Tag Archives | the Artist’s Way

Keep Calm and Carry On Writing

Keep-calm-and-carry-on-poster-degradado-1280-300x240Keep calm and carry on.  The saying is a cliche of the highest order by now, its initial message as positive propaganda during World War II long since co-opted for commercial purposes.  But for some reason it popped into my head a few days ago and wouldn't leave.

Maybe because my life has been anything but calm lately and I'm struggling to carry on with my writing. I'm not complaining, mind you.  Life is hectic because I went on vacation, I've got obligations to friends, family, and community, and oh yeah, work.  All of which I love.  But none of which are especially conducive to getting words on the page.

And there's something about the keep calm and carry on message that is, well, calming.  It reminds me of another favorite saying, from the late doyenne of knitting, Elizabeth Zimmerman (also a Brit): Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises.  

We could amend that to Write on with confidence and hope, through all crises, don't you think?

Yeah, but how?

One of the stories that stays with me from the time years ago that I went to a creativity workshop with Julia Cameron was how she wrote during one of the worst times of her life, thus coining her phrase, keep the drama on the page.  And she had drama then, yes she did.  Her then-husband, Martin Scorsese (yes, that Martin Scorsese) was cavorting around Europe with Isabella Rossellini and friends were helpfully sending her press clippings about the scandal.  (This was, gasp, pre-internet days.) And yet, as I recall, she credited this with one of the most creative periods of her life.

Again, how?

Here are some ideas that I've been drawing upon the last few days as I work myself back into a regular writing schedule.

Start with the breath.  In moments of busyness or anxiety, you've become apart from yourself.  The fastest way to get centered again is to take a minute to focus on your breathing.  Stop, take a breath, and connect with yourself (or whatever source you believe in, if you prefer).  Are all the things that are making you frazzled and anxious really that important? Take another breath.  Probably they aren't, huh?  You are still here and still breathing and all is well.

Make writing a priority.  No matter what all else you have on your agenda, make writing your priority, as if its the most important thing in the world, above even the most beloved thing in your life.  (Wait, writing is the most beloved thing in your life, right?)  Act as if your very life depended on you writing. Because, for your sanity, it does.  And sometimes, you just have to set aside everything (yes, everything) else and do it.  And when you have this mindset, you will be able to:

Let the world fall away.  All those items on your to-do list will still be there waiting for you after you've written.  And your life is not going to fall apart if you take a few minutes for yourself.  Really, it's not.  I am reminded of a TV ad for some kind of chocolate from long ago, which featured the image of a woman happily biting into a piece of candy.  In the background, you heard a bell and a child's voice saying, "Hey Mom, phone's ringing."  But Mom clearly didn't care–she was savoring her chocolate. And you, too, will be savoring your writing.

Know That You Have Enough. You have enough time, enough money, enough energy and enough focus to do this.  The ingrained cultural message we constantly hear is the opposite–that there's not enough time, money or energy for anything.  (By thus playing on our fears, they can sell us stuff that will supposedly plug the "not-enough" hole.)  So often when I think I don't have enough time, I stop and remember that I do–and voila, things fall into place.

Stop the Negative Self-Talk.  I think this is the modern-day heart of the keep calm and carry on message.  I don't know about you, but for me, when I'm frazzled, I'm also busy berating myself–because of course, it's all my fault I'm in this situation.  (Remember, I'm not enough.)  And so taking a minute to listen to the terrible things you are saying to yourself can allow you to stop it.  And thus make space to take a breath, calm yourself–and get back to your writing.

Those are some of the things that help me.  Nothing earth-shattering, but then the practice of writing is all about the small decisions we make to commit to the page, over and over and over again.  What about you?  What helps you keep calm and carry on?

For more information on the Keep Calm and Carry On phenomenon, here's an interesting blog.  And, good old Wikipedia has a lot of history on it here.

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Review: Artist’s Way Toolkit

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions are mine.

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a huge fan of Julia Cameron.  I've done the program laid out in The Artist's Way on my own and in groups led by Julia herself (in Taos, New Mexico, one of my favorite places on earth).  I think that Julia's work on creativity is seminal and that nobody has beat it yet for its sheer power to get people creating.  I also believe that every writer and artist can benefit from her book.

So I leapt at the chance to review Julia's new site, an online collection of tools from the book.   There are all kinds of interactive goodies here, including a daily quote from one of Julia's books, such as "The reward for attention is always healing" and your choice of creative affirmations from Julia, like, "I love others for their true selves."

