According to me, I am no artist. But according to Julia Cameron — author, teacher, and creativity guru who first published The Artist’s Way almost 30 years ago — I, Emma Turetsky, am a brilliant and prolific artist, and through my creativity, I serve God! The creator! My inner child artist! And I must both shout it from the rooftops and write it in my notebook ten times for good measure!
You’ve probably (definitely) heard about The Artist’s Way, which comes up in casual conversation so frequently at this point that I hear about it every time I dare step off my front steps and into our “post-COVID,” “post–Great Resignation,” “post-girlboss” world. My social-media feeds have been flooded with accounts of the program’s magic. Both “The Artist’s Way” and “Morning Pages” hashtags on TikTok have over 8 million hits — but you don’t even need to search! A few scrolls through “BookTok,” a like or two into “CreativeTok,” a U-turn back to “MorningRoutineTok” and boom! You’ll find yourself invested in Anna from Boston’s morning pages. Even Julia Cameron herself has dropped some content explaining her iconic program. And while The Artist’s Way is popping off on TikTok, my IRL friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends have found themselves chatting in corners of bars about how their roommate always interrupts them during precious “morning-pages time.” A friend’s boyfriend is in an “Artist’s Way book club.” Another friend told me he’s restarting the program from the beginning because he loved it so much. Even Bella Hadid has been spotted stepping out carrying her copy.
According to Lindsay Gordon, associate publisher of Avery Books and TarcherPerigee, the publisher of both the original 1992 edition and the 25th-anniversary edition, the book’s sales have grown over 40 percent in the last four years. This is unusual for a 30-year-old book, Gordon says, and stands out in the industry at large. The book has sold over 100,000 physical copies in both 2021 and 2020 respectively, and the 25th-anniversary edition is currently ranked No. 2 on Amazon’s Popular Psychology Creativity & Genius Best Sellers list. Enthusiastic top reviewers claim things like, “My other bible,” “You’ll roll your eyes. But it will work,” and “I lost 25 pounds.”
Okay, But What Is The Artist’s Way?
Here are the basics: It’s part self-help, part workbook. “A spiritual path to higher creativity” complete with affirmations, inspirational quotes, and lots — and I mean lots — of God. After going through a rough divorce from none other than Martin Scorsese (whose review is in fact on the back of the 25th anniversary edition: “For those who will use it, it is a valuable tool to get in touch with their own creativity!”), Cameron found herself deep in the throes of alcoholism and drug addiction. As she recovered and worked her way through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, she discovered a new artistic process — one that relied on daily writing practice instead of drinking or drugs. In fact much of Cameron’s nondenominational God-speak closely parallels the AA definition of a “higher power,” making it easier to interpret mentions of the “creator” and “God’s will” as a bit abstract. More “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change” and less “forgive me Father for I have sinned.”
After developing her own method of “creative unblocking,” Cameron began coaching individual clients, helping them nurture their own inner “artist child.” As her method grew in popularity and demand for her coaching continued to grow, she released The Artist’s Way in 1992, with only about 9,000 copies published. Since its original publication, millions of copies have been sold and Cameron has released over 30 books on the subjects of creativity and spirituality, including ten (ten!) books in The Artist’s Way series alone.
How Does It Work?
The book is divided into 12 chapters, one of which is to be read each week for the duration of the 12-week course. In moving through the mild-to-moderately woo-woo chapters featuring inspirational quotes from the likes of Toni Morrison, Simone DeBeauvoir, and Plato, the book guides the reader to heal and soothe their “inner artist child.”
Additionally, the self-guided course asks the reader to sign a contract with themselves, agreeing to complete the chapter work each week, and take themselves on a weekly solo “artist date” (bowling! A long walk! You name it!) and to, most notably, begin each morning with three pages (three (3) whole pages!) of stream-of-conscious journaling known as “the Morning Pages.”
The purpose of the morning pages? Drain your brain of all the pesky cyclical thinking we face as we wake up each morning — think to-do lists, meetings, grocery lists, etc. — in order to make space for more creative thinking. And whatever you do, don’t reread them! You must not reread them until you are at least eight weeks into the program. There are no excuses! Your pages must be completed every single day without fail to make space for your inner artist to grow. And in the words of Miss Cameron, the time you give to your morning pages is “time between you and God.” Ignore your partner, be late to work, let your dog starve — just do your morning pages, and your creativity will flourish.
