The Artist’s Way to Lockdown Creativity
Updated: Apr 7, 2021
As an Actor desperate to dip my toe into other facets of the industry I might have more control over, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron had been recommended to me for years. But for some reason, the title kept putting me off.
I wasn’t an artist. I feel like I was probably meant to be one? But I’ve always thought an actor’s job was to take the “actual artist”’s words and say them in a way that the “actual artist” director would approve of.
I’m now realising that might have been where I was going wrong…
I started this course in May 2020, about 3 weeks into lockdown 1.0 and before I knew it, I was balls deep in morning pages and I could feel the flow of the creative Goddess speaking her badassery through me, her willing vessel.
If you’d have said any of the above to me in January I’d have told you to get in the sea. But we’re in the roaring twenties now and frankly, stranger things have happened.
Flash forward to October (two Covid tests and a quarantine later), I found myself on a month-long writing retreat in Norway staring out the window onto the Fjord beneath with my first TV Pilot and treatment in the bag. And honestly? I have Ms. Cameron to thank.
The previous version of this book had been bandied about on friends’ shelves and rehearsal rooms before, and all I could think was: I don’t care how good it is — that cover is heinous. And it was. Look at it. Is there anything less inspiring than a 70’s mustard font and a terrifying mountain you’re already too scared to climb? (Though it should be said my own mother pointed out the cruel irony in me crapping on another artist’s work — and like all mother’s everywhere… she has a point.)
Whatever your opinion on mustard mountains, in April 2020, Julia stepped her game up and gave us the vibey pool water update we didn’t know we needed.
As someone lucky enough to have had parents who supported their career in the arts, I wondered if this book was really for me. There are definitely parts geared towards those stuck in boring desk jobs they’d been taught being an “adult” had to look like. But given that I’d just spent the past 6 months in a temp desk job in London, my life as an “artist” was starting to look uncomfortably far from what I’d pictured.
For anyone not in the arts, the frustration of going to 2–3 job interviews a week (if you’re lucky) and being rejected for all of them often for years at a time is almost unfathomable. This year was the first time it also became unfathomable to me. There is no way on God’s green earth, this can be healthy. What I needed was someone to guide me back to creativity and tell me how much of a waste it would be if I were to give up who I was and settle for something I’d never wanted: a stable job. But with that stable job would come control and that’s something us artists rarely have. It’s tempting, to say the least, but BOOM right on cue, Julia hit me over the head with her new sexy hardback edition. Complete with its built-in ribbon bookmark, it really does feel like a religious act you’re about to undertake.
Religion, or rather faith has quite a large part to play in this book; something that many readers might initially find off-putting. But within the first few pages, Julia manages to set things straight. “God” can be whatever you want it to. It just needs to be an acknowledgement of something outside ourselves. The original creator. They’re doing the creating. They’re just using your hands to get it on the paper. So if it’s shit. It’s their fault, not yours. And with that, I relaxed. You need to make it work for you.
“What if God’s a woman and she’s on your side?”
There are lots of tasks that seem arbitrary and weird. Within days she had me writing lists of things I used to have when I was a kid and missed. I’m like… “ok…?”
That toy post office thing where I could stamp things with a real STAMP.
It seemed stupid at the time but flash forward a month and I was hitting a lot more f***k-it buttons and all of a sudden I’m sitting on a wee wall in a women’s garden in Motherwell trying on her daughter’s old roller skates. SOLD to the 29-year-old and her quarter-life crisis. Now I’m whizzing around my living room and filled with the joy only 8 wheels and kneepads can bring. I’m wildly bad at it, but I genuinely don’t care.
All of a sudden I start seeing art in everything. Oooh, that could be a play. That could be a painting. That could be a short film. The possibility of me being behind any of the above was baffling but somehow it seemed weirdly possible now. Cos I wasn’t in control. Something “up there” was and they wanted me to give it a ruddy good go. And the concept of it failing? Suddenly neither here nor there: a huge shift. Don’t get me wrong, the thought of failing at another career is always just lurking there in the background, but somehow my mindset shifted and the process, not the product became my focus.
“Most of us hate to do something when we can obsess about something else instead. One of our favourite things to do instead of our art — is to contemplate the odds. In a creative career, thinking about the odds is a drink of emotional poison.”
Rollerskates turned into writing courses, writing courses turned into painting, painting turned into oh my god I’ve accidentally booked a month-long trip to Norway to write a TV pilot that yesterday I didn’t know existed in my brain.
I recognise that my having the time and resources to get me there is something we won’t all share. Nor have I always been in that position myself. But regardless of where you’re at, The Artist’s Way notes the importance of carving out that time anywhere and any way you can.
While we may have to hold off on booking that next trip, there’s something to be said for making that corner of your room into its own creative getaway. What art could we make if we took that hour of doom-scrolling onto a blank page?
This past year has been challenging for us all, but for many, it gave us the gift of time: to regroup, to pick up that guitar, read that book, climb that mountain.
And sure enough… I wrote that little screenplay from a desk in a friend’s cabin in Stangvik, a remote little village on the edge of a Fjord while watching the sun set every night. It’s got a way to go but it’s got me into rooms I didn’t think I’d ever get let into. And y’know what? I think it’s bloody good. And even if it’s not, don’t blame me. I didn’t write it. The creative Goddess up there did, I just tapped the keyboard.
We’ll all have our own version of a creative getaway. What’s yours?