From The Chicago Tribune 4/19/2000.
Julia Cameron, author of ‘The Artist’s Way,’ ‘The Vein of Gold,’ and ‘The Right to Write,’ has helped thousands of painters, poets, sculptors, actors and musicians unblock their creativity in the past two decades.
“As a little girl living in Libertyville, IL, my plan was to grow up and be a famous writer,” Cameron, now 51, says.
For awhile, she was right on track. Cameron graduated from Georgetown University, published some short stories, and became a journalist for ‘Rolling Stone.’
“In terms of a writing life, it was very charmed,” she says. “But simultaneous to that, I had an allergy to alcohol. I blacked out the first time I drank. But I continued to drink from the time I was 19 until I was 29, when it ended with me being an alcoholic, having a problem with cocaine, a shattered marriage, and a Hollywood divorce.
“So I got sober. When I did, I discovered I had an entire mythology around writing that was dark: Artists are dark, tortured creatures who drink a lot. They’re self-destructive. I realized I needed another way.”
Cameron wanted to get on with her career, but her recent screenplays had gone from green light to red.
“So I had gone to Taos, New Mexico to pout,” she says. “And I discovered there that writing three pages a day gave me a sense of grounding, and made me much more positive and in the creative flow.
“Then I was walking down the sidewalk (back at home) in New York, asking God for another brilliant screenplay idea, and I got this message, ‘teach people.’ So I asked again. Maybe God hadn’t heard me right. And again it came back, ‘teach people to unblock.’
“I called this friend (and told her what had happened,) and she called me back, and said, ‘You’re now on the faculty of the New York Feminist Art Institute, and your first class starts next Thursday. So I taught the tools that by now I was using. I unblocked that first class (of students), and I unblocked the next one. For the next twelve years, no matter where I was living, I taught these tools every Thursday night.”
Cameron’s tools encourage people to make small changes in their daily lives, such as writing three pages in a journal each morning, going on artist dates, forming “cluster” support groups with other artists, and taking 20 minute walks.
“The primary creative tool is the morning pages,” she says. “It’s the bedrock for anybody who wants to alter their life toward the positive. It must be done first thing before the family has inundated them. And it will produce a sea change.”
Cameron describes potential artist dates as anything from a trip to an art supply, fabric, or plant store, to an aquarium outing, or a walk by the lake.
“It doesn’t have to do with art,” she says. “It can be trying a new neighborhood’s ethnic food. It has to do with exploration and pushing the envelope for yourself.”
In 1992 Tarcher Putnam published Cameron’s creativity tools as a workbook called, ‘The Artist’s Way,’ and it has since sold over a million copies.
“People will come up to me when I do a workshop and say, I used your book, and here’s my first CD,” Cameron, who now resides in Los Angeles, says. “Or I used your book and here’s my first children’s book, or now I have a series on ABC, or I just won my first juried art show.”
Cameron believes the tools in her books help people get in touch with their creativity, a need she feels exists because society does not encourage art.
“We’re so product oriented,” she says. “Our mythology tells us that only an elite few are creative, and that if you aren’t earning money and if your finished product isn’t perfect, why bother? Our parents and teachers believe these myths, so they discourage us, saying, ‘don’t you think you need something to fall back on?’
“The tools help with this, because if you’re willing to do something badly, then you can get really good at it. But you have to begin where you are, and often that’s all thumbs. I have a woman who started writing at 55 and is now an award winning playwright.”
Cameron says the goal is not for everyone to quit their jobs and pursue art, however.
“It’s about helping people stay grounded and add another dimension to their lives,” she says.
While Cameron has published books on helping people unblock their creativity; she also remains an active artist in many mediums. She’s authored books of poetry, plays, a musical, and a mystery novel, ‘The Dark Room.’
But she’ll be the first to point out that not all of her works have been big successes.
“I’m not the guru,” Cameron says. “I’m just a floor sample for the tool kit. In my twenties, everything I did turned to gold, but in my thirties, everything I did was catastrophic. I wrote my first novel when I was 22, and I published my first novel when I was 49. The message here is: keep writing!” To avoid getting too caught up in her recent fame, Cameron says,
“I work. I do my morning pages, I write novels and music. Art is not about ego; art is actually an act of the heart. The word heart has ‘art’ and ‘ear’ in it. Art is essentially a listening process where we listen to our highest instincts and express them.
“As long as I keep doing what I’m supposed to be doing, I keep coming up with more tools. I go for walks and ask, ‘what should I do next?'”