The Artist’s Way

Falling off the Wagon

I’ll admit it. In all the hubub of AWP, I have fallen off The Artist’s Way wagon. I promise to pick up on Monday with Week 7, “Recovering A Sense of Connection.” I have been doing the morning pages– the three pages of free writing required by the program.
I’m not the only one. Cheryl Minor, has been doing hers too. Here is her account of her experiences with her early morning ritual.

I hate the morning pages. I hate them mainly because they occur in the mornings and I am not a morning person. I have a ritual for starting my day: hear the alarm, mutter expletives, hit the snooze button, go back to sleep. This has worked well for me over the years. However, it has not worked well for my writing since I am still unpublished and working at a job I resent. So, when I read from a published writer that this will work, I figured, what the hay, give it a try.
Of all the exercises in The Artist’s Way, the morning writings are the hardest for me. I expected pre-dawn musings of literary greatness to show up on the pages. What I got was continuous rants of the most petty, irrational garbage you can imagine. Last week I accused my artist of cheating on me (well, she is going out more and dressing better). The week before, I revisited parental advice on my career choices. My parents wanted a doctor in the family, and I was the only one of five siblings in college. We compromised. I majored in chemistry. I spent the first two semesters skipping my organic chemistry class and hiding out in the library reading Tennessee Williams’ plays. You do not want to know how this period of my life played out on the pages. Let me just say that it was ugly.
Finally, this week, I am having a break through. I still hate (despise… resent… loath…where is that thesaurus button when you need it!) getting up and scribbling at the crack of dawn. However, a magical thing is beginning to happen. By dumping all of my irrational, insecurities out first thing in the morning, I am free to feel other things for the rest of my day. I liken the morning pages to Trash Thursdays. My trash is collected on Thursdays. It is never ready. So invariably, when I hear the trash truck coming down the alley on Thursday mornings, I hit the floor running, grab the trash bag, dump the trash, and go back to bed. Same with the morning pages: hear the alarm, grab the notebook, dump the trash on the pages, go back to bed. Clean house. Clean mind. It works for me.
It is not a perfect process. Part of me still has high hopes that by chapters ten or eleven in The Artist’s Way the exercises for the morning pages become mid-day pages or at least after-I’ve-had-my-coffee pages. What can I say… I’m a work in progress.
— By Cheryl Minor

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So far, I have been delighted with The Artist’s Way, but chapter six,”Recovering a Sense of Abundance” has made me uncomfortable. One of the ideas of the chapter is that as artists we need to believe that our art will support us, financially. I am very uncomfortable with looking at my writing as a sounce of income. As Pearl Cleage told me over cocktails, “I want to get paid for my writing, but I don’t want to have to write for money.”
One of the best things I ever did for my art was to get a day job. When I was living in Arizona, I was living off the advance I received from Leaving Atlanta. I didn’t get a huge advance, but my expenses were very low– my mortgage was less than $400 a month! I must say that I really loved knowing that my creative work was putting food on the table.
However, the money started running out and I was looking to my work-in-progress to pay the bills. My editor and I were not seeing eye-to-eye on the project. I was in a tough spot. Was I going to make changes to earn her approval– and that check(!)– or would I stand by my vision and not have money to cover my most basic needs? Luckily, I got an offer to come teach for a year in Tennessee.
Nothing freed me more than not having a relationship between my bills and my work.
I will admit that I have issues when it comes to money. I was reared in a household where it was considered self-indulgent to do anything to pamper myself. In my adult life I enjoy spa days, pretty shoes, and fresh flowers on my work table. But as we all know, those childhood lessons die hard. While I am able to provide myself with small luxuries, I feel a little trangressive while I do so.
Maybe this is why I’m having something of a hard time with all the talk in Chapter six about luxury in money. In a weird way, it feels wrong to tie money in with something as sacred as art.
What do you all think?

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Praying To Catch The Bus

We are in Week 5 of The Artist’s Way. The theme of this week is “Recovering a Sense of Possibility.” There was a sentence that really spoke to me:

In other words, pray to catch the bus, then run as fast as you can.

