I always refer to this podcast as a writing practice. It’s intentional. I use it with the same meaning as those who practice yoga. Anytime we sit down to write, we are practicing the craft, or we should be.
The Writing Promptcast is a freewriting practice using multiple word prompts, spaced out over the course of 10 minutes. You should listen to the podcast while you write.
“You are dealing with an inner child. Artistic child abuse creates rebellion creates block.” Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, p.72
Cameron spends a lot of time this week dwelling on childhood, and I understand that that’s where a lot of our neuroses are usually born. I had a fairly unremarkable childhood, though, my family wasn’t dysfunctional, and, truthfully, I don’t remember my childhood well, so the tasks in this chapter are not incredibly insightful. What traits did I have as a child? No idea. Accomplishments? ….
It does bother me that I don’t remember much from my childhood. Do other people remember more, or is my lack of memory normal? I have little snippets of memory, often still frames or six second video clips that flash through my head that aren’t even from my point of view (I see myself in them, rather than seeing through my eyes). Are these memories, or have I made them up? They certainly feel real, but there is such a tiny collection of them.
As I said, I don’t consider my family to be dysfunctional. In fact, I always rather felt we were a “normal” family. My parents weren’t unsupportive, but I also don’t remember them being super encouraging. I remember feeling like I was in the way, and trying not to be a bother – I rarely asked for things I wanted like tennis or swimming lessons. I spent most of my time in a corner with a book, silent and still. So although I didn’t grow up in a dysfunctional home, Cameron hits a nerve when she says, “Putting anything out for attention is a dangerous act.” (p.68) The difference, though, was that I wasn’t not putting something out there because I was afraid of shame or ridicule or punishment. It was more me not wanting direct attention for something I was unsure about. I still very much feel that way. I’m embarrassed – but why??
It’s an interesting realization, because many of the memories I do have from my childhood – the ones that are crystal clear – are the cringe-worthy embarrassing moments. Like the time my coat, slung oh-so-casually over my shoulders (I was so very cool and chic at 10 years old), knocked my teacher’s knickknacks off his desk. Or the time the teacher called roll the first day of class – I was 11 – but I didn’t realize she was calling roll and thought she was calling me out for something because mine was the first name she called, and I stood awkwardly and wondered what I had done wrong. These memories are so alive, so fresh in my head, that I cringe again every time I remember them, I am embarrassed again, I have those several minutes of self-hatred that I have to shake off.
I get angry at myself, both for the idiotic way I behaved in my childhood and for the fact that I’m still letting it bother me.
I am ashamed of myself, and I tell myself it doesn’t matter.
So if anger is supposed to be listened to, if it’s a map showing us where we need to go, what is this anger at my younger self, an anger over something that happened 30 years ago and cannot be changed, what is it trying to tell me? What am I supposed to do with it? If I say, in anger, “Man, I was such a stupid child, I can’t believe I did that,” then Anger, in its wisdom, is telling me…what, exactly? Well, I guess if I’m angry that it still affects me, I need to stop letting it affect me.
And the shame. According to Cameron, shame can lead to detachment. Sometimes a “surge of sudden disinterest (“It doesn’t matter”) is a routine coping device employed to deny pan and ward off vulnerability.” p.68 Boy howdy, hammer, meet nail. I have always been slightly detached, aloof, apathetic, about most things. It’s something I’ve struggled with for years. If I don’t get excited about something, I can’t make a fool of myself over it, and I can’t be ashamed or embarrassed. It’s why I have a hard time saying to anyone, even friends, “I’m a writer.”
Is it any wonder I’ve been blocked? I’ve tapped down all the joy my inner child might feel, told her not to embarrass herself, told her it doesn’t matter. And she’s believed me.
Of course, it’s not all me (although, yes, most of it is). I’ve always had an issue with the way writers are lumped in with others – or, more to the point, not lumped in. Most people agree that writers are “artists.” However, if you ask people to name artists, or if you go anywhere that categorically lists things and look under artists, you will not find writers. For example, head over to Pinterest and choose the category you think writing would fit under. Don’t do a keyword search – choose a category.
Art. Subdivisions include drawings, street art, illustrations, character design (animation), dance, ceramics, folk art. Well, writers are none of those things. Let’s try another category.
Film, Music, and Books. Books are written by writers, surely I’ll find some writing related things here! Subcategories: Movies, Music, TV Shows, Articles, Country Music, Rock Music, Independent Films, Musicians. Okay, not there, either (in fact, there are no Book subcategories at all!).
Any other ideas?
