Book Notes #17: “The Artist Way” By Julia Cameron

by | Nov 18, 2023

I finally read this seminal book. For years I’ve been putting it off. I thought the book was for repressed creatives.

A friend told me, “This book isn’t for you because you’re already an artist.” She may have a point. I did indeed read the book because Julia Cameron’s work is an important treatise on unlocking creativity.

However, I didn’t do the exercises that she recommends. I’m creating, producing, composing every day already.

I think there are some useful things in these pages, especially if you’re trying to get in touch with your creative self.

The Artist Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity
By Julia Cameron

Here are my main takeaways:

  • Spiritual connection
    This book was more spiritual than I expected. Cameron believes creativity is connected to a divine source.Not necessarily that of a particular religion or faith, but there’s a higher power or force at work when we tap into our creativity.

    She fundamentally believes that everyone is creative, and I agree. We just have to tap into a spiritual practice to unlock our creativity.

    Don’t get caught up in the word or concept of God.

    Think of it as spiritual energy or electricity.

    In a sense, creativity is like your blood…In a sense, we are creative beings, our lives become our works of art…

    You are seeking to forge a creative alliance, artist-to-artist with the Great Creator…


    Chief among these changes will be triggering of synchronicity: we change and the universe furthers and expands that change.


    “Leap, and the net will appear.”

  • Shadow artists
    These are people who used to be artists or wanted to be an artist.

    Maybe they work with other artists. But something is holding them back.

    Jealousy can be a clue regarding whether you’re holding yourself back or feel creatively blocked.

    Cameron contends that jealousy is a mask for fear.

    Too intimidated to become artists themselves, very often too low in self-worth to even recognize that they have an artistic dream, these people become shadow artists instead.


    Artists themselves but ignorant of their true identity, shadow artists are to be found shadowing declared artists.

    Unable to recognize that they themselves may possess that creativity they so admire, they often date or marry people who actively pursue the art career they themselves secretly long for…


    Shadow artists often choose shadow careers — those close to the desired art, even parallel to it, but not the art itself.


    Shadow artists did not receive sufficient nurturing. They blame themselves for not acting fearlessly anyhow.

  • Morning Pages

    One of the tools Cameron suggests to help unlock creativity is Morning Pages.

    That is, one writes a morning journal of whatever comes to your mind.

    This might seem tedious or banal at first, but if you stick with it, surely it will become a habit. And you’ll start to more freely originate and even share your thoughts.

    They are straight stream-of-consciousness, no editing. She emphasizes that there isn’t a wrong way to do morning pages.

    There’s nothing too silly or weird to leave out. Ultimately, morning pages is a way to combat the censor — the voice within that’s constantly telling you edit yourself.

    The battle is between the Artist Brain (Morning Pages) and the Censor. Morning pages are a type of meditation, she says.

    Give yourself permissions to make mistakes and be bad.

    Negative beliefs aren’t written in stone. They are not facts.

    Don’t show others your morning pages.

    At least not yet. When you share with other, they can critique and that’s tantamount to self-sabotage.

    The morning pages symbolize our willingness to speak and hear God.

  • Artist date

    An artist date is when you play. Do something fun. Something you may not normally do.

    You have to pamper and take care of your inner artist. Your artist side needs and wants attention.

    It’s best to commit to a weekly artist date and then see how you try to get out of these obligations.

    Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you; think mystery, not mastery.

  • Moxie
    These lines stood out to me: “All too often, it is audacity and not talent that moves an artist to center stage.

    “”As blocked creatives, we tend to regard these bogus spotlight grabbers with animosity.We may be able to defer to true genius, but if it’s merely a genius for self-promotion we’re witnessing, our resentment runs high.

    This is not just jealousy. It is a stalling technique that reinforces our staying stuck. We make speeches to ourselves and other willing victims.’I could do that better, if only…”

    The trouble is that you have to let yourself go for it.

    Get out of the way of yourself.

  • Stay true to your self

    Your “friends” may not be happy for your artist recovery. When you start to have creative breakthroughs, inevitably others will feel jealous or try to bring you down.

    These aren’t real friends.

    In addition, when you’re successful, you’ll attract a cadre of enablers that abet your craziness and unreasonableness.

  • Pay attention

    All you can really give yourself and others is attention. Time is a precious thing, the scarcest of things.

    The poet William Meredith has observed that the worst that can be said of a man is that ‘he did not pay attention.’

  • Quantity > Quality

    Place the sign in my workplace: Great Creator, I will take care of the quantity. You take care of the quality.


  • Anger

    Anger is meant to be listened to. Anger is a voice, a shout, a plea, a demand. Anger is meant to be respected. Why? Because anger is a map. Anger shows us what our boundaries are. Anger shows us where we want to go.

  • Solitude

    More than anything else, experiment with solitude. You will need to make a commitment to quiet time…Several times a day, just take a beat, and ask yourself how you are feeling. Listen to your answer. Respond kindly.

    Later in the book, Cameron make the case that artists need to have downtime to replenish the creative well.

    If an artist is forced to be in social settings, this can make them anxious or even hostile.

  • Reading deprivation

    If you feel stuck in your life or in your art, a few jump starts are more effective than a week of reading deprivation.


    No reading? That’s right: no reading. For most artists, words are like tiny tranquilizers. We have a daily quota of media chat that we swallow up. Like greasy food, it clogs our system. Too much of it and we feel, yes, fried.


    It is a paradox that by emptying our lives of distractions we are actually filling the well. Without distractions, we are once again thrust into the sensory world. With no newspaper to shield us, a train becomes a viewing gallery. With no novel to sink into (and no television to numb us out) an evening becomes a vast savannah in which furniture and other assumptions get rearranged.


    Reading deprivation casts us into our inner silence, a space some of us begin to immediately fill with new words -long, gossipy conversations, television bingeing, the radio as a constant, chatty companion. We often cannot hear our own inner voice, the voice of our artist’s inspiration, above the static. In practicing reading deprivation, we need to cast a watchful eye on these other pollutants. They poison the well…


    For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own.

  • Quotables

    “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”

    –Jalal Ud-Din Rumi

    “The point of work is the work.”


    “There is never enough of the fame drug. Wanting more will snap at our heels, discredit our accomplishments, erode our joy at another’s accomplishment.”


    “Fame is really a shortcut for self-approval. Try approving of yourself just as you are — and spoiling yourself rotten with kid’s pleasures.”


    “Competition is another spiritual drug. When we focus on competition we poison our own well, impede our own progress. When we are ogling the accomplishments of others, we take our eye away from our own through line.”


    “Joseph Campbell wrote, ‘Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before.'”


    “The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.”


    “The most common misconception is that we would have to leave our current lives in order to pursue our dreams.” (Her advice is to form creative clusters or communities that help each other – and she has a guide at the end of her book that helps with thinking through these communities)


  • A Gift

    An example of a creative cluster being mutually beneficial is when Martin Scorsese developed Schindler’s List, but he decided to give it to Steven Spielberg to direct.

    “This unballyhooed act of creative generosity finally gave Spielberg his shot at an Oscar as “a real director” — even though Scorsese knew it might cost him his own shot, at least this year.”

    We all start out the same way — rich in dreams and nothing more. If we are lucky, we find friends to believe in our dreams with us. When we do, that creative cluster becomes a magnet to attract our good.