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Clear-Minded Classic #3: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

When I was about 20 years old, I was totally and utterly lost. I was in my fourth year of studying for a degree and I was disillusioned with the whole process. I could see no clear way forward in terms of finding a job or career at the end of it, and I was drinking heavily.

When I was younger I’d always been creative. I used to make and sell my own comics, and then my interest moved into acting and making videos. One of the reasons I came to Edinburgh to study a Communications Degree was because the course curriculum included film-making. The prospectus had featured photographs of a pretty girl with a video camera and daft as it now sounds, that pretty much sold me on coming over from Ireland to check out the college for an open day.

When I arrived, the beauty of the city itself sealed the deal, plus the promise of decent gigs in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. I was also keen to get as far away from home as possible, as my parents had recently separated and I wanted to be as independent as possible. I was 16 when I moved.

Unfortunately it turned out that making videos was only a small part of the course, and by the time the opportunity came I was already drinking too much to properly focus on it. I could have made more of it if I’d had the right mindset – but I was already sucked into a kind of apathetic black hole where I just wanted to blot everything out rather than face up to reality.

At a certain point though, I had a moment of clarity and realised that if I continued in this way I was going to be in a seriously bad situation when I left college, if indeed I managed to complete my degree at all.

Thankfully, when I was browsing the shelves in Waterstone’s I spotted a book called The Artist’s Way and I found the real kick up the arse I needed.

Now I was not your typical purchaser of self-help books. After all, my whole persona at the time was centred around being a drunken cynic and nihilist.I can’t actually remember doing it now, and what was going through my mind at the time, but I’m guessing it was a sense of desperation that led me to buy the book.

As it happens, it was the perfect book for me to read at the time.

What’s the big deal?

The Artist’s Way is undoubtedly one of the most popular books ever written about creativity. A number of people have mentioned it in the Clear-Minded Creative Types series of interviews or when commenting on this blog, and time and time again it will pop up in conversations about the topic. There’s even a whole online forum devoted to it.

But not everyone is sold on it, because of its heavy focus on spirituality. It’s basically a recovery programme for people who have lost their faith in their own creativity, and so has similarities with recovery programmes for addictions, such as alcoholics anonymous. A key part of it involves believing that creativity has a spiritual origin.

Now although I am not a member of any religion I do have spiritual beliefs. But I don’t want to impose my views on anyone else so I’ll just say this -if you’re a truly committed athiest or agnostic who cannot stand any foray into this type of thing, then the book isn’t for you. Having said that, there are some great methods for getting more creative and clear-minded you could still take from it, which I’ll detail below.

What’s Involved?

Working with this book you will experience an intensive, guided encounter with your own creativity – your private villains, champions, wishes, fears, dreams, hopes and triumphs. The experience will make you excited, depressed, angry, afraid, joyous, hopeful and ultimately more free. Julia Cameron

So, to reiterate, the Artist’s Way is more of a recovery programme than a book which you sit down and read and then put away and forget forever. It involves making a commitment to read a chapter a week for 12 weeks, and to establish two key new habits in your life:

  • Daily “Morning Pages”
  • A Weekly ”Artist’s Date”

Plus there’s a bunch of other tasks at the end of each chapter. Now I’m not sure how much of these additional tasks I did when I first went through the book, but when it came to the morning pages, I committed and stuck to them like my life depended on it.

The whole idea is to write for 3 pages every morning, without censoring yourself. You just keep writing, even if it’s the first daft thing that pops into your head. They aren’t meant to be re-read, and Cameron strictly forbids you to share them with anyone else. The point is to be completely honest and real. She describes them as a form of meditation, the sole purpose of which is to get all the crap in your head out onto the page and thus leaving you more clear-minded.

We meditate to discover our own identity, our right place in the scheme of the universe. Through meditation we acquire, and eventually acknowledge our connection to an inner power source that has the ability to transform our outer world. Julia Cameron

You don’t need to be a writer, as this isn’t about creating something literary or clever. This is a splurge of words, which creates the space you need to allow the spark of creativity to be re-ignited.

An outpouring of words

Doing the morning pages led to an outpouring of writing for me. I would get up and start writing the moment I woke up, and often I would be writing poetry with images from my dreams, which were still fresh in my mind. I wrote a bunch of lyrics and some short stories. I was delighted to be writing again and it gave me renewed hope for the future.