This applies in many other places in the world. “Writing” doesn’t seem to exist in today’s categorical world. I miss the days of the Old Yahoo, when you could drill down into categories. I had luck finding things there, random things. Now all I can do is keyword search. The problem is, sometimes I don’t know what I’m looking for. That’s where keyword search fails us.
I’m getting off point. My point is, when people think of talent, they think of artists, and when people think of artists, they think of painting or dancing or singing. Writing is an artform, but any thoughts of art are geared more toward visual art. So maybe it’s not that my parents have shamed me, have said, “How dare you think of yourself as an artist?” It’s society, a society that doesn’t seem to have a high regard for writers. After all, “anyone can write.” Right? And if anyone can write, what makes me special, what makes me talented? “If a child has ever been made to feel foolish for believing himself or herself talented, the act of actually finishing a piece of art will be fraught with internal shaming.” p. 68
A few other notes from this week:
Never look a gifthorse in the mouth, and (almost) always say Yes when offered something you didn’t even know you needed.
Be kind to your inner child. Don’t shame her, don’t say “it doesn’t matter.” Compliment her, remind her of compliments you’ve received, tell her “you will heal.”
Synchronicity is more about becoming aware, IMO. You’ve never really thought about something, but it’s always been around. Now that you’ve thought about it, you notice it. It’s not new. It’s just new to you. The problem is that there’s a lot we haven’t thought about. We should really start looking around more!
Don’t ask whether you can do something. Say you are doing it. It will get done.
While reading back through the basic principles, I had this thought: #1 is Life is energy: pure creative energy. If you think about how every thought you have, no matter who you are, is your own creation, you can really see this.
I’m a fairly solitary person. Most days, I literally only see my husband and my child. Other days, I might talk to the grocery store clerk or the daycare ladies. I see a friend maybe once every two weeks. And I don’t do anything to have random acquaintances. Yes, I need to fix that. I can’t be offered help if there’s no one around, right? And I desperately need a writing friend, someone I can talk to about writing and the issues I’m having and who is supportive and understands. Working on it…
I want to sit down and list out every memory I can think of, and add to it as I think of more.
6 for 7 on morning pages this week. There was one day where life just happened and it didn’t get done. I still don’t love them, I don’t feel like they’re changing my life, making me more creative or productive. They actually kind of stress me out, casting about for something to fill three pages.
Artist Date: I decided to paint my toenails and work on my bullet journal. Not nearly as satisfying as the previous two weeks. So that’s one thing I discovered – I need to get out of the house for my Artist Date!
No synchronicity that I can recall.
Any issues significant to recovery? When I first started writing the blog post for Week 3, I was convinced that I wasn’t into the book, that it was still doing nothing for me. Then I started writing and revising this post and I came to a few realizations, ones that might actually help with my writing issues. I feel like I’ve had more insight/breakthrough while blogging than while doing the exercises in the book. In fact, the exercises only made me feel bad. I have very few friends, and I don’t remember much from my childhood. (Feeling kind of like a loser, thanks so much Julia Cameron!) But I do think I figured something out that could be more significant to recovery: rehashing everything in my head. Of course I still plan on doing the tasks, but somehow throwing all my notes and thoughts about the chapter on the page and sculpting it into a readable post has helped me understand it all better.
What are your thoughts on Chapter 3? And please, I’m curious – are you only doing the tasks as they are set forth, or are you doing a more in depth examination of the meaning of the chapter? Are you finding that Cameron is bang on in the tasks, or, like me, are you finding more value in examining things closer?
I’d love to hear from you! Please leave me a comment below, let me know if you are reading or have read The Artist’s Way, what it’s done for you, what you think. Let me know I’m not the only one out there struggling to become a better writer!
Up next, The Artist’s Way Week 4: Recovering a Sense of Power.
Episode 12 – 15 minute writing practice using word prompts
“…on the whole it is the unconscious which will decide on both the form and the matter of the work which you are planning, and which will, if you can learn to rely on it, give you a far better and more convincing result if you are not continually meddling with its processes…” – Dorothea Brande, Becoming a Writer, p.152
It is the unconscious mind that I hope you tap into during today’s writing practice. You know what to write, you just don’t know you know, so start writing, and let your unconscious mind write the story with each new word prompt.
The Writing Promptcast is a freewriting practice using multiple word prompts, spaced out over the course of 15 minutes. You should listen to the podcast while you write.
“Draw a sacred circle around your recovery. Give yourself the gift of faith. Trust that you are on the right track. You are.” The Artist’s Way, p. 44
I’ll be honest – this chapter didn’t resonate much with me. In fact, it made me realize how few friends I have, especially ones that I hang out with on a regular basis. I don’t have “poisonous playmates,” and I don’t have a lot of negative energy around me, at least not creatively. All of my negativity comes from me.
