Julia Cameron Says You Can Get Creative Indoors

I first heard of ‘The Artist’s Way’, Julia Cameron’s best-selling 1992 self-help book about tapping into your inner creativity, when I was in my twenties. years and struggling to finish a piece of writing that had nagged at me for months. A friend referred to the book, which is big and floppy as an elementary school math notebook, and I went to Union Square Barnes & Noble to pick up a copy. Then I quickly put it in my bag like it was contraband. There’s something about “The Artist’s Way” that inspires eye-rolling at first – oh, then you think you’re a artist? The language of the book, with its invocations of a higher power called the Grand Creator who wants you to do things, and lines like “action contains magic, grace and power”, might sound a little quirky even for those with high woo-woo tolerance. But the advice it contains is surprisingly practical and effective. Cameron recommends two basic practices to activate his creative energy. The first is Morning Pages, a ritual of scribbling three stream-of-consciousness pages each day, preferably before you’ve even had your coffee. The second is Artist Dates, a weekly “festive and solo expedition”, like going to a museum or strolling through a strange neighborhood, to stimulate the mind through strolling. What resonates with many readers is Cameron’s pragmatic approach to getting things done and overcoming self-doubt: to get the job done, you need to have regular, daily practice. His techniques have caught on surprisingly: “The Artist’s Way” has sold over four million copies, and writers and celebrities from Elizabeth Gilbert to Alicia Keys swear by his methodology. During the pandemic, the book returned to bestseller lists.

Before being a self-help celebrity, Cameron led several other professional lives. Raised in suburban Chicago, she became a star of the New Journalism movement in the 1970s when she wrote for rolling stone and the Voice of the village on Watergate and party drugs; one writer described her as an “East Coast Eve Babitz”. She had a two-year marriage to director Martin Scorsese, from 1975 to 1977, which began after she interviewed him for a magazine article and he asked her to do some punch work on the scenario of “Taxi Driver”. The two had a daughter together, and after the marriage ended, Cameron found herself struggling to get screenplay gigs in Los Angeles. She got sober and started writing motivational essays for her friends who were always stuck in bad mental places. Over the course of a decade, these texts evolved into a popular cult workshop in SoHo and then a self-published workbook, Xeroxed. At the request of her second husband, Mark Bryan, Cameron contacted a literary agent who landed her a publishing deal. “The Artist’s Way” took off slowly at first, spreading by word of mouth, but quickly became a mainstay of “breakthrough” literature. In the years that followed, Cameron wrote several dozen other books in the same vein.

Now seventy-three, Cameron lives in a comfortable adobe house on the outskirts of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I visited him one morning in December. We sat in the purple living room of his house while his Westie terrier, Lily, circled our ankles. Cameron shares Lily’s fluffy white hair, and she had kohl rimmed her eyes. As we talked, she got up several times to bring me various artistic trinkets from her life: a pack of medicine cards from Taos, a small Casio keyboard on which she writes music, a binder full of poetry. She showed me a printout of a recent profile of her daughter, Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, now an actress and director, who cited both of her parents as equal creative influences. During the pandemic, Cameron wrote a new book just released, “Seeking Wisdom,” which urges artists to connect with their spirituality to guide their decision-making. Like most of Cameron’s methods, the latter combines concrete activity with free thought; she believes that the mind often follows the hands. Our conversation has been condensed and edited.

Did you do your morning pages today?

I was nervous about meeting you because of the pandemic. So I wrote that in my morning pages. I do them every day.

What is your ritual? Do you do them in bed? Do you do them at a desk?

I don’t do them in bed. I do ’em either over there in that chair, right over there [pointing to a large leather chair], or I do them in my library, where I have what I call my writing chair. It’s a big drunk chair. And I prepare on one side with my Morning Pages book and on the other with Lily [gesturing to the dog].

And do you ever go back and read them?

I do not. I do orientation, which is when I say, “What should I do about XAnd I’ll listen. I’m going to go back and read that again, which is sort of heartwarming and simple, and hopefully less neurotic.