Last year I started doing this again, via the site 750words.com. Based on the idea of the morning pages (750 words is about 3 pages) this brilliant site is cleverly designed to encourage and reward those people who manage to write every day. Over the course of a few months last year I clocked up 100,000 words. Some of it was just plain journalling, as Cameron suggests, but sometimes I would write a blog post or something else if I was inspired to. I worked a lot on the idea for this blog and what I wanted to cover on it.

Cameron goes on to describes the artist date as “a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and commmitted to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist”. She says this is equally as important to the morning pages as a way of opening yourself to inspiration.

The Censor = Resistance

As we saw in the previous Clear-Minded Classic The War of Art, Steven Pressfield identified the enemy of creativity as ‘resistance’. Cameron sees the problem as ‘the censor’ – another internal barrier we need to overcome.

We are victims of our own internalised perfectionist, a nasty and eternal critic, the censor – who resides in our (left) brain and keeps a constant stream of subversive remarks that are often disguised as the truth’ Julia Cameron

As with the resistance, the inner censor is a clever foe, and it takes a lot of work to get around it. but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that..

There’s a lot more to The Artist’s Way than I can go into here. If you’re already firing on all creative cylinders then you probably don’t need this book, but if you’re willing to do a bit of soul-searching and feel like you need to recover that creative spark inside yourself it’s most definitely worthwhile.

Now I reckon it’s about time I started doing my 750 words a day again…

Buy The Artist’s Way on Amazon.co.uk

Buy The Artist’s Way on Amazon.com

Have you read/used the Artist’s Way? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Creative Catch Up – April

I’m writing this post at an Edinburgh blogger’s meet up at Sofi’s bar in Leith organised by Georgia of IdeaSpotting. It’s an attempt to be sociable *and* get some blogging done, so I’m interested to see if it’s possible to do both at the same time!

Mainly because I’ve not been very good at making the time to post recently (as you may have noticed). And maybe, just maybe, a bit of friendly peer pressure will help..

I figured I’d try and reignite the blogging spark by doing a short round-up post. I used to do these on my personal blog and they were quite popular. It might be that these are better suited for Sundays in future, to tie in with..

Share Your Wares Sundays

I asked people to share something creative they’d completed during the week on the Facebook page each Sunday. It’s had a pretty good reaction so far, especially considering I haven’t done an awful lot to publicise it yet.

Emily Dodd shared the story of 11 year old Adam Bojelian who can’t speak or write with a pen but creates poetry by blinking. Emily just happened to be at the bloggers’ meet up too, and she told me how she met Adam and his mum at a recent Social Media Surgery in Edinburgh. Following Emily’s excellent advice on getting the word out they have now raised over £2,000 for his trike ride to support disabled children and their families.

Baker at Catfish Parade also posted his reaction to a post by Mars Dorian which has created a bit of a stir.

Basically Mars reckons that trying to do too many things at once is a recipe for career disaster. He strongly advises against trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Now a lot of bloggers are multi-talented and proud of it, so there was a bit of a backlash.

Personally I’m a little torn about this one. I really enjoy Mars’s blog because he isn’t afraid to make strong arguments, and I basically agree with his essential point – he’s suggesting clarity and focus is best when communicating who you are with other people – which is basically the message of this blog too.

I think though that who we are and what we do in life evolves naturally over time, so it’s not like we have to choose one thing and stick to it. But maybe it’s a good idea to define what we do in a clearer way. What do you think?

Please do visit the Facebook page and have a look at all the cool creative projects that other people have been posting.

Tumbling again

I’ve also started posting some interesting stuff on the Clear-Minded Creative tumblr page. This content feeds through to Facebook but if you’re on Tumblr you might prefer to follow it that way. Tumblr is a great way to find really cool content and also a good way to try out blogging if you’ve not done it before, because it’s so easy to use.

I loved this quote in particular:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. – Ira Glass via Sam Sketch

And to go back to Mars Dorian, here’s his advice on how to close the gap.

p.s. You can also submit your creative work to the Tumblr blog if you ‘re not a fan of Facebook.

So, I did get a blog post out of the meet-up, as well as meeting some interesting new people – including unashamed gossip-monger Andrew Burnett and film blogger Mark Davidson. And congratulations to co-organiser Trudy Peaches who published her very first blog post whilst she was there!

In the meantime, now that I’m back in the blogging mindset, keep an eye out for another great interview and more coming very soon..

Mule guitar

Journalist, Podcaster and “Philosopher” Steven Kearney

Ok, so to get back into the swing of things with the interviews, here’s one with Mr Steven Kearney, a writer for The Scotsman’s music website Radar, who I first met because we both did a radio show at Edinburgh’s student radio station Fresh Air.

