One step at a time
Last year, my friend Kimberly and I spent January, February and March doing a round of The Artist's Way. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, TAW is a creative personal development workshop by Julia Cameron. It is sometimes misleadingly lumped in with self-help books, and I'll admit that at first I wasn't interested in giving it a try because that's what I thought it was. Also, Cameron's references to God kind of wigged this agnostic homegirl out a little bit.
But I'm glad Kimberly convinced me to give it a go, because while the narrative does draw a correlation between creativity and spirituality, it truly is a spiritual exploration (re: all-inclusive, non-religious) and the focus is on un-blocking yourself creatively when you're distracted and derailed by life's many bumps and hurdles (which is basically 95% of the time, I'd say). The workshop forces you to dig deeply into your relationships, life and distractions so you can unburden yourself from whatever forces are blocking your creative process. I definitely found it useful, although difficult at times, and will probably do the workshop again in the future.
A standout for me was week five, titled Recovering a Sense of Possibility. In this section, Cameron asks artists to make a series of lists that open you up to daydreams and indulging your heart's desires - things you'd do if you had all the money in the world, if you were younger, if you were older and so forth. The other day I was checking out my TAW Pinterest board and feeling inspired all over again by the photos I'd chosen. In particular, it was fun to look at the things I said I'd do if money wasn't an obstacle:
- Buy an apartment in Montmartre, Paris, close enough to walk to the funicular
- Live on a houseboat in Amsterdam and write full time
- Take adult ballet classes, just for fun (but no pointe!)
- Build a home library with a comfy chaise and a laddered wall of books
- Travel to Hawaii for a week every year
- Buy an old theatre and start my own company
- Commit to a large and visible tattoo, like a sleeve
- Own a bookshop, in Paris or Venice, of course
- Make an in-home yoga studio and practice one-on-one with my favorite instructor
- Travel to all seven continents by boat
I'm sure you're seeing several themes here. Throughout TAW, I identified some major recurring interests and obsessions in myself: travel, writing, dance and yoga, the arts, self-expression, and a life filled with ease topped the list. Now, a year later, it's interesting to look back on this list and consider whether or not it would be the same if I made it now. I've thought about that a lot for the past week or so and the answer is yes, I think it really would.
The biggest difference I feel between then and now is a minimized sense of guilt at even daydreaming these ideas, which is awesome. I've done a lot of work in the past year to accept myself, my shortcomings, my limitations, my dreams and my goals. While I'm nowhere near earning enough money from my writing to buy multiple residences around the world or start my own theatre company, I'm pretty proud of some of the things I did accomplish since doing this workshop, and I think a lot of it had to do with daring myself to dream. Said another way, I think the process of wish-listing my sky's the limit fantasies made the real-life hopes and dreams seem a little bit more possible. Because in the end, it wasn't about attaining material items like boats and houses and the like. It was about daring to believe that I deserve to succeed and letting myself find joy in that success, in whatever form that takes for me.
So what did I accomplish in the past year as a result of dreaming so big during the workshop and becoming subsequently less creatively blocked?
- Repainted the bulk of the downstairs of my house, bought new furniture and created a "room of one's own" office space for writing.
- Committed to practicing yoga 2-3 times a week and found a studio I love just a couple of blocks from my home.
- Hired my friend Kimberly to help me rebrand myself and launch this website, where I have been posting regularly.
- Finished major drafts of my first novel, Lullaby, and survived two rounds of critical feedback from focus readers; currently working on the third draft that will hopefully start the shopping process.
- Outlined and began writing a first draft of a second novel, which I've been jokingly referring to as Dark and Twisty (not the real title).
Not too shabby, right? There's still so much I want to do, and sometimes it feels incredibly overwhelming and far-fetched, like I'm never going to achieve all the things I dream about and I'll be a giant failure, all my misses documented on my website and Twitter and the whole world (re: my 83 followers) judging me. But then I take a moment to breathe, and I realize that the five bullet points above are actually a huge deal.
I remember last spring when I finished the first draft of my book and pressed send on an email distributing it to six of my trusted friends - I was so nervous and anxious I thought I was going to faint, vomit, or both. One of those friends had already read the bulk of the book, so only the ending was still a mystery to her, and she loved it what she had read to date. I tried to lean on that piece of information. "Kimberly loves the book," I told myself over and over. "As long as she doesn't hate the ending, that's one person who loves my book. Surely someone else will, too." This past fall, when I sent out the second draft to an even wider circle of readers, I endured my first really harsh criticism from one reader who absolutely hated it. It sucked, but it was a learning experience, too. "Not everyone is going to love this book," I reasoned. "I might as well get over it and be happy about the fact that it was just one of the test readers and not more."
As I work toward my wish-list, there are going to be hurdles. It'll probably be hard to find someone to publish my book. I may not make much money, and even if somehow I'm lucky enough to sell the manuscript and make any kind of income from it, promoting a book is very hard work. All along the way, there are going to be creative blocks, things that stunt my progress when I'm trying to write something new or do my job well or be present with family and friends who need me. It may not seem like much, but my journaled wish list, my Pinterest board full of beautiful images, all of those things help me keep moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other as I edge ever closer to that houseboat in Amsterdam, that devil-may-care tattoo, the home library with the endless wall of books. One step at a time.