Ethical Wisdom

The examined life.

The Artist's Way: An Interview With Julia Cameron

The grande dame of creative self-discovery talks about how to meet the muse.

When Julia Cameron began sharing her ideas about creativity with a few friends in her living room 25 years ago, she never imagined that these conversations were leading her to a gold mine (both artistic and financial).Since its publication in 1992, Cameron’s landmark book, The Artists Way, has helped millions of people around the world to discover–and recover– their creativity through daily, free writing exercises she calls Morning Pages.

Cameron, a poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, composer, and short story writer, began journalism career at the Washington Post, then moved on to Rolling Stone. After meeting director Martin Scorsese during an interview for the magazine, she married collaborated with him on three films, married in 1975, and divorced two years later (they have one daughter, Domenica Cameron-Scorsese). Cameron's memoir Floor Sample details her descent into alcoholism and drug addiction, which led her to a point in her life when writing and drinking could no longer coexist. After getting sober in 1978, began teaching “creative unblocking” – and creativity as an authentic spiritual path – which led to publication of The Artist's Way.

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Since then, Cameron has traveled the world, spreading her gospel of inspiration, self-trust, and “showing up” for the daily practice of Morning Pages. Widely recognized as the grande dame of creativity gurus, Cameron was Writer in Residence at Northwestern University, and is the author of dozens of other books (including The Right To Write) as well as plays, musicals, poetry, and dramatic works for both television and big screen. Julia Cameron recently spoke to Mark about the creative process, Morning Pages, and the challenges of training a new puppy, from her home in Taos, New Mexico.

MM: How do you explain the transformative power of writing?

JC: I think writing is by its very nature transformational. I believe that the minute you put pen to page you start to alter your consciousness and the more writing you do, the more closely connected you are to a higher power. Some people can call it the muse. Other people say it’s God. Whatever you care to call it, when you write, you connect to it.

MM: And what is it about writing in particular that does this? More than, say, sculpture or painting?

JC: I feel like any art form connects us to the muse. And writing is the one we’re most familiar with. It’s our daily path if you wish. Not all of us sculpt or paint, but all of us do speak.

MM: Do you think that spoken story telling has the same effect? Or is it about putting pen to paper?

JC: Well, I think I’m an advocate of the pen to paper group. When we put the pen to paper, we articulate things in our life that we may have felt vague about. Before you write about something, somebody says, “How do you feel?” and you say, “Oh, I feel okay.” Then you write about it and you discover you don’t feel okay.

MM: So it’s going more deeply into our experience?

JC: Yes, I think so.

MM: Tell me about Morning Pages, Julia. People who may not even know the title of your book know about Morning Pages. Can you talk about the purpose of this practice?

JC: I think the purpose is what you mentioned: transformation. We do Morning Pages in order to connect to our own consciousness and to connect to a larger something. Again, that’s the muse, the higher power, the Toa, God, the universe, whatever you care to call it. You do Morning Pages in order to touch base with it.

MM: How did you come up with the idea of Morning Pages?

JC: I was desperate. At the time, I was a Hollywood screenwriter and I had just written a movie for Jon Voight and his partner had called me up and said, “It’s brilliant.” Then they didn’t get back to me again and I was sort of stuck with the feeling of, Oh my god. I have this quote “brilliant movie” and I can’t get him on the phone. So, I started writing Morning Pages as a way to solace myself.

MM: It really was a healing impulse that brought you to it.

JC: Yes. And they still work to this day. I have an old writing partner and asked him if he still does Morning Pages. He said, “I do them whenever I’m in trouble.” And I said, “Don’t you think you might not get in trouble if you did them consistently?”

MM: That’s great. But isn’t it also true that we tend to introspective writing when need out something painful?

JC: Yes. And that was definitely how Morning Pages began for me. I was living in Taos at the time and I was in a little adobe house at the end of a dirt road. I felt like, “What happened in my career?” and I started doing Morning Pages. After I had been doing them for a couple of months, a character for a novel strode into them. I went off and wrote a novel and that was how I got the notion that the pages were healing because I had healed myself.

MM: And you wouldn’t have found that character if Hollywood had returned your phone call.

JC: That’s right. If they had returned my phone call, I’d still be a Hollywood screenwriter and The Artist’s Way would not exist. So, thank you, Jon Voight.

MM: Do you agree that a life story is something we make up? In the sense of everything life being a work of fiction?

JC: Well, we hope not. If we write our life story out, we hope we’re being objective. We strive for objectivity but whether or not we achieve it is the other question. When I wrote my autobiography, I strived for objectivity but I know that the truth telling was selective, as I was trying to see the other person’s point of view. And that’s why people who read the book told me that I had been kind.

MM: Why do you think writing is so scary for so many people?

JC: I think we have a great deal of mythology around writing. We believe that only a few people can really do it. I wrote a book called The Right to Write. In it, I argued that all of us have the capacity to write. That it’s as normal to write as it is to speak. But we have a mythology that says that only a few people are talented enough to be real writers.

MM: Why do you call writing a spiritual path?

JC: Writing is a spiritual practice in that people that have no spiritual path can undertake it and, as they write, they begin to wake up to a larger connection. After a while, people tend to find that there is some muse that they are connecting to.

MM: Is this muse connected to the power of confession?

JC: That’s an enticing idea. I think there is a great deal of power to confession and that as we try to be accurate, we find ourselves confessing foibles and shortcomings and all sorts of glimmerings of shared humanity.

MM: And that process is enlightening in itself. Tell me, what are you working on now?

JC: My life is dominated by a ten-week-old puppy. (laughs) She’s very mischievous. The trainer said to me, “Oh dear, you’ve got your hands full with this one.” And I do Morning Pages. I’m working on a book that’s still sort of top secret, with Emma Lively. I’ve worked with her for 15 years and this is our fourth book together. She lives in New York and I live here and we do it by phone. We are about two-thirds of the way done. It’s a self-help book.

MM: Well, there are millions of people out there eagerly awaiting a book like that from Julia Cameron. Thanks for you time. And good luck with the puppy!

 

Mark Matousek is the award-winning author of two memoirs, Sex Death Enlightenment (an international bestseller) and The Boy He Left Behind. more...

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