Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Artist's Way Toolkit: BlogHer Review

I was super-excited to see the request to review Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way Toolkit.  It's a book I've wanted to read for a while, so getting access to the online version for free sounded like an awesome deal.

You can use the website without having read the book - there's enough introductory material there to explain the background.  The Artist's Way is a series of exercises to lead you to more creative thinking and inspiration, and to get you past anything blocking you from being creatively awesome.  It's not just for visual artists - it's for writers, crafters and all manner of creative thinkers and doers. 

One of the core practices she asks you to adopt is doing "morning pages" - three pages of stream-of-consciousness journal writing in the morning.  She insists you must do this by hand, rather than typing, which is my style anyway.  This is something I'll keep doing for a long time - I haven't yet made it part of the daily routine, but I do it more days than not.  It's quite surprising what it yields - it clears my brain of any nagging items, lets me capture random creative ideas that I didn't know I had, as well as more concrete to-dos for the coming days.  It's been easy and fun, and a good way to start the day.

The Toolkit has other components - a daily affirmation, which is not really my thing, but had some good quotes (most of them by Cameron herself).  There was also an audio component called "Creative Soundbites" which was a little woo-woo for me - cheesy New Age music with people talking about metaphysical concepts.  I didn't get much out of that.

The part I loved was the weekly "Artist's Date".  It's an assignment to go and do an activity on your own, to stimulate creativity, and they've been fun ones - take a walk through a (safe) part of your town you've never explored, buy candy you enjoyed in your childhood and eat it, visit a funky thrift store, etc.  Fun little tasks you can then write about or capture ideas from.

The Artist's Way Exercises were another core practice, and one I couldn't get into, but still want to attempt.  They're hard questions where you have to analyze blockers to your creativity, or come up with new ideas.  They're meant to make you think and really dig deep inside yourself for good answers.  I'm feeling a little stressed and busy these days so just couldn't make the time to sit down and focus on these as much as I should.  It would be awesome work for someone who intends to make a career out of their creative pursuits, though.

What I would have liked more was a choice of activities for the Artist's Date or the Exercises - ie, if you don't like the current one, you should be able to skip to a new one.  But the online version has the same one up for a week, so you have to wait and log in to get a new one the following week.

The site is set up like a "notebook", which starts with a "contract" to commit to the practice of morning pages and doing this work.  That was a nice touch to get some commitment from the users.  You can write up your experiences from the Artist's Dates and Artist's Way Exercises in that "notebook" and save them online.  In addition, there are some more blank sections for other creative notes and you can export your work.

For things like this, I'm more a pen-and-paper kind of girl, so I didn't make use of these sections.  I'd rather have hardcopy notes in front of me.

There's a mobile app for Apple devices, but not Android or Windows Phone, sadly.  The material is supposed to be "spiritual" and thus mentions God a lot, but is not focused on a specific religion.  I'd have liked it better if it didn't mention God altogether, but I think that is a core part of the original Artist's Way and I can respect that.

I'd definitely recommend this toolkit for folks looking for some new and different ways to spark their creativity, *especially* if you're trying to support yourself as an artist or writer.  It's great for those who are surgically attached to their laptop or iPad. 

Have you read The Artist's Way?  What did you think?

I was compensated for this review by BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are totally my own.


  1. I have the book, and have read some of it. Have had it for AGES, and always stall out on morning pages. There's a local artist that does a women's Artists' Way workshop, meeting weekly for several months. I've almost signed up several times, as I think have more structure & live support would make me more committed, but my husband's schedule is unpredictable so I can't count on being able to get there due to childcare. But I think if I were able to get going on it, it would help me break through some blocks, and access that creative part of myself more.

    1. @Lisa - I wonder how a facilitated group would work - it seems like so much of the exercises are individual. But then again I'm an introvert and hate "group sharing" sorts of activities ;)

      Yeah, the morning pages have been great. If I had more time/inclination I'd jump into some of the harder questions/exercises, but for me the artsy stuff is a hobby (and one I don't get nearly enough time to pursue) so I need to prioritize my limited free time very carefully. Do I spend time developing my creativity, or you know, actually work on a creative project? :)

  2. Great review Ananadi. I have this book and have attempted on several occasions to get past the first couple of pages. I think its ironic that i'm blocked by something and can't read this book.


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