The 12 Week Artist’s Way Challenge: Week 1

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12 week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Week One: Recovering a Sense of Safety

Rearranging my office for the zillionth time during this Quarantine 2020, I randomly grabbed “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron off of the bookshelf. Bored, and mostly curious about why I had never read it before, I peeked at the first chapter. It was a 12-week creativity recovery challenge! Immediately smitten, I sat down and read more. I did need to recover my creativity, Julia! Damn!

Later that day, while exercising and listening to Samantha Irby’s newly released book “Wow, No Thank You,” I got even more inspired. This nobody became somebody just by writing about her life. I could do that too, Sam! The urge to write burned hot in my chest and dominated my thoughts. These intensely passionate, all-consuming ideas pop up often for me, so experience alerted me that I urgently needed to get an accountability partner to keep the fire going.

The most creative person I could think of was my Aunt Joanne. Known as Onteejo in our family, she’s my mom’s fabulous artist sister, but more importantly, she’s the one to whom little Emily loved sending her short stories. While riding my Peloton, I precariously texted her my proposition. After a quick phone call to figure it all out, she was down to help as my weekly accountability partner and coach.

 The 12 Week Creativity Recovery Challenge:

Like any good 12 step program, there are mantras and lists of beliefs to live by in order to be a member. The Artist’s Way challenge had a few I printed out and hung in picture frames near my writing space. Then, there are the tasks and steps to benefit from the program, in this case: Morning Pages, Artist’s Date, Weekly Tasks, and Check-Ins.

The Morning Pages: Every day, you must write three, stream of consciousness pages without stopping. It’s not exactly journaling, its more like brain dumping all the biggest nonsense swirling in your mind, so that you can move on and get to work on other things. The rules are that you never read what you wrote and no one does either. It’s a fantastic, safe space—free from pesky opinions, judgements, and labels—where you can free write and let loose.

Artist Date:This task requires you to select a day to put in your calendar to be creative. It could be anything: rocking painting, writing a song, playing the piano, knitting, baking, going to a concert, reading a book, etc. So far, I thinkthe idea is to be intentional and get used to prioritizing your creativity, while making space for it in your life, and noticing how it feels and what it changes. (I will hopefully be able to confirm that once I’ve finished the program).

Weekly Tasks:There are new 10 tasks for you to do each week. They range from listing your 20 favorite things to do, writing a letter, or various Time Travel tasks where you think back to a specific event and write about it, etc.

Check-Ins:The end of each week has a few questions about how you did and how you felt.

Week One:

Morning Pages:I love them! And have been waking up earlier and earlier to do them, despite the lack of necessity and that it only takes me twenty minutes to fill three pages. I’m surprised at my excitement to get out of bed in the morning to do them, and I hope that this is a habit I continue for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t be mad about that. I live in my head and am not great at cleaning house in there when needed. The Morning Pages give me a ritual and space to do that. At some point, I wouldn’t mind deleting them, but for now, I like seeing the work build up in my laptop folder.

Artist Date:This week I chose to sign up for our friends online Collage Workshop. I was surprised to discover that one of my dream jobs (one of the Weekly Tasks this week was to list 5 other lives/careers you’d like to live) is to be a magazine editor, and thus the collage workshop peaked my interest. I remember enjoying cutting, pasting and creating copy for my junior high yearbooks, and wondered if that would translate to working for a magazine.

My husband did the workshop with me, and it was a blast. We heated up some coffee, set up supplies on long table in our basement studio to watch the Zoom call workshop with 300 other people, and got to work. It was a bit intimidating, as I don’t have a design or art background, and there are some fundamentals that I didn’t know much about. Our friends did a great job explaining things, and I had fun creating pieces from ripped pieces of newspaper, cut out pieces of magazines, and glue. Creating something, getting lost in the process, and then having something to show for at the end felt good, and helped alleviate our rainy Sunday Quarantine boredom.

Weekly Tasks: A few of this weeks tasks got me thinking, and here are some of the stand-outs:

  1. I haven’t had a past negative experience with sharing my work. It hasn’t been torn apart, scoffed at, or ridiculed. As of yet, no one has told me I wasn’t good enough or that I should quit while I’m ahead. While I think that is a good thing, it also made me think that I don’t have any negative experiences because I haven’t shared my work enough. It also led me to believe that all the negative ideas I have about my writing (see #2) come from me. Yikes.
  2. Writing out self-affirmations over and over bring up the negative little voices in your head you may not have realized were there. I guess I got got at ignoring them, but they were still there, not dealt with or replaced. And those negative voices told me that I had no idea what I was doing, often asking “who do you think you are?” whenever I would get far along in my work. They constantly reminded me of how bored I get with things, undermining my beginners effort. The worst offenders were the questions about how uninterested and good my work was, causing me to doubt my ability and worth. Eww. Luckily, the challenge designed is to help override such thoughts.
  3. Now for some good stuff. I realized I have a lot of champions, people who have supported my writing over the years, those who continue to do so, and others. I never quite took in their compliments and listening to Natalie Goldberg’s book “Writing Down the Bones” helped me recognize how silly it was for me to be surprised by compliments and feedback. I still have a hard time believing that I’m a brave, hilarious writer. But I’ll take it, and hopefully one day it will sink in.

Check-In:

This first week was great. I missed one day of Morning Pages, due to a night “out” with friends. There was a lot to be excited about and take in, and I loved every bit of it. It wasn’t hard or overwhelming at all for me. This feels like what I was born to do, and thanks to this challenge, I now have more direction on how to do it. A few bits from this week:

  • After two years, I was finally motivated to organize my laptop. I’m reaping the rewards of that endeavor, enjoying all my work having a home and knowing where to put the new stuff right away. My head feels clearer, organized, and easier to jump in and out of when needed.
  • I realized I was wayout of practice with sharing my work. Especially out loud.
  • I discovered if I wrote in a notebook, it was easier to keep writing throughout the day while the kids were around. I felt less guilty.
  • I wrote for 1.5-2 hours every day. Sometimes more.
  • I had way more ideas for books, characters, plot lines, and scenes. Yay! This is where I have been blocked, and I feel that door opening up. That is hella exciting.
  • I am writing all over the place. Mirrors, walls, sticky notes, my phone, journals, notebooks, etc.
  • Listening to a book about writing make me inspired and feel like I’m a part of a community of people who love it as much as I do. I want to change that to the real world with real writer friends once the Quarantine is over.
  • At first, I felt guilty taking up so much space and time for myself to write. I should be cleaning, playing with my kids, exercising, cooking, spending time with my husband, talking to friends and family, reading a book, running errands. Once I made the space though, it just felt so good. I think I can make more space for it with my mind and time, and so can my family and home.

I’m letting the dishes not be the most important thing.

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