Tag Archives: Julia Cameron The Artist’s Way

Tips for Adulthood: Create an Image File

leather jacket

Photo by Yehor Milohrodskyi on Unsplash

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’m a great fan of decluttering. On a therapeutic level – and especially if you’re in the midst of a life transition – it feels cleansing to shed something. On a practical level, when you declutter, you also discover things wonderful things you’d forgotten about entirely.

When I was clearing out my own stuff recently I happened upon a folder that I didn’t recognize at first. It was entitled “Image Folder,” and it took me a minute or two to clock what it was.

Back when I took some time off to re-think my life a few years back (Chapter 326c), I assiduously tackled Julia Cameron’s The Artists’s Way as a tool for getting in touch with my creative self. Among the many techniques Cameron advocates for igniting your creativity, one that I’d completely forgotten about was her suggestion to create an image file:

“Start an Image File: If I had either faith or money I would try…List five desires. When you spot them, clip them, buy them, photograph them, draw them, collect them somehow. With these images, begin a file of dreams that speak to you. Add to it continually for the duration of the course.”

Here are five dreams that jumped out of my own image file:

a. Write and perform. Not surprisingly, my file contained several images of pens and microphones. This was clearly a nod to my desire to write and perform more. But there’s also a photo in there of someone jumping really high on a trampoline. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what that symbolized. And then I realized that it was an exhortation to have fun and take more risks. Or at least that’s how I interpret it now. That’s exactly what I’ve started doing with my new memoir writing project, which is all about family.

b. Travel and explore. Also unsurprisingly, the file contained several photos of assorted travel destinations. Some were of your proverbial sandy beach, but others showed a dense wood and an English stately home. When we first moved to England 14 years ago, I dragged my young kids to countless stately homes (think Downton Abbey) for tours of the houses and grounds. I believe that this image, in particular, was a reminder to “Be British” – a New Year’s resolution I set years ago to get to know my second home country better.

c. Be more fashionable. Don’t get me wrong. Most days I still amble about looking like a graduate student who is 5 minutes shy of eating her next Stouffer’s frozen pizza. Interestingly, however, my image file also contained a surprisingly high number of photos of lithe women wearing long, flowing blouses and – in one instance – a super-cool black leather jacket. Interestingly, there was also a picture of jewelry in there that looked exactly like the necklaces I’ve subsequently inherited from my mother.

d. Invest more time in cooking. One of the more surprising photos in the file – for anyone who knows me well – was picture of a bunch of spices. During that sabbatical year I took off to kick-start my career, I started investing more time in cooking. Among other things, cooking sated my inner project manager. Because I wasn’t working, I needed an outlet for that side of my personality. Once I settled into my new career as a communications consultant, however, the cooking goal fell somewhat to the wayside. But I’ve returned to it during lockdown. The new rule is that I make only three meals a week, and the other three members of my family each have to contribute one of their own. (The seventh night we do takeout, per the Lord’s Commandment that you have one day of rest.) We mainly draw on the New York Times Five Weeknight Dishes for inspiration. Not surprisingly, we are eating a lot better now.

e. Drink better beer. I was far from shocked to discover a photograph of a large glass of beer. In the immortal words of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, “I like beer.” In the years since I’ve become a lightweight in the drinking department, I’ve become a real connoisseur of low-alcohol beers (which I define as beer with an APV under 4%, but most people classify as under 3%.) That may sound wimpy, but I live within spitting (stumbling?) distance of a veritable beer emporium which houses some 400 plus types of beer. (I choose my neighborhoods well.) And in recent years, there’s been an explosion of high-end, low-alcohol beers from which to choose.

What made me so happy about discovering this file was that I feel that in the three years since I made it, I’ve moved forward on all five of the dreams captured in those images. It’s still a work in progress, but I see all of this as part and parcel of moving towards my future self.

So this week’s challenge is to go out and collect images that inspire you to be your future self. Tell me what you find in the comments section…

Tips For Adulthood: Five Tools for Crafting Your Elevator Pitch

elevator pitch

elevator pitchAh, the elevator pitch. That magically concise statement of your background, experience and ambition, all neatly trimmed down to 30 seconds and which can, rendered persuasively, land you your next job.

Simple, right?

Not really. Especially if, like me, you’re in the midst of a mid-life transition.

But even as you take some time to figure out exactly what you’d like to do next, there are lots of quick and easy ways to sharpen your focus, without spending a lot of money.

Here are five tools that have helped me hone my elevator pitch and which might work for you:

1. Read Self-Help Books. I’m a big fan of self-help books, especially if – like me – you can’t afford to pay a career coach. Here’s a list of five self-help books that I’ve found particularly useful for sorting out different aspects of my professional development.The key thing to remember is that in order to really get something out of them, try not to dabble. While it’s fine to start and stop and/or to read them alongside something else, be sure that you read each book start to finish, because each one has its own internal logic that builds, chapter by chapter. Above all: do the exercises. They are there to force you to confront tough questions about yourself and you won’t progress if you don’t use these tools to identify your strengths – as well as whatever it is that’s holding you back.

