Monday, April 4, 2011

A Different Approach

For several months now, I've had a dearth of creative reading. Oh, I've been reading a lot, mostly fiction novels. I just haven't been able to find a book I like for my daily creative reading since I finished Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach at the end of last year. This morning I sat down to read and I find myself with three inspiring books in progress at the moment. It was hard to choose! Times ebb and flow, interests come and go. It's clearly time for me to focus on creativity again, bring balance to my personal equation, after several months of focusing on primarily on photography.

As I mentioned in my Claim your Artist post the other day, one of the books I've started is Julia Cameron's Vein of Gold, a sequel to The Artist's Way. She starts out similarly to the The Artist's Way, introducing her fundamental tools of the Morning Pages, Artist Dates and a few other things. While I have loved her writing and ideas, there is one thing I don't love about her books: How adamant that she is that you use the tools she gives, in a specific way, on a specific frequency. She's the teacher, she's taught this to thousands (maybe millions of people, through her books), she knows it works and that's the end of the discussion.

But here's the thing: She doesn't know me. She doesn't know what works for me, how I think, what I've tried in the past. She has a lot to teach me, but it won't work if it doesn't fit my style. I know me and I know this: Requiring a task be done on a rigid schedule with rigid guidelines flips me right over into the obsessive achiever part of my personality. The part of me that tracks everything as a number and berates myself when I don't follow it as instructed. The part of me that will kill the emerging artist at every opportunity.

Through my creative journey I've learned I need to try out the tools a teacher provides, and then fit them to me. I've made journaling part of my regular practice, but I journal probably 4 to 6 times per week and don't require a certain length. The requirements of "Morning Pages" never worked for me. I've learned the value of creative excursions and explorations on my own, of filling the well, but on my own schedule. I may not be following the instructions of the "Artist Dates" but I get the same benefits. I follow the spirit of the teachings, not necessarily the absolute.

I will confess as well, I didn't fill out one worksheet, one questionnaire, answer one "recall a time when xxxx happened" exercise in The Artist's Way as proscribed. I didn't follow the recommend schedule for reading. I would move quicker or slower as the material worked for me. I've done the same with many, many creative books now. I never read Simple Abundance daily, I would pick it up as it inspired me and read chunks of it at a time. I skipped all of the fill-in-the-blank exercises of Martha Beck's Finding your own North Star but the material has stuck with me nonetheless.

I read, absorb, journal, write about the most important pieces to me here. The ideas go into the "swirl" I've talked about before, become the fuel that keeps my creativity burning bright. I gain an enormous amount from the books I read and the classes I take. There is so much to learn from great teachers. I believe in trying on ideas and methods, and then trimming them, nipping and tucking them to make them fit me. We have to believe in our inner wisdom and intuition. We have to rely on our own experience and awareness of ourselves, of how we learn and integrate knowledge. We have to make the teachings ours if they are going to be useful.

Have you ever started a book or a class, something that comes highly recommended like The Artist's Way, only to quit because you didn't like the methods or didn't want to follow the procedure? If so, I don't think you're alone. Here's something new to try, if you find yourself in that situation: Just read the material. See what resonates with you, inspires you. Who knows, you might end up liking some of the suggestions and incorporating them in your own way, in your own time. Or maybe not, but you'll have gained something more through the reading.

Today's picture is inside the amazing Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, by architect Antoni Gaudí. Here's an artist who found his inspiration in novel sources. I'm sure he learned valuable information from his teachers, but I am glad he didn't follow their proscribed methods exactly. He integrated and applied the knowledge in his own way, developing new methods. The world of architecture is more beautiful for his unique and creative interpretations.

Take that to heart today.


  1. Kat, this is a wonderful post, and I think your message here is so VERY important. It's always nice to have the tools to help us along, but these tools can simply become another "thing we have to do" if we do not adapt them to our lifestyle, and our style in general.

    Once again, really, really informative post, and I thank you so much for sharing it at The Creative Exchange today.

    Have a wonderful day.


  2. I agree so much with you Kat. It is wonderful to have the tools to use as we need them. But if we follow someone else's formula for success than we have forgotten our own creativity which for me is what it is all about.
    Thank you for a great post and beautiful picture.

