The Artist’s Way: Getting Started

Posted on January 30, 2011

So, as I’ve discussed here previously, I have just begun leading an Artist’s Way group at my church. For the next three months, way more people from my church than I ever dreamed would be interested, and I, are going to go through the 12 weeks of the program laid out by Julia Cameron in her book THE ARTIST’S WAY. The program helps “unblock creativity” — in other words, it helps people prioritize creativity in their lives, remove their inner censors and embrace that amazing creative energy that’s pent up inside.

When I first did the program, more than a decade ago, I hadn’t written a word in three years. Now I’m a full-time novelist … which might make you wonder, like one person at my church, about why I feel the need to do it again. I mean, it worked the first time, right? And it did. But I’m interested to see how different the experience will be to me now, and I think it’s important for professional writers to remain connected to the primal enjoyment of/passion for writing. That can be difficult to hold onto with the pressure of deadlines, reviews, tour dates, etc.

For each week of the program, I’m going to post here about some of the basics of THE ARTIST’S WAY and what it’s like for me this go-round. If you’re interested in following along, I suggest getting a copy of the book (it should be available in most new and used bookstores, all online venues and in most libraries.) There are lots of essays/extra tasks/etc. that the book lays out, which I think are key to success. But I’ll share a little bit each time, starting this week with —

“The Basic Tools”

Each week of THE ARTIST’S WAY has separate tasks, a separate function within the program. But there are two things you have to commit to throughout the entire twelve weeks:

1) The Morning Pages

Every morning — I mean, every single morning — very early in your day (as in, before breakfast, not before lunch) — you need to write three pages.

Three pages of what, you ask? It doesn’t matter. Journal the day before. Start a short story. Recount the dreams you remember from the night before. Write a letter to the imaginary friend you forgot about when you turned six. There’s literally no wrong way to do it. If you can’t think of anything to write, just put down, “I can’t think of anything to write” over and over until you fill three (full notebook size!) pages.

What purpose does this serve? Well, there’s no one purpose, just as there’s no one way to do the pages. Some people end up working on something creative; others use it as a way to vent the emotions that otherwise tangle them up throughout the day. What’s important is doing some writing so early on that your day hasn’t had a chance to interfere. As you keep going, in about week three or four, chances are you’ll start to see what the pages are going to do for you.

2) The Artist’s Date

Once a week — every single week — you must go out and do something that is (a) totally new to you and (b) potentially interesting for you, for two hours. And you must go alone.

It can be an art exhibit. It can be rollerblading. It can be a walk down a street lined with old Victorian houses you always thought were pretty as you drove past in a hurry. It can be a cooking class. ANYTHING … as long as it interests you and is unfamiliar to you. By providing your mind with repeated new, stimulating experiences, you are waking up your imagination. Filling the well, as Cameron calls it.

And why go alone? Because that way, you can’t filter the experience through someone else. Your thoughts have to be free to wander — to make new connections. You have to move at your own pace, free of anybody else’s expectations.


Not only do these tools have intrinsic value, but they also help you fight one of the oldest enemies of creativity: The belief that you don’t have the time. What you’re usually saying, when you say that, is “I don’t think it’s important enough to make it a priority.” Doing THE ARTIST’S WAY helps you stand up and say that creativity is a priority for you. You learn to find the time.

Next week, I’ll go over the topic for week one — “Discovering a Sense of Safety.”

And Tuesday, I’ll be announcing new tour dates, plus new contests leading into the impending release of AFTERLIFE!