The site is cleverly laid out like a notebook with tabs featuring:

  • My Contract
  • Artist's Dates
  • Artist's Way Exercises
  • Creative Pages
  • Creative Notes

You'll notice that "Creative Pages" and "Creative Notes" both feature blank pages which you can fill with your own words, but there is not a space anywhere for Morning Pages (three pages written stream of consciousness first thing in the morning).   This is because Julia believes that morning pages should be written by hand, because the hand has a direct line to the brain and that is lost a bit when you introduce a keyboard to the mix.

There's a few more links across the top of the notebook, one called "My Creativity Library," which leads you to a page of where you can buy Julia's books.  Smart marketing. 

I really wanted to like this site and was excited to play around with it, but honestly, I've been less than thrilled with it overall.  The main value of it that I can see is access to the affirmations, quotes, soundbites and exercises. For some people who like to do creativity exercises on the computer, it would be a boon, but I'm old fashioned and I like to write them out by hand, just as I do morning pages.  And it is a bit of a shame that you can't do morning pages on the site, as they are one of the most vital parts of Julia's program.   Overall, I'd be nervous that all my notes and ideas that I'd collected on the site would be lost if I forgot to resubscribe or decided not to.  I'd rather keep such things in a journal where I know I can access it.

Have you read The Artist's Way?  What did you think about it? 

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The Delicate Tension of Being a Writer

 

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When you're a writer, you are always pulled to write.

If you're like me, and I fancy that you are, because we writers share odd (yet wonderful) traits, you're constantly thinking, I should be writing.  Or, I wish I was writing.  Or, why aren't I writing?

The pull of the story is always with us.  And that creates a constant tension in our lives.

Do you remember what it is like to live without this tension?  I don't.

Because the desire to find time to write colors every day.

I think this same tension is present in the lives of other creatives–artists and musicians and dancers.  It is the urge to create, the pull to make something from nothing, the yearning to put something of ourselves into the world.

My favorite line from The Artist's Way is something to the effect that we are most in God's image when we are creating, seeing as how He created the world.

And so even though I live my days with a constant undercurrent of tension, and somedays I think that life would be easier without it, I welcome it, because that tension causes the compulsion to create.

And without it, my life would be pretty damn dull.

 

PS–Please note the snappy new tagline.  Cool, huh?  I feel it is more in line with what this blog actually covers.  Also please note below my new effort to help you take the ideas discussed here and pull them into your own life.  I'd love to hear what you think of all this.

*Create a successful, inspired writing life: Sit in silence for a few minutes.  (Doesn't even have to be that long, trust me.) What's the tension in your creative life?  What is it calling you to create?

**Comments are welcome: do you feel a creative tension in your life?  How does it compel you to create?  Or is it a hindrance in any way?

***Don't forget to sign up for my free newsletter and Ebook!  Just fill out the form to the right.

 

Photo by _gee_.

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3. Only Write/Writing Abundance,Connecting, Continued

This is the third post of a projected very long series and future info product whose name is still under consideration (hence the dual titles above).  For background on what's going on, read this post. You might also want to read about the Writing Abundance system that this series is going to cover in depth.  You can do that here.  All of the posts will be readily available in the sidebar to the right, at least until I introduce it as an info product.

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In the last installment, I talked about the importance of connection.  Connecting with supportive friends and family, connecting with your readers, connecting with other writers.  But most importantly, connecting with something bigger than you–the universe, source, the divine, your ancestors, a plan to save the world.  Think about it: God (if you believe in God, and most people believe in some variation of God) created the world, and so when we create, we are then most in his image.  I first ran across that thought in Julia Cameron's book, the Artist's Way, and I've been totally enamored of it ever since.

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Or, think of it this way: why do we write?  Well, for most of us it it to share, in some way or another, who we are.  The best writing gets way down to the deepest essence of ourselves.  Some might call it our highest selves.  And I believe that that higher self is connected with every single thing in the universe, including God.  So when we are writing, theoretically all we have to do is call upon that connection to the universe to access that higher self and put it on the page. Conversely, when we're not writing, when the stories are piling up inside us, we're denying our divinity, and invalidating the very essence of who we are.

And that, my friends, is why connecting is so important to the writer.  Connecting means being open to receive, take what you get from that openness and connection, transform it and gift it back to the world.  When you open the channels to receive, you open mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  You are open to abundance, both in words and financially.  So, it will behoove you to find a way to regularly connect that is centered specifically around your writing.  Here's the basics, again:

1. Ask

2. Be open to receive

3. Act on what you get.

Easy, no?  I've even designed a movement by which you also get the body into action, always a good idea.  So stand up from your computer where you are reading this,  shake your ya-yas out, as we used to say, and let's do it.  You can also do a mental version of this same movement if you are at your desk and don't want people to think  you're nuts.  Then again, many writers often work alone, so it shouldn't matter.  Get your butt up, it will be good for you.  Here we go:

–With your arms at your sides, take three deep breaths. Slowly raise your arms above your head and feel the opening to the divine. Breathe deeply and feel the connection to your source; as you place your hands together and pull them down to your heart center imagine abundance, light, energy, and creativity pouring into you and filling your entire being.

