Self-Help for Writers: The Julia Cameron Diet

For the past year or so, I’v been at a creative standstill, stuck at a crossroad between my artistic self and my Type A personality. The latter keeps my mind abuzz with to-do lists and goals and worries, while the former longs for hours of leisurely reading, journaling and typing in bed or in the corner of a coffee shop. They diverge most severely: one down a path of career-related success, and the other down a road of spiritual satisfaction. It’s not a unique problem–the very occupation of a professional, published writer requires one to reconcile industry with artistry. But when one comes to a head with a debilitating creative roadblock for the first time, it can feel like the loneliest struggle. And that’s what I’ve been dealing with for too long now. If I’m being honest with myself, I was barely dealing with, I was ignoring it mostly. I kept telling myself that I’d push to write something tomorrow, that I’d revisit old works for editing next week, when all my other work was done, I’d write in my journal after the laundry finished, or after watching my one hour of TV. When I finally admitted that part of the problem was my fear to sit in front of the blank page (or screen) and find that nothing came, that my thoughts were blank, wordless, I convinced myself I’d start a writer’s diet of self-help books. I’d browse Amazon or look up titles at the library, never making a purchase or checking one out. It all felt so forced, so pathetic. Self-help? I was really turning to self-help books?

I remembered a book and writer a freshman year professor recommended all aspiring writers read, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Cameron is an American teacher, author, artist, poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, composer, journalist and revered advice-giver to all creative types. I’ve thumbed through her most famous book on several occasions in the Boston Public Library, its wall-sized windows letting in a jarring light each afternoon I was there. It contains a 12 week program to “higher creativity,” and at the time my creative struggles was just beginning, it seemed a little excessive. I wasn’t some recovering addict in need of regimented guidance, I just needed a little morsel of inspiration. I put the book back in its placed on the cramped metal shelving each time. I wasn’t ready for a big, elaborate program. I didn’t yet understand what it meant to be spiritual as an artist or writer.

The Sound of PaperBut of course in ignoring my problem and fleeing from it, it only began to grow. In an effort that hurt as much as ripping a bandaid off sensitive skin, I eased myself into the Julia Cameron program with The Sound of Paper, a series of short passages on the nature of writing, followed  by non-commital exercises that blend creative composition and personal growth. The goal is to tap into creativity from scratch and understand oneself as a creative being. Though some of the tasks seem a little silly and do nothing for my creativity–I didn’t quite see the purpose of crafting a doll to symbolize a loss–there are many writing prompts that have taken me deeper and farther than I thought possible. One in particular helped me understand and cope with my fear of graduating and pursuing a career in writing, the original prompt being to describe oneself as a character using third person. I didn’t think I’d be able to write past a few paragraphs after describing myself physically, but the words flowed easily and, before I knew it, I had written four full pages on my creative and professional struggles. After a few experiences like these, I began to understand that I did have that capability to write extensively and freely and I could access it with just a small personal shove. But I’m curious about what I could achieve with a bigger commitment to my writing. I’m still treading slowly, trying to do what Cameron calls Morning Pages every other day, taking myself on Artist Walks to clear my head if I have free time and the New England weather is accommodating. But I’m eager to see what would happen if I dove in, put my writing first, making time always. I’ve still got a few weeks with The Sound of Paper, but I’ll be moving on to The Artist’s Way next and maybe all these ideas I’ve had filed in the back of my mind will blossom into tangible manuscripts.

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