Thursday, July 17, 2014

"The Artist's Way" and "The Right to Write," by Julia Cameron




Don't be put off by the subtitle of the first book – it has quite a lot to offer even those of us who aren't "blocked," who don't have toxic people in our lives keeping us from writing, or who lean towards a more pragmatic way of thinking. Just ignore any of the tips that don't speak to you. Personally, I'm just prone to procrastination and can always benefit from some help developing and keeping good habits.

Each chapter in "The Artist's Way" is based on a lesson from the author's class, including suggested exercises at the end. You could go through it with a group or a friend, or just on your own (like I did).

The basic tools on offer are simple, and very powerful: "the morning pages," and the "artist's date."

The artist's date is intended to be a weekly habit of taking yourself out somewhere – away from the behavioral routine ruts we all tend to get into. Break away from autopilot and experience the moment. I can't pretend to be particularly organized or consistent in the practice, but the concept does help me remain more mindful when I'm out enjoying the outdoors with my dog or horse.

The morning pages, on the other hand, are absolutely a revelation. The idea is that first thing every morning -- before you get too involved in your daily routine to sit down and do it – you write out three pages (single side), longhand. It's pure stream of consciousness, just scribbling out anything that pops into your head.   

I don't always have/make time to get to my morning pages; sometimes months go by. But when I do make it part of my routine I find it does more than just kick start my writing. It's like a form of meditation that lets me start my day organized; having dumped whatever nonsense was spinning my brain in circles and stressing me. It makes me more productive at work and more likely to get personal tasks done too.

Ideally, what I like to do is start by reading a chapter in a writing book to use as kind of a prompt to fill three pages in my journal. The first thing I write is often a to do list, which gets that off my chest, then gradually my hand moving across the page starts problem solving. As if the hand directs the brain to give it something useful to do. Could be a scientific issue I'm dealing with at work, or a plot point for a story where I've just been stuck.
Apart from its other virtues, writing the morning pages helps establish the habit of writing every day, or at least most days. You really can't wait for the mood to hit. Every author I've ever read on the subject of writing is clear about that. The magic comes from the hand on the pen on the page and the brain rising to the occasion.

It doesn't matter that none of what I write is legible, not even by me – it's all in my head. I've always found writing was the best way for me to learn, and apparently even psychologists have documented the phenomenon:
Dust off those Bic ballpoints and college-ruled notebooks: research shows that taking notes by hand is better than taking notes on a laptop for remembering conceptual information over the long term. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
It makes sense that there is a direct connection between hand-eye-brain – a connection that is, in turn, intimately entwined with our human capacity for written language.

In "The Right to Write," Julia Cameron introduces another tool of great assistance to would-be creatives, "The Narrative Timeline." This is an autobiographical account, written out long hand, and sticking to the facts – without filling in emotions or fleshing out details. Of course the process invariable does lead to what she calls "cups," or inspirations that provide endless material for expansion into creative projects – whether memoir writing or purely fictional.

I can't say I've been particularly well organized about producing a proper "Narrative Timeline," but to some extent it was my inspiration for reviving this blog. It gave me a good excuse to go back through my old books and reflect on what reading and re-reading them has meant to me over time.   

 

2 comments:

  1. I remember reading The Artists Way sometime during the 90s. I might still have that book. A friend suggested that I read it. I may have to revisit it now. Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. I used to go through it every summer, to help revive good habits and get pumped up for NaNoWriMo. Then after NaNo I'd get caught up the holidays and fall off the wagon again!.

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