Harnessing the creative impulse Author Julia Cameron
When Julia Cameron’s first book, The Artist’s Way, was published in 1992, self-help shelves in bookstores were crowded with titles that captured the public imagination for a while, sold well — remember Women Who Run with the Wolves, Iron John, and A Return to Love?— then faded away. But The Artist’s Way not only escaped that fate, it flourished. Never out of print, it has sold more than two million copies over its long lifespan, mostly by word of mouth, and become what some call a cultural landmark.
That the 12-week program outlined in the book has worked for Cameron is indisputable. Despite serious personal challenges (candidly outlined in her 2006 memoir Floor Sample), she has produced more than 40 additional books — fiction and nonfiction, including 10 in The Artist’s
Way series — as well as plays, music, film, and television scripts; she also leads multiple workshops each year to gently coax participants through the steps to “discovering and recovering” their creative selves.
It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, written with Emma Lively, is Cameron’s newest addition to the
Artist’s Way domain. Released by Tarcher/Perigree this past spring — and followed by this fall’s publication of a 25th-anniversary edition of the book that started it all — It’s Never Too Late specifically targets people in midlife and beyond.
Pasatiempo spoke recently with Cameron, a fulltime Santa Fe resident, about both books and their place in a changing creative landscape. Pasatiempo: Never Too Late came out at the same time as the 25th anniversary of The Artist’s Way. Was that by plan? Julia Cameron: More serendipitous. I think that a lot of the audience for Never Too Late are the people who, 25 years ago, worked The Artist’s Way and are hungry for a renewal.
I’m sixty-eight, and when I turned sixty-five, I started getting propaganda in the mail, which said, “Do you want to have your family pay your funeral costs?” And I found myself thinking, surely there’s more to life than that. So I wrote the book for me and my peers. I think a great many people move here in retirement with the plan of following a dream, and often they become stymied and find themselves unable to actualize the dream. Pasa: So you wrote your first book to help yourself, and had the same kind of impetus for the most recent one — Cameron: I think I write out of experience and not out of theory. So The Artist’s Way was a book of tools I had learned that worked. And I think that was what appealed to people … [the steps] were very straightforward, and it was like, do these few simple things and you’ll have a breakthrough. And I think the same thing is true with It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again. These are the tools that I found myself using in order to retain and flourish, despite my mail. Pasa: You’ve added two more basic steps to Never Too Late.
Cameron: This is because I’m older and wiser. When I wrote The Artist’s Way, there were two basic tools — morning pages [three pages, written off the top of your head, in longhand, first thing every morning] and artist dates [a weekly play date with yourself that inspires and feeds your creative self]. Then, when you get into week 12, at the very last minute, I say “P.S.: Exercise.” And now I’ve been teaching for 25 years and have realized that the exercise tool is one that should be integrated from the very beginning. Pasa: Why is that?
Cameron: Because what happens with morning pages is that you are sending — and what happens with artist dates is that you’re receiving. And what happens with walking is that you’re integrating both tools. … I recommend walking outdoors. What you’re after is basically a spiritual awakening. And I think that I can’t really talk about my tools without saying
The Artist’s Way is described as a spiritual path to higher creativity. And what happens when you write morning pages and take artist dates is that you come in touch with a benevolent something. And that something speaks to you most clearly when you’re walking. Pasa: Memoir was the other addition to the new book.
Cameron: When I wrote The Artist’s Way, I wrote about staying in the now by writing morning pages. But when people are older, they sometimes feel that they are spent. … So the memoir is a tool of discovery that gives you clues and cues of the directions you’d like to move in next. A lot of times people will write the memoir, and they’ll discover that when they were young, they had a passion for photography, and then they gave it up and went on with their careers. And then they get to writing a memoir and they think, “Maybe I still would be interested in photography. I could try that.”
Pasa: So the memoir’s job is not so much to sum up as to rediscover —
Cameron: I would say that the memoir maybe gives you an overview. And the morning pages give you a daily path. And when you work with both tools together, you begin to have good breakthroughs.
Pasa: The world has changed a lot in the past 25 years. Do you think The Artist’s Way still holds value for younger readers?
Cameron: I think that we have a very pervasive mythology around creativity — and it’s very negative. And I think it’s still intact 25 years later. So there’s still a need for books that say creativity is natural; creativity is spiritual; creativity is something that we all possess just as we possess blood … although I think that the advent of computers and social media has made it easier to actualize some of our creativity. Twenty-five years ago there was a stigma about self-publishing and now there isn’t. I think that this is a wonderful change. And I feel like email has made us free to write again.
Pasa: Yet you still recommend writing morning pages by hand?
Cameron: Yes. If you write on the computer, you get speed and distance. If you write by hand, you’re slowed down.
Pasa: So speed is not necessarily a positive thing?
Cameron: That’s right. What we are after is making a handcrafted life. And writing by hand helps. I had a robbery a few months ago and they stole my computer and my back-up system. Fortunately, I write [all my books] by hand … and they didn’t think to steal my notebooks.