Recommendation Wednesday: The Artist’s Way

This book changed my life.

I mentioned in my musings on what I might do for my artist date that I was working through the book because I assigned it to my creative writing class and thought it might be a good idea to know what, exactly, I was asking them to do. I really wasn’t prepared for the impact this book would have on me.

The two biggest tools of the book are completing the morning pages and going on the artist date. That’s where I found the impact and the transformation. Well, those two tools and the reading deprivation during Week 4.

Basically, how the book works is that each week you read a chapter, write the morning pages, take yourself on an artist date, and complete some (or all) of the tasks at the end of the chapter. Repeat until the book is complete. Twelve chapters = twelve weeks.

How did it change my life?

The biggest deficit in my life is in the area of self-care. I suck at it. It is legit the hardest thing I do. What the morning pages and the artist date do is privilege self-care. Since I committed to completing the book, I committed to doing the work. (I am nothing if not a good student.) Doing the work meant writing the pages and going on the date. Every week.

I should note, though, that I rarely, if ever, wrote the morning pages in the actual morning. Even though Cameron says several times that it should be done before starting your day, that is not realistic for me. In fact, that’s what kept me from completing the book last time. Once I gave myself permission to just treat the morning pages as daily pages, finishing the work became manageable. I have done a lot of work on my perfectionism in the past few years, so understanding that I could do the pages imperfectly was key. Also, let’s be real: getting up a half-hour early is antithetical to my self-care.

Harder than the pages for me was the artist date. I had to start really small. Watching an hour of TV without doing anything else (like folding or separating clothes). Coloring at my dining room table. Going to the movies. However, as I kept with it, I started doing other things, bigger things. I went to plays. I took a West African dance class. I took a jazz dance class. I started planning other creative and fun things I could do with my time. Now it feels almost second nature to say yes to activities I would have previously told myself I didn’t have time for. I have made it a habit to sit down and watch TV shows I like because I like to watch them. I’m not too busy for the things I actually enjoy doing. It makes it a lot easier to do work or be creative when I know I’m not depriving myself of fun stuff.

Life is meant to be an artist date.

I will also note that I started The Artist’s Way in the summer when I wasn’t working. Completing the pages and the date became more difficult once school started back. But I kept at them.

The reading deprivation also marked a key point in my recovery (as the book calls it). I got a LOT of clarity. For one, I realized that part of the reason I was blocked (I haven’t written anything in years) was that I wasn’t interested in the type of writing I had told myself I needed to be doing or was interested in. I was, as they say, should-ing on myself, which kept me from doing what I wanted to do. The other major thing that happened during my deprivation is that I cleaned my room, set up an office, and opened up space for what I want my life to be.

So, yeah. Big changes.

I absolutely recommend this book for blocked creatives with the understanding that it is definitely not for everyone. The subtitle is “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” after all. For anyone resistant to ideas of spirituality or discussions/mentions of God (though Cameron does point out that you don’t have to believe in any god to use the book and gives suggestions for what word to replace God with as you read, e.g., “creative force” or “good orderly direction” among others), probably you might not be as open to some of the suggestions or language Cameron uses. However, if you are willing or able to look past that language, I think there’s a lot of value here.

And, of course, if you are willing to do the work.

Recommendation Wednesday: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I really liked this book. The voice is so great–it really makes the novel. I also thought the humor was kind of random and spot on. I laughed several times while reading, though I wouldn’t be able to do a pull-quote. Most of it was contextual, and the way everything built up into a moment. The book is also not a traditional narrative; it’s told in lists and in screenplay format and regular prose. Playing with the format also adds to the voice.

What I think really works well about this book is that though it’s about a boy who befriends a girl with cancer (she is the dying girl, obviously.), it’s not about cancer. It’s about how this kid (Greg) who is really closed off emotionally and pretty high strung and selfish processes and deals with someone he knows having cancer. His actions aren’t pretty and he’s very self-involved, and that’s why it works. He stays at arm’s length from his feelings AT ALL TIMES and is not well-equipped to handle anything very serious. It shows in Greg’s relationship with Earl, too.

I also liked the ending because it showed that nothing really changes just because someone has cancer. It’s not usually this life-affirming event that propels those left behind into greatness. Cancer sucks and people are devastated at the loss of life and then life just kind of goes on. Unless, of course, those left behind are self-motivated.

While it’s more sad than anything, I also appreciated that Earl and Greg both had kind of resigned themselves to a certain kind of life and trapped themselves into their own narratives. I mean, it doesn’t have to be the way it winds up, but that’s the choice they both made.

Also, this is a pretty good depiction of social anxiety and crippling perfectionism.

My only complaints about this book are that Rachel is kind of a blank slate (which makes sense for the narrative–Greg, again, wants to keep her at arm’s length), and I would have liked to see Earl and Greg’s relationship developed more. However, even the lack of development in that area seems on purpose. Earl’s home life is pretty terrible, and at one point, Greg admits that he doesn’t even know how to think about or process how bad it is.

Oh, and the other thing that got annoying was Greg saying he didn’t know why anyone would still be reading the book. I didn’t mind the moments when he broke the fourth wall to talk about how trite the language was or how annoying he found himself or why he thought the story sucked, but don’t tell me I don’t want to keep reading, dude. I might have taken you up on that.

All in all, though, the book worked.

Anyway, I read this book before I saw the movie, and I have thoughts on how the adaptation worked, so I’ll be doing a post about the movie soon.