2. Make a list of key words. In my current transition, rather than starting with a list of jobs I wanted to do, I started with a list of words that captured who I wanted to be and what I felt my strengths were. That process felt not only less daunting than picking a new job out of the air, but also more authentic. By starting with words like “insight,” “inspiration,” and “wit,” I am gradually working my way outward to what I want to do next.

3. Take classes. Once you have a reasonably well-formed sense of what you want to do next, try taking a class in it before you commit. I’ve found that adult education courses can be extremely affordable. Classes are useful because they deepen your skills in a particular area, making you feel more confident that you can execute your dream. You also meet other people with that same dream, which helps you to feel less alone. And particularly if you’re contemplating an array of career choices, experimenting with something in a time-bound way, through a class, can also help you articulate what you *don’t* want to do. Closing doors is just as important as opening them as you hone your vision.

4. Experiment with different Online identities. I happened upon this strategy accidentally. In the course of applying for a fellowship recently, I realized that my public identity on assorted social media platforms needed to match the narrative I had presented in my application. So I gave quickly revamped my Twitter handle. Fast forward a month or two and my self-understanding had moved on. That Twitter handle no longer felt 100% accurate, so I honed it some more. And I’m sure I’ll do that again. Part of how we learn to narrate ourselves – to ourselves – is to narrate ourselves to other people. While it might feel scary to put yourself out there in the public domain, it can actually be liberating. Remember, your online self can change!

5. Play. One of the great insights I got from reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way was the importance of play as a stimulus to innovation. Cameron champions the idea of a weekly “artist’s date,” which is about going out and doing something fun to fuel your creativity: going for a walk and collecting Autumn leaves…grabbing your guitar and singing a tune…taking photos of the morning light during your run. I’ve started taking an improvisation acting course. I don’t know where it’s taking me yet, but I do know that it’s helping me to listen more carefully to myself and to take risks.

At the end of the day, I really do believe the much-celebrated line from The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.” Which is to say that the answer to your elevator pitch – which is in turn a proxy for your next life chapter – ultimately lies within. Hopefully these tools can help tease it out.

Image: R.G.E.M. – Elevator Pitch by aiden un via Vimeo

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Things I Learned From Re-Reading The Artist’s Way

journaling

journalingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood. (Whoops! It’s a Thursday! Sorry, folks!)

I rarely re-read books. That’s partly a space thing  – I live in a small house – and and partly that there’s just too damn much out there I want to read to bother going back.

But this past week I’ve had the very odd experience of not just re-reading a book, but doing so immediately after putting it down. The book in question is Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way, a best-selling self-help book designed to help you unblock your creativity.  Doing this three-month course has been one of the big projects I’ve tackled since being laid off from my job. And the reason I re-read it is that the very last task Cameron assigns her readers when they’ve completed their 12 weeks is to go back and re-read the book, before doing anything else.

It’s an amazing book and has been a transformative experience for me both creatively and personally (more on that another time). And yet, I was still skeptical, and considered whether I should ignore this task altogether. But I trust Cameron, so I gave it a shot.

Here are five things that really made sense to me only when I re-read the book for a second time:

a. Morning Pages Matter. These are the three pages of hand-written writing you do every day when you wake up. They are *the* most important element of the creative recovery. I was very open to this idea when she suggested it, but I thought it would serve merely as a way to dump all the anxiety out of my head that had accrued overnight while I was sleeping, so that I could put that aside before I started writing. (It does.) I never imagined the morning pages would also serve my writing directly . Since starting to journal first thing every morning, ideas have emerged that have been directly channeled into blog posts, personal essays, fiction and my book project itself. When I went back through the book and also re-read my morning pages, I could trace this evolution very clearly.

b. The Artist’s Date is a Date. The other pillar of Cameron’s exercises is a weekly (or more) “artist’s date” – what she describes as “a block of time set aside to nurture your creative consciousness.” It took me about four weeks until I realized that I’d gotten this concept entirely wrong. I thought the Artist’s Date was just about setting aside time to execute a creative project (e.g. writing). So I keep giving myself a pat on the back when I spent some time writing every day. “Heh,” I thought. “I’m doing an artist’s date every day – this is easy!” But that’s *not* what the Artist’s Date is. It’s about going out and doing something fun to fuel your creativity, not your creative project itself. So going for a walk and collecting leaves counts. Grabbing your guitar and singing a tune counts. I started taking an improvisation acting course – that’s my main artist’s date these days. I’m so glad I figured this out!

c. Affirmations: External vs. Internal. To jump-start the creative recovery process, Cameron suggests that you make a list of “affirmations”- i.e., specific pieces of praise you’ve gotten from other people that will make you feel more confident about undergoing your journey of creative self-discovery. My big realization when I read the book through for a second time was that while all of my affirmations when I started the course were external – i.e,. a letter of gratitude from a colleague, an inspiring comment from a reader of my blog – by the end of the course they were largely internal – i.e., me telling myself something positive about my writing/myself. Cameron never says that’s supposed to happen, but I am very happy that it did.