I do, however, totally get the whole “falling in with other people’s plans for us” and feeling like we “should” do something other than our creative work. “It’s Saturday afternoon, the weather is beautiful, you haven’t seen your friends in weeks, just come out for a beer!” Never mind that you swore to yourself you were going to work. Been there, many times. It’s my downfall.
I do have one crazymaker in my life: my son. I wish I could say I was kidding, but take a look at the definiton: Crazymakers break deals and destroy schedules, expect special treatment, violate your needs and trespass over boundaries, spend your time and money, make themselves the center of the universe, create drama, hate schedules (except their own), hate order. Yep, all those apply to a two year old. Unfortunately, I can’t cut him out of my life! But I can take the time I have away from him and do something with it. That’s my goal.
Skepticism – now this is familiar. The doubt – doubt that I can write, doubt that this reading program I’ve started is doing any good at all. But I’m trying to let go, to give myself “the gift of faith,” to go back to my belief that things happen for a reason, that it will all work out in the end. “And if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.” Skepticism is the inner enemy. Instead of denying, wonder what if, explore the possibility. You don’t have to change your mind, you just have to be aware.
A few more thoughts I had while reading this chapter:
I’ve decided I need to name my muse and my critic, draw pictures of them and hang them in my writing space, glare at the critic, bring offerings to the muse. My critic’s name is Kristin, and I have a picture of her in my head. I’m still working on my muse, though. Nothing feels right. Stephen King talks about the guy in the basement, Jennifer Crusie talks about the girls in the attic. Mine is currently MIA, which my lack of writing can attest to.
“As long as we were blocked, we often felt that it was arrogance and self-will to speak of ourselves as creative artists. The truth is that it was self-will to refuse to acknowledge our creativity.” (The Artist’s Way, p. 42). This. So much this. I have such a hard time saying I’m a writer because I. Don’t. Write. But I am a writer. I need to say so more often, own it. And do it.
I’ve started imagining myself in the vastness of space, surrounded by blackness and light. It’s what I think of when I reread the Basic Principles on page 3. Life – space – is pure creative energy. We are creations out of this vastness, and we are meant to continue that. I imagine myself floating through space, at once admiring the miracle and beauty of it and admiring that I come from it and give back to it. I also like to think of creativity as tiny particles in the air around us – we inhale them, we blink them out of our eyes, and it’s really up to us – it’s our duty – to catch them and do something with them, rather than just ignore them.
Morning Pages – 7 for 7. Still not in love with them. First thing in the morning is rough – if I don’t wake up before the kid, it WILL NOT happen, and to ensure I get up before the kid I have to get up by 5:45. My body does not like 5:45. I’m constantly writing “halfway through, stalling out again.” But I keep going.
“There is a recognizable ebb and flow to the process of recovering our creative selves. As we gain strength, so will some of the attacks of self-doubt. This is normal, and we can deal with these stronger attacks when we see them as symptoms of recovery.” (p. 41) I definitely saw this in my morning pages. “I’m doing it all wrong, No I’m not!” Frustration with myself, while knowing I’m doing the best I can and that I’m the only one putting these demands on me, no one else.
Artist date – This week, it happened kind of by accident. I was stressed about finding the time to do the Artist Date, and I had to run an errand to the used book store to get something. Instead of grabbing what I needed, I ended up spending some time, browsing the shelves, and enjoying the quietness of a bookstore. It was nice.
Any issues significant to recovery? I decided to start the blog series this week and dedicate myself to getting through all the writing books I stalled out on in the past. By blogging about it, I hope I’ll see it though.
I’ve realized that I try to get through the tasks with minimal effort. Even though the author says to speed write through the tasks, I do feel like I’m short-changing the process, doing the bare minimum by staying superficial. But there’s really not a lot of depth at the moment, and I don’t feel like a lot applies to me. This is an issue I usually have with these sorts of books, though. It’s why I never finish them, and why I want to do this reading program. I want to immerse myself in it, rather than just skimming the surface. I want to spend time crafting rather than just do perfunctory homework.
Unfortunately, so far the tasks in the book don’t really encourage depth. Lists are not deep, by definition. It’s why Listicles do so well with today’s attention spans. Lists are surface, although they can be very helpful in a different way. They can define, which is exactly their purpose at the moment, I think. I just don’t fully understand what my lists are telling me….
Still, I’m looking forward to week 3, or more to the point, I’m looking forward to being out of week 2.
