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Finding the Way Back to Creativity Through ‘The Artist’s Way’

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

By Dorian Martin, I Start Wondering Founder

A framed picture of my 7-year-old self sits on my desk. In that photo, my young eyes are sparkling; I’m alert and ready to explore new experiences.

Yet as I looked at this photo of mini-me earlier this year, I wondered what had become of her. I was feeling increasingly stale and uninspired, with the weight of inertia settling into my stomach.

Fortunately, Julia Cameron’s posts started popping up on Instagram. The self-described “teacher, author, artist, poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, pigeon fancier, composer, and journalist” is well known for inspiring creativity in others. Taking this as a hint, I decided to commit to the 12-week process detailed in her book, “The Artist’s Way.”

The book is known for teaching “techniques and exercises to assist people in gaining self-confidence in harnessing their creative talents and skills.” The exercises in the book helped me clear up some blocks and begin to break free from self-imposed limitations.

Thankful for these changes and the new doors that are opening for me as a result, I’ve invited two friends—Brenda Riojas (one of our I Start Wondering team members) and Sondra White—to join me in a discussion about our individual experiences with the book.

What this conversation offers is a rich examination of what The Artist Way is about—and what it can offer to women at midlife and beyond. Enjoy!

When and how did you find “The Artist's Way”?

Brenda: I found “The Artist Way” more than 20 years ago when I was feeding my creative spirit as a writer and a parent, and as a presenter on the topic of creativity.

Dorian: I had heard about “The Artist’s Way” from Brenda, but had never tackled it before, probably because I never liked having a strict routine. But after having committed multiple times to the 10-week process in “The Presence Process” by Michael Brown, I had a better understanding of the pacing and the benefits of committing myself to this type of effort. And then early this summer, something about “The Artist’s Way” just started calling to me.

Sondra: A good friend and colleague at work pitched the idea of a book club for “The Artist's Way.” She had read the book, been through the process, and wanted to share it. We met weekly (virtually) to discuss each chapter and our experiences related to the exercises that Cameron recommends.

Why did you decide to go through the process?

Sondra White at her creativity class for adults with disabilities
Sondra White at her creativity class for adults with disabilities

Sondra: I believe we are all creative and that we are all artists, regardless of our occupations or the labels that society puts on us. I've known since I was very young that I am in many respects an "artist" because I love to create and study art. Once I read through the first few pages and chapters, I quickly realized Cameron was speaking directly to me, giving me a process and permission to explore life and creativity the way I choose to do so, not according to the expectations of others.

Brenda: As a writer, I wanted to be more intentional about setting aside time to write.

Dorian: I was feeling creatively blocked and was starting to feel it physically in my body. I needed to find a way to get my creative energy moving again, and Cameron has a track record of helping people do so, like Liz Gilbert, who used Cameron’s process and had an end result of writing “Eat Pray Love.”

What was the hardest challenge for you?

Brenda: The morning routine. I am not a morning person, and at the time my children were in elementary school.

Sondra: Giving myself authentic permission for weekly Artist Dates and not conforming to any others' ideas for what an "artist date" should be.

Dorian: My challenge was identifying the Artist Dates because we were in the middle of an upswing in the number of COVID cases. Because of this, I decided to do things like stream a ballet or concert or try a unique recipe from a different cuisine that let me enjoy the specialness of an Artist Date without putting my health at risk.

How did The Artist Way prompt you to be more creative, especially in your current stage of life?

Brenda Riojas showing her watercolor sketchbook
Brenda Riojas showing her watercolor sketchbook

Sondra: The process gave me permission to take the time to explore different creative ideas. Although I don't know for sure if this book is responsible for all this creative energy, since reading it I have started painting rocks, doing paint-by-numbers, completing small acrylic painting projects, journaling a lot more, and participating in other creative activities. I also know for certain that I approach problem-solving at work differently after reading this book and others. I have also finally started a creativity class for adults with intellectual disabilities, something I have wanted to do for years. Cameron's book inspired me to pursue that dream and resist excuses!

Brenda: “The Artist Way” inspired me to embrace my creative spirit more fully. It reminded me to be more intentional, nurture my creativity, and see the whole of my life as a creative endeavor. Creativity is not something you reserve for a specific project. It involves all of the day-to-day choices.