Alas, Stevie has killed off the truly excellent ‘Dylan and the Mule’ podcasts which I shamefully only started listening to around the time he stopped doing them. And I miss them now. Sob.

I’m told though that he has plenty more web projects up his sleeve for the future. For the time being he’s busy enough with a certain charity challenge – read on for more info.

I wanted to interview Stevie in particular for his perspective as someone who has recently trained to be a journalist and who has intimate knowledge of the current (difficult) situation for that profession. He’s also kindly given me permission to make his dissertation Could the Professional Music Journalist Vanish available for free download – see the end of the post for more details.

Hi Stevie! Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?

We all know the scene – you are sitting in a bar with friends and you are introduced to someone new. They ask “what do you do then?” I always struggle with this particular question. If I’m feeling playful, I tend to answer “philosopher”, although this is in no way the truth. It has led to some of my most wonderful lies though.

My university studies were in Corporate Communications and then Journalism, so I tend to be very communication centred. By day I run a wine and whisky shop, which I enjoy immensely. In terms of the creative side of things, I have been writing for the Scotsman’s Radar blog for around two years, I have been Fresh Air Radio’s Best Male Presenter on two occasions, I previously ran the Dylan and the Mule new music podcast and I’m currently in the planning stage of organising an all day charity music festival in Aberdeen during July (possibly entitled Aural Pleasure, if I can get away with it).

Podcast Powered By Podbean

I’m working with my friend Colin Austin to put on a series of acts in two venues, somewhere around Belmont Street to raise money for youth projects in the creative arts sector. There’s still a hell of a lot of work to be done to get things moving though! We also have plans afoot to start up a new Aberdeen-based new music website in the next few months, with regular reviews, interviews and podcasts featuring session tracks by local musicians.

I have previously tried my hand at music, but lack any modicum of talent. I have written a lot of short stories and am currently battling my way through writing my first novel – which is about an alcoholic television news journalist who commits a terrible act of violence late one night, then arrives at work the next morning to find out that he is covering the story. It is, I stress, not an autobiography!

Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?

I still lack focus to be honest. This time last year I was moving to Manchester to be a kick-ass news journalist. That was what I’d studied for and that was what I was going to be. I did well at university and had no doubt I would be successful. Five months later I had quit, having absolutely hated my job. I had to source and write 25 articles a day and I couldn’t keep up. It was a sobering time. Two months after that I was moving back home to Aberdeen and working back in the wine trade. However, you can’t put a price on looking forward to going to work in the morning rather than dreading it. So yeah, plans change. Mine change regularly.

In terms of creativity, I am still unsure if I am a properly creative person myself – I see my role more as a facilitator for creativity in others. In terms of music writing, I am the guy who arranges the quotes in a certain order and adds a bit of background detail. The creative people are the ones making the wonderful music. With the festival we are planning for the summer, we are giving a platform to others.

I guess in many ways it has taken me a long time to find a role for myself within the music scene, which effectively makes me a frustrated musician doesn’t it? I still have to try very hard not to behave like a total gimp when I’m around people whose music I love. Every time I see Dan Willson from Withered Hand I manage to speak absolute shit to him because I think the guy is phenomenal. I reckon he thinks I’m a proper mental case, but he’s much too polite to say anything.

Looking forwards, I want to keep the music writing as a hobby as that allows me to pick and choose my projects more carefully. Journalism is not half the fun it is cracked up to be and you need to be really focused on one particular goal, otherwise you’ll end up doing what I did, which was sitting in a tower block in Manchester at 8am every morning writing about property investment in the Middle East. And that is a pile of shit.

Have you organised your life in a certain way/made sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?

I’ve not made huge sacrifices, because I am doing what I want to do. I work on projects which interest me and have a job I enjoy which is flexible enough to allow me to do other things outside of work time. I don’t make much money, but I am not in a place where that bothers me right now. It bothers my bank, but I’m fine with that. I’m waiting for my government bail out.

How do you define success?

Success for me has to be measured by a yardstick of my own making. If you look around at others too much you create two problems. Firstly, any success you identify will only be comparative success, compared to your peers, which is fairly hollow. Secondly, there will always be someone doing better than you, so you’ll never be satisfied. Success is getting up each day and looking forward to whatever shit might be thrown at you, safe in the knowledge that none of it really matters at all.

