29 Nov What I learned from Julia Cameron
I don't remember how I found it, but in 2002 I picked up a copy of The Artist's Way. As I followed the lessons in the book I got inspired to do professional acting training, go freelance as a journalist and pursue a childhood dream of being a songwriter. In short, the book helped me to live a creative life - something I've been doing ever since. And last weekend I got to meet the author, Julia Cameron.
1: Morning pages really ARE the bedrock of a creative life
In short, morning pages are three pages of longhand writing first thing in the morning. The idea is to just get all the gunk, and all the niggling thoughts out, and living, and breathing on the page. This way they can stop sucking the oxygen out of your creativity. And by giving them this life, your own thoughts help to nudge you towards action. As Julia says: “The morning pages train you to take risks, and they dare you to take risks.”
I’ve been doing morning pages, evening pages and afternoon pages on and off for nearly 15 years. I love having a place that is just for me where I can express myself. Julia described the pages as being like taking a whisk broom, and sweeping away your voice-over. We all have one. And if you’ve ever tried conventional meditation, you’ll perceive it as clouds of thoughts every time you try to quieten your mind. With morning pages, you don’t ignore the thoughts. The act of writing them down helps you act on them. Or as Julia says, it makes you think: “I sure the f*ck better do something about that!”
2: Creative careers are built brick by brick
Time sweet time, if only we had more of it. But I loved Julia’s take on what she calls the “time lie”. In fact, we don’t need much time to write. “Novels are written a sentence at a time. Time can be grabbed. You might not have much time to write, but you can grab a sentence, or a paragraph, and over time that becomes a book. It’s necessary to set the bar low.”
3: Self-talk matters
Throughout the weekend, we did various exercises to get on the page exactly what we thought about writers, about us as writers and about ourselves in general. Crucially, we shared these with strangers in clusters of three – changing up the clusters after each exercise. Then, after everyone had shared we gave each other a piece of ‘popcorn’, positive feedback written on a piece of paper. What we think and feel about ourselves and matters and sometimes we need strangers to remind us of the good stuff. One of my pieces of popcorn read: ‘Greta, no matter how cold Oslo is, you are one of the warmest people I have met here – hot stuff for the soul!’
4: Being YOU is a potent power
Julia Cameron is an award-winning poet, playwright, and filmmaker, who has written thirty books. The Artist’s Way alone has sold over 4 million copies worldwide. But with everything she did and said, I could sense that she was being resolutely herself. She laughed, made jokes and sometimes dropped the ‘F’ bomb, but in such a sweet and authentic way. Sometimes we sang songs together, and she told us stories that stripped bare any romantic notions of who writers are. For instance, she cautioned us that sometimes “you just have to write from bad motives”. That, in fact, The Artist’s Way began because a man she was dating was blocked and she offered to teach him how to unblock. It was less a case of ‘how can I heal the world through creativity?’ and more a case of ‘what does the bastard need to know this week?’
5: Popcorn is delightful
Ah, yes it is. See point three (above). My advice is to give popcorn freely to yourself and others, as much as possible. After one of the exercises, the popcorn we had to give others was a gift. One person ‘gave’ me a holiday home in London and a beautiful red coat. Yes, these gifts were imaginary. But just thinking of nice things makes you feel good. We artists are often stingy with ourselves. This generosity of thought can lead to a generosity of action, that has nothing to do with money.
6: Humour heals
There was a lot of laughter throughout the weekend. And my take-away? Julia is funny, fresh and has a great sense of humour. I think to make it so far and swim through all the stuff of life, you need your funny bones to be intact.
7: Keep it real, and keep writing
If you’re into personal development and spirituality, you can write down a path that takes you further from the ‘man in the street’. Keeping it real is key, in whatever way is authentic to you. Doing morning pages, and living an artist’s life can make you fall in love with yourself and attract great things in your life. But keep your two feet on the ground and your hands on the page. Be willing to write badly, and write when you’re not in the mood. And crucially, be willing to say the things you’re afraid to say.