Under the Maple Canopy

Singing Union Songs Since 2009

Where “The Artist’s Way” Falls Flat (A Critique)


Have you ever started writing thinking you’d head one way and instead found yourself going another?  That’s how this post started out.  This post was going to be a list of the books in my Amazon cart that had nothing to do with my children or homeschooling (a rarity).  In the meantime, I got to thinking about one of the books and realized that was what I really wanted to talk about.  I’ll get around to my Amazon cart another day.

For all the great things that going through “The Artist’s Way” so far has wrought, I have a growing discomfort with Julia Cameron’s seminal work and am beginning to understand the negative reviews on Amazon a bit better.  Well, not the crazy “this is pagan/new age/devil spawned” nonsense.  That I’ll just shake my head at because I can remember a time in my life when I wouldn’t read the fortune in the fortune cookie lest I give the devil a hold in my life.  I was sincerely mistaken (and a bit silly) then, likewise they are now.

In the interests of disclosure, I’ll be the first to admit that Cameron’s book isn’t a good fit for everyone.  There’s a certain personality type to which this book will resonate deeply.  She subtitles it “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” for a reason.  I firmly believe that one can be “spiritual” without agreeing to the concept of a deity/god/goddess and for that reason I thought it might be a good fit for me.

Cameron is up front at the beginning of the book that she refers to God, but encourages the reader to substitute for this any number of other concepts.  I took Cameron at her word that this would be possible and began the book in earnest a couple of weeks ago.  I’m currently in week three, though, and this is where things start to break down.  It’s in week three that Cameron becomes a great deal clearer about what she means by “God” and it’s there that reading the book became convoluted as I tried to substitute what I could assent to for what she had written on the page.

Cameron asserts that not only is there this god/goddess/divine that is interested in our creativity (and has gifted us with it), but that this god/goddess/divine is also directly involved in our lives by sending things our way.  I’m beginning to get the distinct impression that there is a personal quality to this god/goddess/divine for Cameron even if she insists in the beginning that one could substitute some sort of universal force for where she writes “God.”  That’s a problem for me because I am not a theist.  I do not believe in a personal god/goddess/divine in any form.

Don’t get me wrong – I love mythology from around the world.  Hanuman, Ganesh, the Divine Mother in all her forms across cultures and time (Devi, Brigid, etc) to name just a few.  I love the Buddha and what he taught.  I love Paganism for its connection to the natural world and sacredness to be found in the ever turning wheel of the year.  I find value in ritual (both personal and public) even if I don’t believe it to be literal.

Speaking of which I really should thank my bat-shit crazy brother-in-law for that last one.  Were it not for his insistence that everything we loved (Christmas, Easter, Solstice, birthdays, etc) were Pagan (by which he really means demonic and is incontrovertibly wrong about) it would have likely taken us much longer to head down the path to a more authentic self.  I’d even tell him that, but I don’t think he’d take it in the genuine spirit in which it would be offered.

Comparative religion is where I first found the light of truth and lost faith.  It’s where I raise my children so that they have a larger perspective of what it means to be human both now and in the past.  I consider it an inoculation against the fundamentalism of my youth so that when the fear-mongering, devil hating, fire and brimstone preaching, you’re going to hell evangelists come around my kids will be less susceptible to their charms and claims of exclusive truth.

Cameron talks at length in week three about serendipity and then gives examples of the ways that the god/goddess/divine is responsible for it.  If that works for her (or anyone else), then I’m all for that.  It doesn’t work for me, though, and that’s the problem.  I’m all for serendipitous coincidences, but chalk them up to my paying attention.  I read about something and then I see it everywhere.  All of those things existed before I read or heard about it – it’s just that I wasn’t paying attention.

Ultimately, that’s what I wanted Cameron to do.  I wanted her to help me pay attention to the world around me.  I wanted her to help me establish a practice that would nurture my creativity and my spiritual self (which ultimately are one and the same).  I wanted her to provide the structure so that I could work through my issues and get out from under The Editor that lives inside my head and tells me that everything I write is crap.  Trite crap.  Overworked crap.  All ready been done crap.  Schmaltzy crap.  Self-involved crap.  Crap, crap, crappity-crap.  She’s a bitch and she’d be the first to admit it, but in all The Editor’s zeal to keep me from embarrassing myself by writing crap, she also stops me from writing.

And I need to write.

I need someone to hold my hand and encourage me to make space just for me without also having to find a babysitter or leave the house.  I needed Cameron to provide that and while she promises that in her opening pages, it’s also where, at least for me, she falls flat.


4 thoughts on “Where “The Artist’s Way” Falls Flat (A Critique)

  1. Now I know why I never picked up that book and why I am not going to bother to do so in the future. Thanks for saving me a lot of time and effort. I think it is really difficult to find a book that works for these creative things. Did you read Natalie Goldberg’s “Wild Mind”? Still my favorite of hers. I think the only thing that helps you write better is to do more writing. I also read a lot of poetry and just don’t worry about understanding it or learning from it. I figure that it will still have a positive effect on my brain and use of language soon or later. Having written for a newspaper, I tend to always write shorter sentences. I can be poetic but only in short pieces. If I’m writing something longer I always get serious. Can’t help it, so now I no longer worry about it.

    • You’re welcome! :0) Her book is so widely praised that it’s hard for me to give up on it outright. I haven’t read Goldberg’s “Wild Mind” yet. So far I’ve only skimmed through “Writing Down the Bones” and have my mom’s copy of “Old Friend from Far Away” sitting on my desk.

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with short sentences – some of the greats were known for their short sentences. I appreciate your experienced opinion, though, so thanks!

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