The Artist’s Way, while it contains some gems, is an overall disappointment. I’ve started it several times and it took me this fourth time to get all the way through. I had previously blamed my inability to finish it more on myself than on the work in general. The book taken as a whole comes across as pop psychology mixed with a heavy dose of New Age philosophy. There is a lot of talk about nurturing the inner child that is our real artist, the child’s inability to accept raw criticism and how this creates emotional scar tissue. The inner artist child needs to be protected and nurtured and needs to have its hand held and be tenderly led through the miasma of the psyche of the growing artist. She even goes so far as to equate poorly delivered criticism to sexual abuse, and projects that don’t materialize to miscarriages from which the artist suffers as much as the woman who lost a child. That was where she lost me for good.
The book is full of case examples; artists, novelists, poets, script writers, all of who benefited from Cameron’s twelve week recovery. (Should I understand this as Cameron, a recovering alcoholic, devising her own twelve step program?) All of these case characters are given to us on a first name basis. One example is Ted, a blocked novelist who after the program and twelve (that number again) years of working with the Morning Pages, now has three novels to his credit. Okay. Ted, who? I want to see his work. I also want to see Bob’s breakout documentary, the one that a teacher trashed so harshly that Bob hid the reels in his basement which was then flooded. Then, after opening up to Cameron about the lost project, copies of the reels are found and he uses his newly found creativity, found with Cameron’s help, to finish the documentary and do yet another. I want to see these works. I want to connect to the tangible success of people who have traveled this path that Cameron is leading us on. But alas Ted and Bob are just two examples of the long list of one-name shadows walking through Cameron’s book. The works these people completed and published could be a source of inspiration but are denied us by this one-name, AA-style, anonymity. After a while I began to question how many of these people were real. The one example she gave that I found truly inspirational worked for me because she used the full name, a name I recognized (Blake Edwards), and a story about him that is well known. It was one I’d heard before and I was glad to be reminded of it. It is a loss to Cameron’s work that there aren’t more examples that the reader can actually wrap his/her hands around.
Cameron also talks long and hardy about her own work, much of which is in the film industry. I checked on IMDB.com. The list is short, two of the citations are for “Special Thanks” on major works by other people. She talks about writing plays. I can’t find any. She apparently worked as a journalist but a quick (and far from thorough) internet search didn’t turn up any leads. I remember seeing one novel by her in the library. Google her name and the overwhelming return is for The Artist’s Way. This is not to minimize Cameron’s achievements but it would help if she threw up some street signs leading the way to tangible evidence of her own work that shows us her program works.
Her idea for Morning Pages does have an application. It is an effective brain dump. It does clear the pipes, so to speak, but I don’t see the efficacy of a slave-like devotion to the practice. I used it long before I found The Artist’s Way. I called it “writing in my journal.” I use it when my head is cluttered with too much information, which often happens during my job running two departments in a busy hotel, and trying to maintain even the barest minimum of creative pursuits. I can’t see myself, however, locked into every morning spending up to an hour doing Morning Pages. I can put that valuable time to better use writing my novels, stories, poetry and blog posts.
I will admit I did exactly what she said not to do; I read the book through instead of doing the weekly exercises. In fact the last few chapters were scanned rather than thoroughly read. I realized early on that my “blockage” wasn’t about my creativity. My creativity is fine. I have lots of ideas and when I sit my butt down and work I can actually write and what I write is usually pretty good. My blockage is my discipline, my self-sabotage, and my lack of confidence and I didn’t find Cameron’s prescription to be a healing balm for my symptoms.
I started looking at what some of my favorite and most respected writers have to say about writing, unblocking, and producing work. They don’t talk about twelve step recovery and nurturing our inner child who never grows up. They talk about work. Getting pen in hand, or hands on the keyboard and working. They talk about working until it works. They talk about breaking through blockages with action, not weekly exercises and group therapy sessions. These people talk about writing as people of other professions talk about their careers. They talk about how it takes work, discipline and action, and confidence in your ability. They talk about being able to recognize good criticism vs. poor criticism, and being mature enough to deal with both at face value. They talk about the reality of rejection and putting it in its proper place and not letting it sideswipe your momentum. This is the approach that I believe will work best for me and my writing.
© 2014 M. Romeo LaFlamme