What about you, what did you think of Week 2? Hopefully you’ve made more progress than I have! Tell me about your experience, what’s working for you, how you are changing. I’d love to hear from you!
Up Next, The Artist’s Way Week 3: Recovering a Sense of Power
Episode 0011 – 10 minute writing practice using word prompts
“Remember, your artist is a child. Find and protect that child.” Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, p.29.
I wish I could remember how I wrote when I first started writing. Did I write at a desk in my room, or on the bed or floor? I remember being 13 and going out to the living room to ask my parents if it was proper grammar to say “that” twice, as in “it was in that that she felt most comfortable.” That was my first bit of writing that I remember, and I’m not sure what made me want to write. Did I just decide to write one day? Was it a daydream, one of many I had at that age, that I felt compelled to write down? Was there a teacher that perhaps nudged me in that direction?
Honestly, I didn’t have any problems with the creative part of writing until I was in my 30s. I blocked out my life in decades as Cameron suggests on p 35, and really I can’t think of anything until then. My parents were supportive, or at least not against. I had good creative writing teachers.
So who are my Monsters?
Wanting to become a better writer, I subscribed to a bunch of writing blogs. They were helpful at first, pounding plot points and adverb evil and scene structure into my head. But when I went to apply what I’d learned, I became even more stuck than I had been before. I went in circles, reading more about writing and in turn doing less writing. I tried to find my way out of it and it seemed everywhere I turned, I was told “Just do it.” Writers write. Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. It’s not writers block, it’s laziness. So there I was looking for help, and essentially being told that I obviously didn’t want it bad enough, I wasn’t good enough. And my lack of understanding made me question my intelligence in general, not just my writing ability. So it spilled over into other things – my personal blog, even emails.
It was in reading about how to write, reading about how to craft a story, that I became burdened with this dislike for the craft.
My whole life I wrote by feel. When I could see, I stumbled. I’d always written from the hip, the heart, stream of consciousness, movie in my head. I wrote in the same way I knew grammar – I couldn’t diagram a sentence, but I knew what was right and what was wrong. I simply told a story – the elements are there, I’m sure of it, I just can’t identify them.
But reading these blogs, again and again I was told that a writer does X or Y, knows A, B, and C. And since I didn’t do or know those things, surely I wasn’t a writer. And since I couldn’t grasp the concepts, I had no hope.
I became so wrapped up in writing a book that could be published, I couldn’t write the book I had in me.
Then there’s the either/or reasoning. I can be a good wife and mother, or I can write.
I’ve read about how other SAHMs get writing time in. They bemoan the fact that they park their kid in front of the TV or have “quiet coloring time.” My son isn’t old enough for that. The TV occupies him for five or ten minutes. Coloring lasts maybe two minutes. As long as I’m paying attention to him, he’s fine, but if I try to get anything else done – writing, cooking, cleaning, look up something online, read a book, go to the bathroom – he’s In My Face. I’m sure as he gets older this will get better, but currently, if he’s home, the only time I have is nap time, a two hour window to get EVERYTHING done that needs to be done, including some hardcore cleaning, podcast, and, oh, right, writing, somewhere in that little span of time. I look forward to the day when I can say, “office door closed = don’t disturb mommy unless you’re bleeding.”
And I’m supposed to exercise at some point, right?
One of my blurts is that I’m useless, unproductive, lazy. All those tasks on my to-do list that aren’t crossed off are proof of how little I get done. But the truth is, I get a lot done, I am busy most of the day, it’s just not stuff that I can show off. I did two loads of dishes, and look, there’s more on the counter. I cleaned the bathroom, and look, there are spots on the mirror. I played with my kid, but he acts like he’s starved for attention because, oh right, all two year olds are starved for attention….
Can a person do it all? Can I be a wife and a mom and a podcaster and a writer and a volunteer and a friend, and keep the house somewhat clean and food on our plates for dinner and work out? There are working moms that get all this done, surely I can.
A couple of other notes from reading this chapter:
I love the idea that a lot of published artists aren’t (necessarily) better than me, they just have more audacity. It’s something I definitely lack, and have decided I need to have more of.
I like to think of the creative spirit as Joy from Inside Out, a light source concerned only with your happiness.
Let your child play. Let her experiment, discover. Expect less than stellar results, and be patient. She’s learning. I think of my two year old. Every experience is new. Explore.
7 for 7 on morning pages. They’re getting easier, but I’m still not in love with them, and they don’t necessarily happen first thing in the morning. Life happens.