This is a really important idea. A lot of times, it’s easy to get discouraged about the creative life because you hear so much about “it’s all who you know.” And there is this disturbing emphasis on the looks of women artists in particular. It can kind of be discouraging because all the factors that made you hate high school so much and maybe drove you into the solitary world of art in the first place, seem to be invading even that sprecial world. It’s enough to make a girl put down her pen.
And it’s true, who you know is a real part of it. But every time I have gotten a hook-up based on connections, I happened to be running as fast as I could.
Praying “to catch the bus” is when you wish wish wish you could meet someone with the connections to help you find an agent, an MFA program, a publisher– whatever you need. “Oh please help me get my poor foot in the door,” you pray. But here’s the thing. If you are not running as fast as you can, what can you do with the opportunity when the universe hands it to you?

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When Good Advice Comes Back, It’s Even Better

Part of what we’re doing in The Artist’s Way is figuring out which people in the world are our allies in arts. I’ve been working hard to weed out my “poisonous playmates”, while remembering to value the people who nurture me and my work.
Here’s a story:
When I was just finished with Leaving Atlanta, and getting going on The Untelling, I went to my mentor Ron Carlson for advice. I had about fifty tender little pages. Should I send them to my agent? Ron said, “Depends.” I said, “Depends on what?” He said, “Do you like the pages? Do you feel like you’re on fire? Are you in the zone?” I said, “Yes, yes, yes!” And Ron said, “Then don’t show it to your agent yet. She’s going to say that she likes it, but..” Then he looked up at the ceiling and started talking again. “She’s going to say that she likes it, but she was thinking you should write something with– I don’t know– civil war reenactors. And then you’re going to be looking at your fifty pages trying to figure out where you’re going to put those union soldiers.”
Of course, my agent has never pushed for me to include the war between the states in my books, but I got the point: Don’t invite outside meddling until you absolutely have to.
Apparently, I passed this advice on to my friend, Bryn.
Just yesterday, she passed it back to me in a much shortened form: “NO! Don’t forget the Union Soldiers!”
It was just the boomerang I needed.
What’s the best advice you ever got from a mentor? Did you pass it on? Has it come back yet?

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Working Out/ Writing Out

Did you know that in the introduction to The Artist’s Way, you are supposed to commit to exercising? And did you notice in week two, when you make your “life pie” exercise is given an equal slice as ROMANCE? What gives?
Well, it seems that to feed your mind, you have to also take care of your body. I have been working out regularly with a trainer for about sixteen weeks. I can’t say that I have had a Janet-Jackson-transformation, but I have noticed the difference on the page.
It’s not that I come home from the gym and fall on my laptop and pound out ten pages, but at the gym, I’ve learned to control my breathing, which centers me when I am sitting at my computer. I’m working on my flexibility which lets me sit straighter and longer.
Also, working with a personal trainer has really been helpful to me as a teacher of writing. I am not great at working out. I have lead a pretty sedentary life so all this moving and lifting is new to me. To learn, I have to let myself be lead by my trainer. It has caused me to be more empathetic with my students. Experiencing beginners frustration and impatience with my workout reminds me of how my students must feel.
I’m working out three times a week, and you can see here that it ain’t pretty. But it’s important. To quote the Jennifers (Holliday and Hudson) “I am changing!”

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The Original Old Girl Goes On An Artist Date

Hello, I am Ladylee, one of the many readers of Tayari’s blog. I am currently reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way with Tayari and a few of you. Tayari asked if I would take a moment to describe my Week 1 “Artist Date”. (For those of you know on the program, an “Artist Date” is when you treat yourself to an outing, just to see something new, to entertain and indulge your inner artist.)
First of all, a little about myself: I am an Atlanta native in my mid-thirties and I am a chemist holding a doctorate degree in the area of organic chemistry. I have published numerous papers in my area of expertise, and consider myself very well grounded in the area of technical writing. Herein lies my issue: I have a habit of approaching any and everything from a scientific, technical, and/or formulaic point of view. When I try to apply my knowledge in technical writing to creative writing, well, there’s a problem. So needless to say, this book and its exercises are providing much needed help, helping me to think a bit differently about my writing and attitudes toward it.
At first, I was a bit perplexed by this whole “Artist Date” assignment, especially the requirement of doing something once a week. Personally, I thought that was a bit much. What would I do? Where would I go? I am finding through the first and now the second week of this process that I have a tendency to pontificate a bit too hard about such things. I even got caught up in trying to make a straight list of twelve things I could do. I found that a bit annoying. I stopped discussing it with people because for some reason, they are just more than ready to tag along. I really needed to just find something interesting to do, stop trying to analyze it all, and just DO IT.