–Now as you move your hands out from your body, allow that abundant creativity and energy to shine outwards into the world. Breathe deeply as you imagine your wonderful ideas, creations, and writing being shared with the world.

–Gently circle your hands around and bring them together again at your heart center, as you feel the energy of that abundance returning to you in gratitude, people reading and appreciating your work. Feel how their love fills you up again.

–Take a couple deep breaths as this new energy fills you up and linger for a moment on that feeling of fullness and abundance.

–Once again, feel the opening to God as you move your arms upward to the starting position and direct and share that abundant energy with your higher power.

–Repeat two more times. Do this movement every morning as part of your prayers or meditations. It’s great to do as part of stretching or your yoga practice. You can also use it as a focusing technique during the day, when you are transitioning to a writing session or you need to refocus after a distraction.

It is that simple and yet also very energizing.  It can be cleansing, too, a good thing to practice when you are moving between projects.

That's it for now. On Thursday, we'll talk some more about various methods of connection that you can use to support your writing habit.

 

 

 

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Journaling, Part Four: Morning Pages

 
Yesterday, in Part Three* of my series on journaling, I wrote about four types of journal writing that I findGlasses_sheet_paper_260712_l useful.  There are an infinite number of techniques you can use for effective journaling, and I may well write about others in the future.  But for now, I've chosen to discuss the ones I use most often and find most beneficial.

Morning Pages.  First off, we have Morning Pages, developed and popularized by Julia Cameron in her seminal book, The Artist's Way.  You've probably read about or heard of Morning Pages, or MPs, as I like to call them, one way or another.  Morning Pages are simple–you get up, head to your journal, and write three pages, no more, no less.

Your first reaction to this idea may be similar to mine–horror at the idea that you're supposed to get up and write first thing.  I think this springs from the notion that writing is hard, and it takes thought, and if your brain is not yet awake you won't be able to think and thus write. 

But that is also the point–that you bypass the conscious, critical brain and just let the words flow onto the page. This is good for a number of reasons:

1.  Because it gets you used to just letting the words rip.  Getting into the flow of putting words on the page is excellent training for writers.  And, like any other profession, writers need to train.  The way the writing process works is this: first you glump all the words out onto the page in one glorious brain dump.  Then you rewrite.  And rewrite again.  And rewrite again.  And…well, you get the idea.  But if you are hesitant and shy with your words, you'll never get the wonder of rough draft onto the page and thus never have anything to work with.  So, you can consider Morning Pages to be part of your training.

2.  Because it familiarizes you with your subconscious.  And what a trip that is.  By writing Morning Pages, you will learn all kinds of things about yourself, perhaps that what you really want to do is study classical music or kayak around the world.  Or whatever.  Why is this important?  Because, here's the deal: the number one, most important thing for a writer is to be yourself on the page.  That's what voice is about, people.  But being yourself on the page is nearly impossible is you don't know yourself.  So write MPs.  You may astound yourself with your brilliance.  And even if you don't, you are engaging in a valuable activity, in and of itself.

3.  Because fascinating trends emerge when you aren't looking.  You know how John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans?" So too with MPs.  It may never have occurred to you that kayaking was something you wanted to do, until you find yourself writing about being on water–again.  You may never have thought you wanted to write poetry–until it begins to emerge in your MPs.  And so on and so forth. 

4.  Because MPs allow ideas to pop like crazy.  I've written outlines for whole novels while scribbling MPs and groggily reaching for my coffee cup.  I've had ideas for blog posts, characters, scenes in projects I'm working on, you name it.  Things emerge when you are half asleep and your conscious mind is not yet engaged.

So give them a try.  The rules for MPs are very similar to the rules for free writing.  Just write, don't worry about sentence structure, grammar, or whether you are making sense.  Just write, write, write.  Three pages, no more, no less.  Go for it.  And let me know how they work out for you.

Anybody have any experiences with Morning Pages they would like to share?

  1. *FYI, you can read Part One here, and Part Two here.  And please, please, please also go here and sign up for the free coaching sessions I'm offering.  I've added new times for the first week in January.
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