d. Images help imagine you into your future self. Cameron also advocates compiling an ongoing collection of images of things you like and/or signify your future self as a way to remind you about the tangible things that contribute to your creative happiness. At first, I was dubious. I’m not a terribly visual person and I didn’t feel like taking time out of my day to hunt for images of a typewriter on Google. But I did it (I’m an upholder, after all!), and soon I found myself making a list of images I wanted to collect – like making jewelry and reading on beaches and other aspects of the “ideal life” I’m composing for myself – and adding to that folder from time to time. Re-reading the book reminded me of my initial (misguided) reluctance to do the image homework.

e. Creativity and God. Cameron is very religious and she makes this very clear from the get-go, even though she doesn’t force you to buy into the concept. If you’re more comfortable talking about a “creative force,” so be it – all of her advice still applies. I’m deeply ambivalent about religion and so initially the whole God thing didn’t work for me. I was actually worried early on that it might put me off the whole process. But I hung in there and discovered that not only did Cameron’s vision of God work for me – (she likes to think of God as a generous, supportive force rather than a punitive, miserly one), I realized that sorting this out was absolutely fundamental to the creative catharsis I subsequently underwent.

If you’re thinking of a holiday gift for someone and you sense they may have an artist trapped deep inside them, I’d urge you to get them this book.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

Image: Journaling by Seth Barber via Flickr

Designing Your Creative Space

flamingo

flamingoOne of the hardest things about being a writer isn’t finding the time to write. It’s learning how to set up a space – physical, emotional, spiritual – that enables you to be creative.

Accessing that creative space isn’t unique to writing. It’s something all artists need to do. I have a painter friend, for example, who begins each day with the following ritual: First, he cleans his pallet of the prior days’ work. This is the most important part for him. Having his tools fresh and clean and all laid out in front of him allows him to sweep away the toil and struggle from the day before, thereby opening up new artistic possibilities. Then he puts on some music. He also makes sure to always have numerous pieces in progress hanging in his studio. He takes some time looking at them until one catches his attention and then he begins work on that. When he gets really stuck, he tries something completely new.

My routine isn’t all that different. In order to “cleanse my pallet” of the prior day’s work, I spend one hour – but no more than one hour – editing whatever it was I was last working on the day before. This might be a chapter from my book, a blog post, or a personal essay. Spending one hour editing allows me to feel that I’ve “fixed” whatever it was that I allowed myself to leave on a loose end the day before. If other thoughts come to me while I’m in editing mode – sometimes it’s just a snippet of an idea or an image – I jot them down in a notebook so that I can remember to file them in the appropriate place later on.

Then I start the main project I’m working on and continue to pursue that for the next several hours. Even if it’s completely different from the piece I was editing, having spent an hour editing one project frees me up to be creative somewhere else. When I get stuck, I start a new chapter. And I never, ever listen to music while I’m writing.

I also have a few gimmicks I employ to get myself started. For instance, I never start writing until the minute hand is resting on one of the numbers on the clock face. So, for example, if I sit down at my desk at 9:17 a.m., I wait until 9:20 to start writing. Why do I do this? Lord knows. But I’ve been doing it for so long that, at this point, I need to do it in order to begin working.

Other writers have their own rituals. Some people need to face a blank wall in order to start. Others need to have a view out a window. One friend always eats an apple before she begins. Philip Roth famously wrote standing up.

Lately, I’ve been focusing less on my creative routines and more on my creative environment. On the advice of Julia Cameron – of The Artist’s Way fame – I’ve made sure that my physical writing space is an upbeat one. So I’ve taken everything off my desk that’s dull and administrative and left only a handful of objects that make me happy, including: a ceramic heart my son made for me when he was seven on Valentine’s Day…two pins that read “15 Today” which my husband and I wore out to a restaurant on our 15th anniversary…a miniature Big Ben trinket that someone gave me for my key chain when I moved to London for good luck.

I’ve also hung up some quotes – what Cameron calls “affirmations” – above my desk, that are there to remind me to feel confident as I embark upon my creative endeavours. When I left my job, a colleague friend gave me two cards – one that read “You are a flamingo in a  flock of ordinary seagulls” and one that read “You leave a little bit of sparkle wherever you go.” I look at those quotes every morning to  remind myself of what I can bring to the world.

Finally, I’ve even started to “dress” for writing. A friend of mine just published a (great!) book entitled Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore. It’s a book about the mutually reinforcing relationship between an author’s signature look and their writing style. At her book launch in London, my friend was asked if she had a “uniform” that she wore while writing the book. Turns out that she did: even if she was going to spend the entire day at home and never see a soul, she dressed up in a nice frock to inspire herself to tackle this material.

In a similar vein, right before I left my old job, a younger colleague whom I’d mentored gave me a necklace with the words @RealDelia inscribed on a small pendant. For me, that necklace symbolizes this blog, which I launched way back when as a way of rediscovering my voice as an adult and sharing those insights with others. I wear the necklace now when I’m writing my book to remind myself to always circle back to the authentic me.

The bottom line is that creativity isn’t just about having the talent or the time. It’s about being able to readily call up whatever it is inside you that draws that creativity out. And it takes awhile to figure out which routines and props are most conducive to that process.

How do you access your creative space? I’d love to know.

Image: Phoenicopterus ruber via Wikipedia.com