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Dontcha Wish…

I may be the only one not getting a big kick out of the American Idol auditions. (Well, maybe me and Rosie.) At first, I was having as much fun as anyone. (What are those people thinking???? The medley of desperate-seeming people singing “Dontcha wish your girlfriend…” was really classic.) And then, the queasies started setting in. Maybe I have the publishing version of PTSD? My kind kept drifting back to the time I once received a bundle of ten rejection letters in a single packet. I sat down and read them all. It was quite the hideous banquet.
When I saw the computer tech from Salt Lake City sing “Unchained Melody” with all his heart only to be rejected by Paula, Simon and Randy, I felt for the guy. I swear, I identified so hard thatI almost had a flashback.
When you get rejection letters for a novel manuscript, you get details as to why the editor isn’t interested in your book. They can range from “not for us” to “this writer hasn’t learned yet how to write fiction.” And although I always tried to have faith in my story, there is that moment when I feared that I have made a fool of yourself for even trying.
So, next week when the American Idol auditions resume, I’ll be watching reruns of Law and Order, CI. I prefer good old fashioned murder and mayhem to the carnage on that audition stage.

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Monster Hall of Fame

The theme of Week One in The Artist’s Way is RECOVERING A SENSE OF SAFETY. One of the assignments is to make your “Monster Hall of Fame” in which you record the names of people that have injured your creative spirit. Another assignment is to make note of your champions. Am I the only one who is finding that there are a number of people who show up on both lists?
The reason for this, I think, is that a lot of people who discourage us from being artists do so because they fear for us and the people who care enough to fear, will cheer you on once it’s safe.
Here’s an example.

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The Arist’s Way

I am so thrilled so many folks have signed up to do The Artist’s Way! Let’s think of today as the first day of Week One, putting us on a Mon-Sun schedule. The first week will be a little bit challenging because you have to read the introduction as well as the first chapter. But in the following weeks, all you have to read is the chapter. We’ll check in mid week to see how everyone is coming along.
And, of course, anybody is welcome to jump in!

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The Artist’s Way

I’m in need of creative renewal. The goal of unpublished and undiscovered writers is to become published, to be discovered. I think that the goal of the published writer is to get herself back to spiritual place where she lived before she was published. The ideal space is to be in the middle zone between published and unpublished– when you are working for the sake of the story, but feel confident that good things are just around the corner.
To get back to this place, I am doing The Artist’s Way: A course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self. I’ve done the course before, years ago, when I was in that golden zone, scribbling my heart out, trying to figure out what a novel was. This is when I wrote my *true* first novel, which was never published and never should be. The point of writing that novel was to figure out how it was done. I often look back at the experience of writing that book and I remember myself as an artist at work. You’ve all heard the story about this book, how I wrote it in a bathroom stall on my lunch hour at work, how I sunk my whole savings into the world first (and largest) laptop computer. I want to get back to that place, and so I am doing The Artist’s Way. I invite any of you who are interested to do it with me.
The exercises and the book really help you identify what it is that is blocking or restraining your creativity. It also helps you realise the ways that you may be sabotaging yourself. I know that lots of smart people sort of bristle at the idea of “self-help” which is where this book is shelved, but don’t let that be just one more reason why you don’t take that first step, or that third step, or whatever step you’re on. It really doesn’t matter, the step number… most of us just need to take the NEXT step.
All you need to get started is the book, which is easily available at any bookstore. (I say, go to your local independent, but do whatever works for you.) The book costs about $15. You’ll also need a large spiral notebook, or its equivalent. Also bring your true heart and your courage.
The course is broken up into 12 one-week lessons, so once a week I’ll post about my progress and you can post about yours. Let’s do this.

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