Artists Date: I went to a large Antique Mall and roamed around for a while. Just like with Morning Pages, I wasn’t sure I was doing The Artist Date right until about halfway through my roam around the mall. Cameron specifically says it: Doing the artist date you are RECEIVING – opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance. I overheard conversations. I imagined who had owned these antiques in the past. I spent ten minutes rifling through old photographs, wondering who those people were. I smelled food from the cafe. I get it now, the idea of “receiving” she mentions in the intro. Opening your senses and being receptive.
Other issues significant to recovery: I want to do better, feel better about my productivity. I came up with a plan of attack: office hours, job description. And letting some stuff go.
So what did you think of Week 1? Did you gain anything from it? Who’s your Champion? Mine is a friend who read a story I wrote and months later came back and asked how it ended, because she had been thinking about it and wanted to know the end. I want to finish that story for her.
Up next, The Artist’s Way Week 2: Recovering a Sense of Identity
Episode 0010 – 15 minute writing practice using word prompts
This is the first in a series of posts about The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Join the discussion, and read more with us at the Books on Writing Reading Program!
“Creativity is the natural order of life.” Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, Basic Principle #1, p. 3
I had heard of Morning Pages before reading The Artist’s Way – in fact, it’s what made me finally decide to read the book. I had always wanted to do morning pages, but first thing in the morning is tricky for me. I tried getting up earlier, but it was still hit or miss. Part of the problem was I wasn’t really feeling it. I didn’t feel like I knew how to do the morning pages – was it like a journal, or could I write fiction? Could I write more than three pages? Was it three full pages, or could I end with, like, eight lines to go? Regardless, they were a struggle for me to get through. I finally bought the book and read the part about Morning Pages for guidance. Write anything. Three pages, no more, no less. Such an arbitrary number, I thought. And three pages where? Three pages in a Traveler’s Notebook is different from three pages in a college ruled spiral notebook is different from three pages on a legal pad. I wanted rules.
On top of that, morning pages became a chore, one more task on my endless to-do list. I didn’t have the time to call to make a doctor’s appointment, why would I waste time writing morning pages when I didn’t like them and didn’t seem to be getting anything out of them?
I kept trying to find others online who had similar issues with the morning pages – what did they do to push through? – but all I found, time and again, was gushing love.
What was I missing?
One day on a Facebook group, someone mentioned their love for morning pages, how it had changed their lives, and I asked. What was I missing? She asked if I had read The Artist’s Way. “Only the part pertaining to the morning pages.” She suggested I read the whole book, that morning pages work best in tandem with the book.
I’ve attempted to read many writing books. I don’t think I’ve actually completed any of them. I just seem to stall out. And I had read some reviews of The Artist’s Way that said it was pretty basic, that if you had read other books it was pretty much a repeat of those. That’s why I had originally decided not to read it.
Now I wondered if reading it would work, to help me get into the morning pages. I wanted them to change my life, help define my life, like they did for so many others, and I wanted them to help me write again. I was looking for a magic pill.
Magic or not, here I am. I’ve dedicated myself to reading and working through the book. I’ve made it part of my J-O-B.
We’re just briefly covering the introduction this week, so a few first thoughts:
I admit, I have issues with the spirituality aspect in the book. There’s a lot of “God” there, and a lot of new age speak. Personally, I choose to substitute “the universe” any time she says “God” or “the creator.” If you’re good with God, go with it. If not, find something else to say. Make it work for you.
I like the idea of Spiritual Chiropractic Care on p 1 – “We undertake certain spiritual exercises to achieve alignment with the creative energy of the universe.” It makes sense to me, and I like the analogy.
For the record, my weeks run Tuesday-Monday, because it’s easiest for me to have the smallest amount to do (the check-in) on Monday. Tuesdays I read the chapter, and Wednesday-Sunday I work on the tasks. Artist Date day varies.
Since this is the introduction chapter, there are no tasks. We’ll get more into that next week.
What are your thoughts so far? Have you read The Artist’s Way before, or is it new to you? I’d love to hear from you!
The Books on Writing Reading Program is my attempt to get through a stockpile of books about the writing process that I’ve stalled out on in the past. I work best under pressure, so I’m hoping others join with me in reading and discussing the books! Read more about it here.
Episode 0009 – 15 minute writing practice using word prompts
Welcome back! This is a timed writing practice using word prompts. You will be writing for 15 minutes during the podcast, and you can continue writing however long you like afterwards.
A quick announcement: I’m starting the Books on Writing Reading Program, and I would love for you to join me! We’ll spend several weeks reading and discussing a book about the creative process of writing. The first book, starting this week, is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Come visit me on the blog to learn more about it: www.writingpromptcast.com