Dorian: Going through “The Artist’s Way” process helped me remove the blocks to creativity that I had placed in my thoughts, and increasingly, in my body. It helped me begin to get the energy to be creative in various parts of my life—I rearranged the shelves in my dining room, finally cleaned out and reorganized my linen closet, and started completing some creative projects that had been on hold for a while. And it’s helping me brainstorm in other areas, from how to move I Start Wondering forward to helping Sondra with her creativity class for young adults with disabilities. Ultimately, this investment of time and energy into my own well-being got my creative juices flowing again.

What was the biggest gift?

Dorian Martin watercolors that I made with Brenda Riojas over lunch
Dorian Martin watercolors that I made with Brenda Riojas over lunch

Dorian: The whole process, including contemplating a different theme each week, allowed me to begin to contemplate what leading a creative life would entail. We may mentally place limits on the concept of creativity—it’s writing, drawing, playing a musical instrument—but ultimately, I believe, a creative life is how we live our days, down to the most minute detail. It’s what choices we make—how we order our surroundings or our day, and how we create an open and receptive frame of mind. Going through the process offered me a chance to reevaluate my life and mindfully make more of my choices based on creating a life that is true to my values, goals, and desires.

Sondra: It ended up being another big step in my spiritual path toward exploring my true passions and spending quality time with activities that I believe are valuable and fulfill my soul. It's something you can experience with a group, but honestly, I had to work through it solo, which may not be easy for everyone. I didn't mind sharing my experiences with my group – in fact, their responses were so amazing and helpful! But my preference is to dive into this type of self-help guide independently because you can decide for yourself versus being persuaded by others' opinions.

Brenda: Among the gifts were the artist’s dates. “The Artist’s Way” also led me to discover other books by Julia Cameron, including “The Artist Way at Work.” Her book, “The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life,” was a perfect follow-up to “The Artist’s Way,” as this book inspired me to write more frequently, no matter how busy the day might be. Sometimes that means just writing a word or a sentence. But as Julia Cameron says, by the end of the week or month, these small bits add up.

Why should women at mid-life or older consider embracing “The Artist's Way”?

Dorian: Midlife is such a major transition time for women, but it doesn’t get the attention that adolescence and life’s other transitional times get. Many women end up lost as their roles change—whether that’s an empty nest, divorce, or retirement—and going through “The Artist’s Way” can help older women attune to where they are now and identify a path they want to take moving forward.

Sondra: I believe that perhaps it is more difficult for women to allow themselves time away from all their many responsibilities to explore creative thought and projects. My husband and son gave me complete freedom, however. When it was time to go on my artist's dates, they smiled and wanted to know where I was going next and what I would be doing – but I rarely told them!

Brenda: It’s a good exercise of discovering all that we hold in our minds that we need to examine, release, and make space for what’s to come.

What else would you like to share about “The Artist’s Way” – the book, the process, or anything else?

Sondra: If you can carve out the time for it, do your best to give it your full attention (while you are reading). There should be no rush – take your time! Any small step is progress, and you can always jump back in. Give yourself permission to create without inhibition and remember that creativity and art are what YOU believe they are and should be. I absolutely love to paint rocks. I know for certain that many people look at the rocks I paint and think, "OK. That's fine. Whatever." But for me, while I am painting them, I'm loving every minute and exploring new ideas. And giving them away or leaving them in random locations for strangers to find is delightful.

Brenda: I want to highlight the concept of “filling the well, stocking the pond.” Cameron writes, “In order to create, we draw from our inner well. … As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem. If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked.” And while “The Artist Way” focuses on our personal journey, it also reminds us that we are meant to encourage one another. The author notes, “Know this well: success occurs in clusters and is born in generosity.”

Dorian: I appreciate that the process is personalized. What Brenda, Sondra, and I experienced was very different, even though we went through the same process. Also, what you put into it is what you’ll get back. I surprised myself by writing the morning pages daily, despite having historically pushed back against the concept of journaling because I write so much in my work. But the process helped me really clean up some of my old and very stale thinking and behaviors, which in turn is opening up a beautiful new vista as I continue to embrace the current chapter of life that is emerging.

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