What Holds You Back?

Everything in moderation, right? Some of our habits can become so important to us that they hold us back in our life and in our creativity.

Week ten of The Artist’s Way programme is about recovering your sense of self-protection. Julia Cameron uses examples in her essay of how we abuse things in our life to numb us from our experiences, that may be drugs, food or even workaholism.  It was a difficult week because she asks you to dig into what you use to stop you working.  This level of vulnerability in your pages, though just for your own eyes, can bring up some strong emotions. It asked you to analyse these deadlies -: drugs, food, sex, work, money, alcohol and family/friends – and see how they have held you back.

Even those that don’t seem relevant in your life you had to think about your resistance to that category, it is an interesting exercise of analysis. You may find you have deep-seated beliefs about why you are not safe around certain substances, for example. I think it is quite a difficult task to do and again I wonder whether the emotional toll of thinking about these difficult topics is a good thing to do alone. Issues around food, family these are really big topics and I can’t be the only one who found these exercises emotionally taxing. What is the point of facing the truth of what holds you back? To ask yourself: do your nurture your inner creativity?

If you are not nurturing your creativity, you may be stifling it. Other areas that she identifies as stifling it are the pursuit of fame and competition. The synchronicity bells were ringing again, I entered a writing competition, scrabbling around to rewrite the start of my novel to get it in for the deadline. I got nowhere with the competition. As a result, I am lurking on the edge of a writers’ forum, uncertain if I want to participate because I didn’t win. This petulance is a good marker that my ego was a little bruised by the whole process, and she sees that competition can also be harmful to our process.

“Instead of saying ‘that proves it can be done’ your fear will say ‘ He will achieve instead of me.”

Julie Cameron

If nothing else, her understanding of competition was salve for my ego. There are some benefits of course to get your fledgling writing assessed, but you also have to be careful how far you let it fly, lest it gets its wings clipped by the critique.

With the information you gather from assessing what is holding you back, she suggests you start to identify boundaries or “bottom lines.” So that you can carve out the space for work. This will also help you recognise when you are using something like food (or the deadly trash tv for me) to zone out rather than be there for your creativity. So, you set new rules about your work. I think not having the right boundaries can really stop you from working towards your dreams.

I do think there are some helpful activities in this week’s process. Seeing what is holding you back can help you take what you are doing creatively seriously, re-organising your priorities to push it to the front. But I also think it is really important to balance out uncovering what habits hold you back, with what nurtures you.

Think about all the things that can nurture the senses of your inner creative child and build these into your life. For me these were: grapefruit scent, gnarled tree bark, the sound of uplifting music, warm blankets and cushions. And though there are difficult things that do you hold you back, the one thing that combat all these difficult emotions is the sense of gratitude that there are so many simple things that can make us happy.

You can read more about my journey through the programme here:

Continue reading “What Holds You Back?”

Renew Your Motivation

Can you finish up the year even stronger than the start?

In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron advises you to look for synchronicity. She believes, I think, that this is the Universe or a Creator is guiding us down a path of creativity. As I work through the last few weeks of the programme, I have become more attuned somehow to this sense of synchronicity. And it’s very pleasing when it happens.

I will be writing more about the final stages of my journey through her programme in the next few weeks but I did read when you finish up, she wants you to commit to 90 days more of writing Morning Pages and at least weekly Artist’s Dates. Well on the same day I read this, I spotted Rachel Hollis is promoting #last90days. A way to finish out the year even more motivated than you started it. It felt like I just had to give it a try.

The commitments she asks you to make seem to line up well with Cameron’s ideas but the main one I am going to focus on is to give myself that hour a day. I may not be able to use an hour every morning. I have shifted some of my to-do tasks as well Morning Pages to before school already. And I have written in my guide how challenging that can be. She is right that I could get up an hour early. This may well be one answer but as my son tends to be an early riser, I suspect it will be an hour divided.

There is something really invigorating about committing to a programme. Although I don’t like to cut out or restrict food, I think Hollis’ “Five to Thrive” are a reminder to take care of ourselves. I am going to using her prompts too as they send weekly emails and I think having a focus can be inspiring

From Rachel Hollis, the Five to Thrive commitments

The main reason though that I think it’s a good idea to amp up your motivation at this time of year is to get you through the slog of colder days and darker nights. Autumn may be my favourite season to write but Winter will follow quickly after and in setting ourselves up to end the year positively, I am preparing myself to feel the best that I can in the SAD season.

By writing about this commitment and sharing that I want to work on my writing an hour every day, I hope you will keep me accountable. Better yet, why not join me? I’d love to hear from anyone who is committing to a brilliant end to this year.

Fearless creativity

Do you really fail, if you try?

I have been thinking about what I fear most: failure or success? My anxious brain can come down on either side. When unused my imagination has a way of turning in on me like this. I think that it caused years of depression. It’s no longer playful but instead hardwired to see what can go wrong. Julia Cameron has written that “the net result is the same” because our fear makes us stop.

And although week nine of The Artist’s Way programme is about many things, what was coming up for me was considering creative U-turns I had made: unfinished projects, broken promises and the reasons that they hadn’t happened. At first writing in my morning pages, I was really petulant. My inner creative child was hurt by the idea that my failures were creative U-turns at all. It’s alright for her, I thought, she’s had things published…if you have never achieved anything you can’t have failed.