What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

Stevie interviews Comedian Marcus Brigstocke

The positive side for any writer is that the barriers to entry have been steamrollered by the internet – and the rise of blogging in particular. My university thesis was on this very subject – looking at how technology has changed the role of the music writer. The general outcome was that it is wonderful that anyone can now write a blog and have their work accessible to such a global audience, but it makes it much harder to make a living from music writing.

With my journalist’s hat on, the biggest problem is that so many journalism graduates are being pumped out each year into an industry in terminal decline as technology replaces people, perpetuated by a recession where advertising revenues are at an all time low. There are no paid positions to take up. Subsequently, talented young journalists are working for free, even for some of the big publications. In some cases recently, people are paying to do work placements.

Thus, the publications see no need to pay anyone, because there is a massive queue of people willing to work for nothing. It is a vicious cycle for music writers just now and it isn’t going to get any better. Incidentally, when I left my job as a news journalist, I was apparently replace by an endless stream of two-week unpaid work placement students, all giving up their time in the hope of landing a paid position which didn’t actually exist.

While we discuss the upside and downside of technology, it is useful to consider that blogging does present another problem. Too many people think their opinion matters when it comes to music. I am a music journalist because I research bands, I interview them and I report what I learn. I am trained to ask the right questions and get the required information to create an informative and entertaining article. I don’t judge music and I am certainly not a music critic.

My opinion on a band is no more valid than that of any other person at the gig I’m attending. I am careful to keep my opinion of the music out of what I do because, essentially, I have no basis on which to be a taste-maker. Blogging causes a din of unqualified opinion and I personally try to keep out of this. With my podcasts, it is a bit different, because it is obvious that I will play things I like because it is my podcast. When writing for a site like Radar though, it carries more weight, so I’ll stick to the facts. It would be nice to know that people realise that starting a blog doesn’t make you a music critic.

Stevie with Neil from the super awesome Edinburgh band Meursault

Working with others certainly leads to a much better creative process. With the music festival we are plotting, it only really came to life when I sat in the Brew Dog pub in Aberdeen with Colin one night and we threw ideas around for about 3 hours. John – who runs The Kiosque – joined us and helped take some of the rough edges off our more elaborate plans. We had two dreamers and one guy thinking practically. It was so much more productive than being sat at home, trying to figure it out on my own.

In contrast, my fiction writing is a resolutely solitary process, where I have to switch off the internet, block out the world and find a quiet room, where I will sit for at least 3 hours at a time without budging. Occasionally it gets to a stage where I am prepared to send it to a select few people who are my trusted proof-readers. Even then, I find it brutal having someone pore over your work looking for ways to improve it. It undoubtedly helps to have a good community of writers who can help each other out, but I still find it much too difficult to let go.

I’ve always found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?

When your creative outlets happen outside of your work hours, it is hard to be disciplined enough to achieve consistency. This is certainly something I struggle with. Also, I was afraid to say no to anything for a long time, because I hoped to make a career out of journalism. It is so incredibly tough to find a decent job that I felt compelled to agree to everything to keep my CV looking good, but in the end I spread myself too thin and did a half-arsed job on everything.

In terms of advice, I’d say pick one or two things and do them really well, rather than trying to do everything and thus doing it all badly. I have a much better balance now than this time last year, but I still take on far too much.

Incidentally, I have also decided to take on a bit of an insane challenge to raise money for a very worthwhile project in Tanzania, so when I’m not working or writing, I’m out on my bike or in the gym, preparing to cycle 270km over mountains, while stopping off to run up Ben Nevis and Ben Lomond along the way – all in just 4 days. I have actually lost the plot, so feel free to sponsor this madness at http://www.justgiving.com/Stevie-Kearney.

Cheers Stevie! So do you agree or disagree with his outspoken opinions on blogging, or demand that Stevie start podcasting again right away? Let him know in the comments.

That free dissertation – the full details.

Given that Mr Kearney is also giving away his entire dissertation to readers of this blog, why not  say thanks by sponsoring the man and helping charity at the same time? I’m off to do it now.

The dissertation looks at how things like blogging have affected music journalism and  out of the people he interviewed there are quite a few different opinions on the topic.  I was delighted to be asked to contribute, along with the following Scottish music scene movers and shakers:

Vic Galloway, Jim Gellatly, Matthew Young, Jason Cranwell, Nick Mitchell, Billy Hamilton, Peter Kelly and Dan Willson.

Download Could the Professional Music Journalist Vanish by Steven A Kearney