Don’t Read Them?
Other than “brain drain,” the morning pages help bridge the gap between your blocked self and your creativity. What’s blocking you? Why, your inner censor, of course! “The Censor,” as Cameron somewhat affectionately calls our worst critic, is our own internal drive for perfection. The pages will be messy. The pages will be petty. The pages will be stupid. Don’t let the Censor stop you by rereading. That means you also can’t share your pages with anyone. Okay, fine, you can read an excerpt of mine, sandwiched between a reminder to pay a parking ticket and some bitching about my neighbor’s chihuahuas:
Allow me to paint you a picture: It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon. I sit hunched scribbling across a sheet of college ruled paper. My roommate sits, blissfully unaware of my laser sharp focus, enjoying her leisurely weekend TV time. Suddenly, I shoot up to my feet, fling my pages to the side, and chuck my pen across the room. My roommate looks up, jaw agape, and pauses her episode. I begin screaming.
“I, EMMA, AM A BRILLIANT AND PROLIFIC ARTIST”
Suddenly, a tray of sparkling quartz crystals appear in my palm. I crush them into my forehead like a frat boy with a can of Coors Light. The sound of gongs can be heard in the distance, and I begin levitating. Higher and higher I rise until my, now vibrating, body smashes through the ceiling. As I soar into the sky, my clothes fly off and a flock of pigeons drape a hand woven kaftan on my naked body, now ready to serve my creator, the artist that I am.
From the ground below, my neighbor walks her Yorkie and hears my fading screams. She shields her eyes from the sun and stares at my disappearing body as it ascends to the heavens. Sighing, she shakes her head and turns to the tiny, crusty dog.
“Another one lost to The Artist’s Way!”
Should I Try It?
Personally, the thought of writing three whole pages each morning before touching my phone or brushing my teeth was nauseating. In fact, as a “writer” myself, I’d failed each and every previous attempt at “journaling” or “free writing” or, as my elementary-school teachers would call it, “writer’s-notebook-ing.”
While tons of artists find the pages intimidating, as writing at large can feel like a massive hurdle, Cameron provides an interesting point: She warns that the morning pages can be hardest for writers. Why? Because writers are precious with their words. Because, one must crack their knuckles, pour a whiskey, smoke a cigar and “begin,” right?
As I should have anticipated, I am not the best at constructing sentences at 7:30 a.m. It also turns out that the only thing going through my head nine days out of ten at that godforsaken hour is “Which workout class should I go to after work” and “Am I out of coffee???” Although I haven’t reread them, I can only guess my morning pages would cue “50-year-old mom with a Curves membership” and not “28-year-old with two roommates and no groceries.”
It turns out, my morning brain is scrambled eggs, and I wake up stressed and decision fatigued before I’ve even taken my Vyvanse! How am I supposed to come up with any “creative” ideas, if I’m drowning in logistical paradoxes and chock full of anxiety I hadn’t even associated with the morning? I may not have finished each chapter’s work (yet) and I may have missed a few artist dates, but let me tell you this: The morning pages are changing my life. Less stress, less pressure to be precious? That’s on inner-artist growth! Shit, I wouldn’t be writing this right now if it weren’t for those morning pages! Art imitates life now, doesn’t it?
But Why Now?
In a post-quarantine world that was objectively isolating for many, we’ve been forced on some level to reevaluate ourselves, our goals, and our dreams. There’s nothing like working your marketing job from your closet-size bedroom, closing your laptop at 7 p.m., and standing in the kitchen you share with three roommates, to force you to ask yourself, “Is this … it?” I don’t want to just girlboss until my hair falls out, I develop carpal tunnel, and succumb to my sleep-paralysis demon that attacks me during dreams of brand activations for the rest of my life. I don’t want to just make money. I want to do something that makes me feel like a real living, breathing person. And according to The Artist’s Way, there’s nothing more inherent to our humanity than creativity.