And then of course it struck me, not just that my inner child was telling me exactly what blocked me the most: a fear that I would fail. But it also occurred to me the many times I had tried things and they had failed. Then the floodgates opened. Who knew I was still bothered about a school play I didn’t get to be in or that I wanted desperately to put on my own production. Of course I do know because, as I wrote last week, part of my fantasy life includes revisiting drama as well as novel writing. But these hurts I can reflect on also provide a map to steps I might take, although there is a lot of fear. Maybe by sharing the dreams somewhere, I am starting to align to them.

It is not without fear that I share my journey and that is a step forward I think. I think creativity has to have this sense that you are “daring greatly” or it probably isn’t quite the right thing.

I have owned a copy of Feel the Fear and DO IT Anyway for years. Most of my life anxieties and fear of failure have plagued me but this week I dug the book out again. Along with Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. As I come towards the end of this programme, I feel the need to have some books to help me on my recovery ready and waiting. Because while this process is all about creative recovery, it also asks a lot of you opening up, personally and emotionally. I am trying to find ways to be gentle to that upset inner creative child.

What I think that these self-help programmes are all telling me about creativity is to build each day. And be vulnerable so that I step further out of my comfort zone each time. Because afterall, do you really fail, if you try?

A season of new writing

Why Autumn is the best time for writing

I can feel it, Autumn crisping the air, so I dragged the covers out for our bed and, just like that…

This is my favourite time of year, “Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness” roll in and the Autumn announces itself. Best of all its time for comfort and covers to come into the house. The Hygge craze may be less popular but I think there is nothing better than feeling a bit cosy. Its time for making rituals of comfort, like more soft furnishings and lighting my driftwood candle. Best of all, it will soon be time for scarf weather.

Where will Autumn take you?
Licensed under Creative Commons

It may be the back-to-school sense in the air, but the beginning of September seems really inspiring to me. I know Gretchen Rubin writes in her books about habits, that September can feel like a new year. Perhaps particularly for parents, a chance to tackle goals with new vigour.

So, if your writing has slumped a little over Summer or if you have had to contend with a young’un or two in tow, how can Autumn inspire you?

Setting up your space to write is not always very easy. We are cramped for space in my home. But there is something about setting a scene that can help. This time of year, looking out of the window at a tree behind our house, to see it begin to change, causes me joy. Being mindful of my surroundings can really help me be creative. Even if it looks like I am staring out of the window, it helps to feel some sense of calm.

This may seem obvious by now, but I like to be comfortable. This Summer I have been changing in out of clothes, wearing shorts then cooling down and pulling back on cropped jeans, then a skirt to go to work. I mean, it’s just hard work. Out comes the Autumn uniform, sweaters and jeans, jeans and sweaters (with occasional dress for work). I think I am realising that anything can distract me, like being too hot. And irritable me does not do my best work.

Talking of new school year, it is a totally legitimate excuse to get new stationary. If you write in notebooks like me, this may mean a new selection. There may already be an owlish one waiting for use. I have a perfect excuse because as I continue my journey through The Artist’s Way Programme, Julia Cameron suggests having a creativity notebook to plot your creative goals.

The seasonal change between Summer and Autumn has become important to me in my writing. My protagonist is trying to hold on to a happy Summer, a happy family, but Autumn is coming quickly to disturb her and her family. It only occurred to me when someone else read my writing that throughout I characterise the woodland as a place for childhood. We are familiar with the idea of Autumn days representing our later life so I suppose these are the moments, the end of August and beginning of September, which inform my work-in-progress. Quite a philosophical time, really.

And while I write about my main character’s obsession with nature around her, I think it is the perfect time to add a bit of nature into your life. Collecting leaves and conkers, cooking apples and of course as many walks in the woods as you can manage. These are not just things for Instagram shots (though, friends, prepare for the spam) – they are also the most wonderful way of connecting to your inner creativity.

I am about to post more about “Artist’s Dates”, as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way but spending a few hours in nature, definitely counts as working on your writing. In fact, as Autumn eases on, I would call time in nature essential creative work.

How far do you think ahead?

For many weeks I have been making steps to develop my creativity, but pursuing The Artist’s Way programme is also about planning ahead.

I want to keep week eight of Artist’s Way a secret. It’s all about finding strength and taking steps towards your ultimate goals. I don’t mind talking in general terms that my goal is to get creative work published but fantasizing about your dream life: that should be private

What Cameron is asking you to do is to look at those goals then break them down into five year, year, month and week plans. It’s a little intimidating and to be honest my resolution has been “finish the damn draft” for a long time.

What was interesting was reflecting on the other dreams that came up for me. This relates to the exercise she sets in week seven around jealousy. Cameron tells us “jealousy is a map” again, it’s horrible to admit that you feel professional jealousy towards others but it’s also a useful tool.

“Jealousy is a map”

If you care so much about what someone else is doing, you may understand what would really make you happy.

In completing the tasks she set I identified my desire to work on a play, to write poetry. I think writing a novel is a very isolated experience. Both these other dreams require me putting myself out there more. It also identified for me that I really didn’t know what the next steps were to pursue these dreams. And she does want you to make practical steps.

I think I am very good at dreaming about the end result but visions of finding your book at the airport, don’t help you get to the finish line. In thinking about my goals it motivated me to work more. I have worked on a short story, written and promoted more blog posts and started to develop the early parts of my novel as I am switching my timeline around. And I have to admit it’s yielding results, my readership though small was more this month than all previous months and I feel a renewed vigour for my work that I haven’t for a while.

Hope is one thing, but I think as you are working towards your creative recovery, Cameron wants you to work forward, step-by-step.