    Visiting for CED

  3. I have not read The Artists Way, but I keep bumping into it mentioned, quoted or alluded to-the signal to read it couldn't be more strong or flashing.
    I too can become bogged down in rules, etc-tho' I find I'm creative within a form, something with boundaries. When it's too wide open I can get lost. But I think that a lot of creativity is born by just what you're doing-taking a model, considering it and then molding it toward what works for you. I think that is part of the "art".
    Thanks for this post-good thoughts and hope a good read finds you and you it-they seem to come in waves and lulls.

  4. Oh boy! Am I glad you didn't ask us to actually LIST all the books, classes, e-classes etc. that we've started and not finished. Because my list would probably max out your blog space :-))

    But, to be serious (!) I agree totally about what you say about just reading the materials and then pick n mixing the bits that resonate and work for you. To that end, I've got my copy of The Artist's Way out of the bookcase, dusted it off and promise to read it right through and take the bits I like and use them.

    Thanks Kat!

  5. I can totally relate to this post... I couldn't stick with the morning pages either (I need more flexibility also).


    p.s. I hope this post means we'll be seeing more of your gorgeous paintings soon!

  6. Another thought-provoking post.
    I love the photo you used as an example of an artist who used knowledge plus his own creative instincts to design beautiful structures.

  7. Great post! I have a habit of giving up on these books and lessons when I can't fit their instructions into my life - because like you trying to takes me back to my high school years where anything less than an A was a failure and I don't want that pressure in my creative corner. Your post is full of great ideas - maybe I need to rethink some of my ideas.

  8. HA! And here I thought I was the only one who has never filled out a single questionnaire or exercise from a "creativity" book. Like Jamie above, I also suffer from the perfectionist A+ school approach - for me, these excerises always seem like tests that I can't do without knowing the "right" answer - what if I fail?
    Thanks for discussing that there are other ways to incorporate this creative teaching into our daily lives.

  9. I too feel strongly that we have to find a way to make processes our own. Our children don't learn in one rigid way, why should we? I'm doing an e-course right now that asks the participants to do one task before they move on. It stalled me for a few days until I remembered - this is MY process. So even though I didn't complete that task, I moved on and read the newer lessons anyway. At some point I may or may not return to the task, but in the meantime I pick and choose the meaningful bits and pieces for ME. Great post, Kat.

  10. Another great post, Kat! Self knowledge is important in nurturing our creativity...I think you are so right about trusting our intuition and following our instincts.

  11. i love simple abundance!!! you will see many quotes and snipets from it on my blog. great post!!!

  12. What a great post and your photography is wonderful....such a fine capture. Love the perspective from which the took the picture. I read Simple Abundance and am reading it all over again this year. It is a wonderful book. I am also reading “Winter Garden” by Kristin Hannah which I cannot put down. Have already gotten a second of her books onto my iPad so I will have it ready to go the minute I complete this one. She is one fabulous writer.

  13. I see we have read a lot of the same books! (doesn't surprise me!) I have read tons of creative-type books, thoroughly enjoyed most of them, marked them up with highlighter, dog-eared pages and bookmarks and then gone back at a later time and re-read the highlighted portions and been inspired all over again! Just did it recently for Simple Abundance, after many years. I have to say, though, that I rarely do ANY of the prescribed exercises, for the reasons you mention. Especially writing exercises. It just feels "contrived" to me and I write what I want. Doesn't make the book any less valuable, though, in my opinion!

  14. Kat I have some of those books, too, and you are so right. I stopped feeling guilty for not doing all exercises because I was overwhelmed of the many brilliant ideas. Each one of us has an individual process. I remember a funny thing like this when I was trying to read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and I found something after the first or second chapter like: "Please read this for 30 days and then you can continue". I thought he was joking, no surprise that I never finished the book.

    Thank for stopping by in my blog and for the kind words of encouragement!!

    Ah! Great post! Congratulations!!! I enjoyed reading it!!

  15. I agree! It's very hard for me to follow a procedure exactly -- especially when it comes to something creative. I just feel like if it can't be adapted then how creative is it?

  16. Gorgeous photo. Such wise words, too. I cannot keep up with Morning Pages, though I write when I'm moved to. There are other ways of opening up to the spirit of creativity, and the important thing is to find what works for you. And I'd bet that it will be different things at different times.


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