the notebook small? It’s because the larger the page size, the longer writing your Morning Pages will take. I use relatively small notebooks, so my Morning Pages take about fifteen minutes.
• Speaking of time, write as fast as you can. Not only will this cut down on how long your Morning Pages take, but it will get out more of the things cluttering your mind. I’ve been listening to a lot of You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes lately and artists of all kinds say it in almost every episode: write as fast as you can and worry about perfecting it later. I do this with both my Morning Pages and my blogging and have mostly liked the results so far.
• Keep your notebook near your bed or desk or favorite chair—wherever you spend the most time. This way you can just grab it and write whenever the mood strikes.
This is probably the most fun part of The Artist’s Way. An Artist Date is a weekly excuse to take your inner artist out for an adventure. This can be anything from a long walk with a decaf cappuccino to taking a day trip upstate—anything that inspires and rejuvenates you spiritually and creatively. The only rule is that it should be a solo venture.One of my pre-The Artist’s Way goals for 2019 was to see more live performances, so that has played a major role in my Artist Dates. I have seen eight Broadway and Off-Broadway shows so far this year, and five of them were a direct result of The Artist’s Way giving me permission. For those of you thinking I am made of money, know that I am *very* not. I buy only the cheapest tickets and frequently sit last row-center, but I am thrilled to be in the room. I have seen more theatre this year than any other I’ve been in New York, and it’s only May!I also took myself to see Elton John on a whim—I bought shockingly cheap resale tickets the day of his last show at Madison Square Garden. I never would have done that without encouragement from this program, and I am so incredibly glad that I took the chance. I will never regret spending that money or having that experience.A slightly-less-pricey way I have incorporated Artist Dates? I have started watching the 2007 AFI Top 100 Movies with the Unspooled podcast and participating in the associated Facebook discussion. I went to film school and am a lifelong movie nerd, so I have already seen many of the films, but I am really enjoying watching some classics for the first time (Double Indemnity is a new favorite) and rewatching some that I haven’t seen in a while (I was blown away by my recent viewing of All the President’s Men).The last and probably most obvious way I do Artist Dates is by allowing myself to play in the kitchen. Baking just because I like to and I can, not because I need a new blog post or because someone wants a birthday cake. This practice has resulted in some of my favorite recipes so far this year: Neapolitan Cake and Chocolate Banana Bread!
I am so glad to have done The Artist’s Way. I’d be lying if I said I weren’t relieved to be done with the weekly reading and tasks, but I have kept up with the Morning Pages and Artist Dates so far. They’ve been so beneficial in keeping me inspired and disciplined when it comes to this blog and my other creative pursuits that I can’t imagine willingly parting with them.I also feel like the weekly meet-ups really helped to deepen friendships that I already valued. I knew Arnab and Angela before we began The Artist’s Way, but working (and complaining) through this together has been so much more important to me than I had imagined.Positive results of The Artist’s Way:
• Morning Pages have made me a better writer. By blogging immediately after writing my pages, I am already in a headspace to write about recipes. Where composing the body of a post used to take anywhere from 30 minutes to six hours, I now spend an hour or two writing initially and then edit a couple of times before posting.
• I go to bed earlier because I don’t stay up too late fighting writer’s block while trying to blog. Instead, my posts are usually complete at least twelve hours before they go live. This is very new to me, and I am really enjoying having more of my evenings back.
• Since I am going to bed earlier, I am waking up earlier and getting more done during the day.
• I am now running three to four blog posts ahead, whereas I used to run one to two ahead. This has allowed me time to say yes to more social engagements, opportunities, and theatre tickets that I might have declined a few months ago in the name of last-minute blogging.
• Playing in the kitchen has reminded me why I love to bake and has lead to more inspired content. I have so many great recipes coming over the next few months, and they may never have existed if I hadn’t taken this time to nurture my own creativity.
• I really love the quality of the recipes, photos, and content I have created since January. In the last month, my work has been featured by four brands on social media and I am gaining new readers all the time (hi new readers 👋💗). I am proud of the direction this blog is going.
• I have taken more pride in self-care. My meals are more nutritious and my weekends are more restful, even when they are full of plans. I do things with intention instead of doing them because I have to, and that has made a huge difference.
• I have fallen in love with film and theatre again. While I don’t necessarily see my creative dreams going in those directions at this moment, I’m loving the inspiration I’ve gotten from my Artist Dates.
• I cleaned out my closet and donated five huge bags of clothing. For a while, I had been feeling like I had too many clothes and nothing to wear. Now I have fewer clothes, but I like all of them. Never underestimate the power of feeling cute everyday.
• I’m braver and more confident. I am more likely to do things alone than not do them at all.Negative results of The Artist’s Way:
• I have become attached and am going to have to make more distinct plans to see Lulu and Dottie every week…?So, yes, The Artist’s Way gets two thumbs up from this baker/blogger/recipe developer! If you are looking for a way to access your own creativity, I can’t recommend this method enough. I look forward to doing it again in the not-so-distant future and seeing how much further I can go as a self-avowed artist…er, creative type.
Have you ever done The Artist’s Way? Did you like your results? Let me know in the comments!