Do you envy people who are naturally creative — artists, musicians, poets and the like? Don’t make the mistake of overlooking computer programmers, schoolteachers, doctors or receptionists. In our society we often assume creativity belongs only to a select few, those who dwell in the so-called world of “the arts.” But creativity exists in all of us. It is simply having the ability to come up with new and original ideas — the very talent needed to run businesses, raise families and turn everyday life into a richer, more interesting and enjoyable experience. For people contemplating a transition from one way of living to another… retiring, perhaps, or changing professions or even getting a divorce, it is essential to create your new life.
When faced with life change, few people realize creativity is critical to their success — nor how to harness and use it to their benefit. I called Julia Cameron, author of the popular book The Artist’s Way and more recently, The Writing Diet. In addition to a successful career as playwright, screenwriter, author and more, Cameron has for many years taught creativity workshops that attract a wide range of people. She told me about the method she has developed that has helped her students tap into their creativity. It mostly consists of three easy-to-do activities — but, she emphasizes, they require diligence and commitment in order to make a difference in your life.
Most people’s early morning involves equal parts coffee and the news. Step one revises old habits by introducing a new early morning ritual — the morning pages. Each day upon arising, sit down and write three pages in a notebook — not two or four but three. Write about whatever you like — your dreams from the night before, the moods you’ve been in of late, your anger or enchantment with someone you know… you can fantasize or whine — or both… you can plan or free associate — or both. These pages are yours. Cameron explains that eventually your morning pages will guide you to creative venues you would otherwise be blind to. “They move people into confidence and adventure,” she says, adding that nothing is too grand or too petty to be included in the pages. They are for your eyes only, “to vent, to plan, to dream, to mourn, to complain, to explore. They acquaint people with how they really feel,” she says… and they become what she describes as the “greased slide to all other forms of creativity.”
For the morning pages you will need a fresh notebook (and they fill up fast) and a comfortable place to sit quietly. Privacy is extremely important when doing the pages because in them you meet yourself, uninterrupted or interpreted by others. It may take days or weeks to get the hang of filling three pages… in the meantime feel free to repeat yourself or write nonsense.
Morning pages are meant to be a lifelong habit. Writing early in the day, Cameron claims, somehow settles your mind and helps you develop priorities, instead of having vague thoughts buzz around in your head all day that go nowhere. She believes they bring clarity so it doesn’t take long to see your “authentic self” begin to emerge in the pages, along with its hopes and dreams through repeated themes — take good care of them because they reflect your creativity at work. “Ideas come to people in their pages that at first seem impossible,” says Cameron, “but then the pages start to move their ideas into the arena of possible.”
In step two, Cameron has created something she calls “Artist’s Dates.” These are meant to give you an adventure every week. It can be as mundane as going to a carpet shop to admire the oriental rugs or a greenhouse to enjoy the flora. You might visit a spice store to experience the colors and smells, or a fabric store to gaze at and touch the plethora of designs and textures. You could walk through an unfamiliar church, take a hike or go to a new restaurant with exotic foods. Where you go and what you see doesn’t matter. These visits are intended to stimulate your senses in new and unusual ways (at least new and unusual for you) and they allow your playful side to have fun — in fact, says Cameron, these outings are meant to teach people how to play.
Surprisingly, people fear they can’t come up with ideas for artist date outings. The problem is, Cameron says, they’re confusing them with high art. Not so, she says, they are silly, frivolous and meant to let the imagination play. To generate ideas about outings that appeal to you, she suggests taking a blank page and quickly writing down 10 things you could do. Following through each week with your dates will enrich your inner life. Think of yourself as an ecosystem, working to keep your creative pond well stocked. Your artist’s dates will do just that. They can be brief or last all day — but are best done solo so you can focus on the experience.
Take regular walks alone. Although she made a habit of frequent walking, Cameron told me it took her many years to recognize how productive walks are for creativity. The reason: Walking by yourself provides the peacefulness you need to integrate your insights. Morning pages send messages about what you do and do not like… your artist’s dates allow you to take in things that are of interest to you… and walking is the ideal time to merge what you have learned. Cameron has found that it takes about 20 minutes of walking to move into a more imaginative state, and so she advises doing so for a minimum of 20 minutes, at least once a week. However, once you are in that imaginative state, you may want to extend your walk to an hour or so. And you may choose to walk much more often… for your creativity and your health.
While you walk, it’s important to turn off your cell phone and leave your MP3 player at home. “The idea isn’t to tune out… it’s to tune in,” says Cameron. Your pages and dates will stimulate your creative voice — the quiet walks provide a chance to hear everything it has to say.