What’s the last thing you asked for advice on?

How to make yourself comfortable.

What have the pages confirmed?

They said we would like each other, that we would have an immediate relationship. That we would offer you water.

Ah, so you predicted the water. When you ask for “advice” in these pages, are you asking your subconscious? Are these the answers? Or do you feel like you have another kind of distinct personality coming back to you – someone wiser, someone more confident?

I don’t mean it’s my subconscious. He feels that it is a kind of benevolent force.

Did you write a lot as a little girl? How was your childhood in terms of creativity?

My dad was in advertising. He was the executive of Dial soap. My mother was very creative. She was a poet. She was very aware of nature. She would be attentive to cardinals, robins, finches. And she had seven children. She gave us projects to do. And then she posted the result on the bulletin board in the kitchen. Things like making snowflakes, things like rhyming, drawing. I had a drawing that I still remember of a rearing palomino horse with a mountain in the distance. I read books about horses. I read “Black Beauty”. I read “The Island Stallion Races”.

I feel like a lot of girls who love horses become writers. I don’t know why it’s a correlation.

I think reading all the books about horses made me want to write. It made writing as possible as riding.

So you started writing poetry in high school?

Yes. I had a nun in high school, Sister Julia Clare Green. She encouraged me. Then when I got to Georgetown, I left as an Italian major. But it turned out that the entire Italian faculty had been hired during the summer. So there was no one who could really teach Italian. And I thought, Well, I’ll jump straight to English, then. But when I went to the English department and said, “I want to be a writer,” they said, “Men are writers. Women are wives. It was 1966. So I went to the newspaper and said, “I’d like to help,” because I had been in the newspaper in high school. And they said, “Can you make cookies?”

Oh my God.

Georgetown was therefore not in favor of a project to become a writer. They had a lot of rules. Women were not allowed to wear pants. Women were not allowed to sit on the lawn. You had to get back to the dorm before the end of curfew. No public displays of affection. When I finished college, I got a call from a boy I went to high school with. He said, “How would you like to work for the Washington To postHe was an assistant copywriter. And I said, ‘I write short stories. I don’t want to work for Washington. To post.” And he said, “Well, that’s four hours a day and sixty-seven dollars a week.” So I went there.

Is that when you started publishing in the newspaper?

Yes. A man named William McPherson offered me a job as a book reviewer. But, I had the boy I was with in high school, looking over my shoulder, telling me I was sorting the mail badly. And I told him to go to hell! And he went to the arts editor about it. The editor came up to me and said, “In Washington To post, we don’t tell people to go to hell. And so I stopped. I think that boy was jealous of me for posting pieces in the Style section. So I went back to writing short stories. And I got a phone call that said, “I’m an editor at rolling stone. I read you in the Style section. Would you like to write for us?”

Do you remember your first rolling stone mission?

Yes, it was to write about the children of E. Howard Hunt. You know, Watergate. I said, “I don’t think I want to do that.” And they said, “Well, just try.” So I found their house. I hunted. It became a cover. It was written in Time magazine. William F. Buckley [Jr.] called me and said, “You’re a disaster.”

This is where you know you’re doing something right.

And me felt that I was doing something good. And then I became known as a hot writer. And I was writing for the Voice of the village. I got my passport stamped in the right places.

Have you ever written for Squire?

No. Squire called me and wanted me to write about one-night stands, and it wasn’t my story.

And did you have a lot of contemporaries at the time, women who were also writers, that you considered your peers?

I was friends with a writer you may know, Judy Bachrach. And Judy was kind of doing everything right, and I was on the outside. I never had the security of a full-time job. It’s always true. I write my books on specifications.

wow. Always? Not on offer?

Yes. I write the whole book, then I try to sell it.

You were part of the new journalism crowd. So you have Nora Ephron, you have Joan Didion, you have Tom Wolfe, you have all these people who write. Did you go to parties?