Release Your Writing Blocks With "The Artist's Way"

Release Your Writing Blocks With "The Artist's Way"

Release Your Writing Blocks With "The Artist's Way"

As we head into the last two months of the year, you might feel the pressure of trying to complete those 2022 goals before the year runs out. Sometimes the pressure is good: in fact, I’d argue that this is at least part of the reason why NaNoWriMo and Stage 32's November Write Club are such popular challenges. It’s not unlike signing up for a 5K race to give yourself a deadline for starting those healthy habits you’ve committed to building. But sometimes, the pressure of a deadline can cause Resistance to rear its head: the harder the goal, the more your Inner Critic shows up. The other thing that can cause Resistance to show up, I’ve discovered, is burnout.

One way or another, as creatives, we have to figure out how to deal with Resistance. I was at the Austin Screenwriting Conference at the end of October, and it was amazing to hear the incredibly successful panelists reveal that they still struggle with this–so if you think that some arbitrary benchmark of “making it” is going to mean that Resistance leaves you alone for good, it’s not going to happen. Sorry.

Last month, I talked a bit about Steven Pressfield’s solution for beating Resistance: “put your ass where your heart wants to be.” In other words, show up. Sit down. Type the words. Do the work. This method will probably work wonders if you need to muscle yourself through a tough deadline and your Resistance is showing up because you’re challenging yourself. But if your Resistance is showing up because you’re burned out, continuing to push yourself and put pressure on yourself is very likely not going to solve the problem. That’s where Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way comes in. I’m working my way through this influential approach to creative recovery, and I thought I’d share some thoughts on her approach and how it might help you if you—like me—are struggling with Resistance due to creative burnout.

Release Your Writing Blocks With The Artists Way

What Is The Artist’s Way?

Briefly, in case you’re not familiar with the work, I thought it might be helpful to explore some of the core principles of the book and their intended effects. The Artist’s Way is
intended to be a process to recover and empower our truest creative selves, helping us learn how to prioritize the “care and feeding” of our Inner Artist to produce our best work in the world.

If I had to sum up this philosophy in a sentence, it would be this: “Artists produce their best work from a place of abundance.” Rather than proposing that we go to war against our Inner Critic and the forces of Resistance, Cameron suggests that we slowly, methodically, work our way through to the causes of these blocks to address the problem at its root.

For example, if your Inner Critic shows up when you begin a new project with a nasty comment like, “You’re a hack—you could never write something people actually want to read,” Cameron suggests that we dig into where this voice comes from. Did we have a bad experience with a writing teacher early in our childhood whose negativity squashed our seedling dreams? Did we have an overbearing but well-meaning parent tell us that creativity is an irresponsible life choice because artists never make any money? Whose voice is it, in other words, that we hear when our Inner Critic makes its appearance?

Cameron takes the artist through a 12-week program of exercises meant to help recover such creative virtues as identity, power, integrity, abundance, strength, and connection (among others). You can do these exercises individually or in a small group. If 12 weeks sounds intimidating, don’t worry. There are two core practices that are foundational to The Artist’s Way, and you can implement these right away. The Morning Pages and the Artist’s Date are simple practices that help clear the detritus out of our heads and refill
our creative wells so that we can work from a place of confidence and abundance.

Release Your Writing Blocks With The Artists Way

The Practices

The Morning Pages are a daily journaling practice meant to be written and not read. They are intended to be a brain dump in a stream of consciousness. If the blank page scares you, this is a great practice to help break that intimidation. You write whatever comes into your head, even if it’s three pages of “I can’t think of anything to write.” She recommends using a cheap notebook so that you don’t feel precious about “messing up” the paper—and she does recommend writing the pages longhand.

The magic of this practice is in the way it short-circuits the judgment of the Inner Critic. Who cares what the IC has to say? These pages will never see the light of day. There’s no stress, no pressure to perform, and no fears about quality. It’s an opportunity to unburden your mind of all those fears, worries, anxieties, and concerns so that when you do show up to the work, those things aren’t a distraction.

The Artist’s Date is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a chance for you to treat your Inner Artist to an experience of joy and delight. It’s a chance to take a little bit of time each week to invest in your relationship with your artist self that has nothing to do with showing up for the work. Instead, the priority is on refilling your creative well so that you can approach your work from a place of abundance, not scarcity. Taking this precious time out of our week is also a symbol of our commitment to our creativity—just like we schedule regular date nights with our special someone to keep our relationship healthy and strong.

Release Your Writing Blocks With The Artists Way

How It Started

I started working through The Artist’s Way about a month ago when I’d hit a point of total burnout. In many ways, this burnout had nothing to do with my creativity, but it was
impacting my creativity to such an extent that I felt I needed to try something new. My Inner Critic had turned into a raging zealot of negativity, and I literally had to drag myself to the page, and then the Resistance was so bad that it made it almost impossible to focus. I was discouraged, and I needed a way to reconnect with the joy of creativity. I didn’t like the idea of going to war with my Inner Critic and Resistance. First of all, I didn’t have that kind of mental energy. I could drag my ass into the chair, and I was absolutely showing up, but it was honestly miserable, and I wasn’t being productive. In my experience, battling with negativity tends to make it worse, not better. What you focus on grows, as they say. And I realized, thanks to Liz Gilbert’s book Big Magic (you can read my thoughts about her book here), that fear is a part of the creative journey. I’m okay with that—but I’m not okay with enduring a steel cage match every time I sit down to write. Enter the Morning Pages and the Artist’s Date.

How It’s Going

I’m glad The Artist’s Way is a practice—because I haven’t been entirely consistent. I had to make some changes to my morning routine to make space for the pages, but I can honestly say that it this has been transformative. I have had several massive creative breakthroughs as I’ve babbled my way through the pages (such as realizing that the reason I couldn’t get past the first page of a short story collection was that it was meant to be a collection of poems instead). I’ve also been able to confront—but in a very honest and non-judgmental way—the yapping of my Inner Critic. Writing those nasty words down when they come up has the incredible effect of pulling their teeth out.

The Artist’s Date, similarly, is a practice I haven’t been entirely consistent in implementing yet, but I’ve seen its positive effects too. Realizing that I need time to nourish my
creativity—and listening to and honoring the needs of my artistic side—has been empowering. I look forward to continuing the work of implementing both of these practices.

Recommendations

If you’re struggling with creative burnout or just need a different method for dealing with Resistance than going to the mattresses, I highly recommend checking out The Artist’s Way. You can work through the program at your own pace, and I’ve even modified the Morning Pages exercise to be time-based rather than page-based (so I do 30 minutes of free writing each morning now instead of the three pages).

As with any new practice, give yourself the grace to build the habits, and use the weekly check-ins as an opportunity to chart your progress. This should be an empowering and
nourishing experience, allowing you to recover your full creative potential to bring your best work into the world.

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About the Author

Shannon K. Valenzuela

Shannon K. Valenzuela

Author, Screenwriter

S.K. is a screenwriter, author, and editor. Writing is in her blood and she's been penning stories since she was in grade school, but she decided to take an academic track out of college. She received her Ph.D. in Medieval Literature from the University of Notre Dame and has spent many years teac...

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