The Artist’s Way – Week Two

I’m late with this post this weekend, but I have an excuse. (Ha!) Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day here in Canada. Like so many other Canucks, we celebrated early, then had leftovers for the rest of the weekend. That’s one difference I’ve noticed between US and Cdn Thanksgivings, other than the different dates – Americans are more intent on celebrating on the exact day, while we gather sometime on that particular weekend. Many of us save the actual holiday (Monday) for travelling.

So, are you doing TAW with me? Getting those morning pages done? I find the morning pages quite easy to do and to remember to do. I also find them very effective. They’re a great way to get the clutter out of my mind. I never think there’s that much of it in there until I do pages – and discover just how much more prolific and effective I can be in my day once that clutter is gone.

The weekly artist dates are tougher for me. I wriggle out of that commitment in all of the ways documented in the book as excuses – I say I don’t have time, or I nest the artist’s date together with something else (even call the other errand an artist’s date), or I take someone else along. Meeting a friend for lunch is good, but not an artist’s date! I know all that, and I know how effective the artist date can be, but still I wriggle. My goal this week is to have a real artist date.

How about you? Any challenges, realizations or breakthroughs?

The Artist’s Way

The Artist’s Way is a workbook and program, developed by Julia Cameron and designed to help artists of all kinds (including writers) to be more creative. It’s structured as twelve weeks of exercises. Each week, there’s a chapter to read on a specific topic, and a number of exercises to be done to help you work through the issue of the week. You also take yourself on an “artist date” once a week and write “morning pages” daily – those are three pages of stream-of-consciousness written long hand, as close to the time you awaken as possible.

The first time I did the program was in November 1995. I know this because I wrote the date in my print copy of the book. I’d just survived a challenging situation with my publisher at the time, which had upset me enough that I wasn’t writing. I tried the program, figuring I had nothing to lose, and it worked. That challenging situation was a first, but not by any means the last such incident with a publisher. Over the years, I have repeated the course a number of times, discovering something new each time I work through the exercises. It’s made me much more robust creatively, and repeating the exercises takes me to new strengths each time. The morning pages are extraordinarily effective in clearing my mind of junk, so much so that I always wonder when I start to do them again why I ever stopped doing them.

Over the past few years, I’ve become my own publisher. This has its pros and cons, and although I love being responsible for all facets of taking my work to market, it’s not without its stresses and concerns. I find it too easy to take care of just one more thing each day, instead of getting to my writing, probably because administrivia demands time and a little attention, but not so much creative energy. I also dislike having long To Do lists and am inclined to want to strike off the easy items. Once again, I find myself not writing as much or as readily as I’d like: nineteen years after my first experience of the program, it’s clearly time to revisit the exercises in The Artist’s Way again.

This is my week #1. NaNoWriMo will be smack in the middle of this pass through the book, which is a very good thing. I also like that my week #12, the last week of the program, will be the week that ends with Christmas. I think this is a good way to end the year, and hope to write not only The Warrior’s Prize (which will be published December 29, right after my course is completed), but also Firestorm Forever. I’d also like to get some new projects rolling which are planned for 2015 publication. If you’d like to join me, I welcome your company and comments. I’ll post each Monday about my progress.

Away we go!


I think we’re due for an analogy around here – maybe even past due – so here we go.

Many of you are aspiring writers, and many of you – as aspiring romance writers – belong to a writers’ group like RWA. Those writing groups tend to meet regularly, either formally or casually, and one of the activities that tends to happen at these meetings is critiquing and/or brainstorming. These sessions can be instructive and fun, with people learning from each other’s work, but one of the the things that only becomes evident over time is that many many (many) of the book ideas being discussed never make it to being finished book manuscripts, never mind published books.

Which brings us to perfume.

Imagine that you have a vial of perfume. It’s exotic and beautiful, possibly expensive, and you love it. You open the stopper and take a sniff and it fills your mind with images, changes your mood, makes you optimistic about the future. You love this perfume. And you have two choices with your precious perfume – the first is that you keep it closely stoppered and savour it once in a while, all by yourself. The other is that you leave the bottle open, letting it perfume the air around you with its sweet scent.

While the first option seems somewhat selfish, there are a number of problems with the second option that you might not immediately perceive. First of all, your nose becomes accustomed to scent and stops appreciating it after a while – you’ll notice this with strong scents, like vinegar. After five minutes, you can’t smell it anymore, even if it’s still present. So, you won’t smell your beautiful perfume after your nose gets used to it either.

The second is that leaving the bottle open releases the fragrance, and leaving it open permanently means that the scent will gradually dissipate and abandon the vehicle. You’ll have some expensive liquid in a month or a year, depending how volatile the scent is.

And finally, sharing that perfume with the world means that others around you will catch a whiff, maybe like it, maybe be inspired to use the same or similar perfume. That makes yours less special or unique.

What does this have to do with book ideas? I believe that the most destructive thing a writer can to do to her own ideas is to share them. You need to keep the stopper in the vial: you need to keep your idea between your own ears. The more you discuss your idea – or the specifics of it, the dialogue, the action, the characters and subplots – the more that you disperse your perfume. That diminishes its power.

It also looses your idea into the world. Most people aren’t active plagiarists, but a potent idea will seize many imaginations, infiltrate them, take root and blossom in an unexpected way. (Okay, so we have two analogies today.) So, your rose perfume might be admired universally and acknowledged by all of your critique partners to be your own – but one might buy a rose at the nursery the next week, another might wallpaper her bedroom with a floral print, another might suddenly find rosy pinks irresistible. Ideas are infectious – the best way to ensure that your idea remains exclusively your own is not to share it.

I also believe that this process of active discussion of works-in-process is why so many of the books that are openly discussed in writers’ groups never are finished, or they’re finished very slowly, or they’re not that compelling to read when they are finished. The potent perfume that led to their creation was dispersed too soon. It was shared around, providing fodder for discussion, instead of being the impetus for the writing of the book. It was wasted.

Just as a whiff of a beautiful and beloved perfume can perk you up, a carefully maintained spark of an idea can urge you to finish the work. There is a point in the creation of every book when it seems as if the story will not come together, as if the characters will never cooperate or find their HEA, as if the whole thing has been an exercise in futility. If you have taken care of your perfume, it will be as heady and strong at this point as it was when you first set your fingers on the keyboard. You can open the vial, take a long deep breath, and be filled with the need to finish the story. You might not know how to do it, but your passion for the story will be fed by the perfume, and the stronger it is, the more it will inspire you to carry on.

You need to hold your ideas tight, keep them potent and compelling. The best way to do that is by not discussing them. Not only will this help you to finish what you’ve started and keep your interest in the work, it can provide an invaluable source of energy to you. That’s why it’s your idea – it exists to provide an impetus to your writing. Sharing it is a gracious gesture, but one that will compromise your ability to create a book from that idea. Keep the stopper in the vial and your ideas between your ears – you might be surprised how much it affects your ability to finish a book.

And when the book is done, sold and printed? Well, the magic of that perfume will be preserved for all time because you protected it, and everyone will be able to enjoy it over and over again.