Finding Water is the third book in Julia Cameron's trilogy on the creative process which began with The Artist's Way and Walking in This World. I was stalled on a project and looked to Cameron to see what she had to say about sticking to a task once that initial flush of excitement has passed. I thought she would have the magical answers. After all, she has produced some 25 books and has multiple credits in theatre, film, and television.
Guess what. There is nothing magical. The answer is really quite ordinary. Whether you live in a New York high-rise (as Cameron does), or in the Pacific Northwest (as I do), you still have to show up at the empty page, alone, preferably every day. Cameron does the laundry, the dishes, takes the dogs for a walk and to the vet, just like the rest of us. Just because she has published many books doesn't mean she doesn't have to carry out the tasks of everyday life.
"Okay, God, you take care of the quality. I will take care of the quantity." That's the sign Cameron posts at her writing station. She offers the basic tools she has included in all of her books on writing: morning pages, artist dates and walking.
Morning pages, as you may have read in Cameron's earlier books, are three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing, done in the early morning for about half an hour. They're designed to get the kvetching out of your head and onto the page. Morning pages aren't necessarily all bad news, however. Sometimes you find in them the glimmer of a new idea. In this way, the pages become a "gentle mentor."
Artist dates can bring a sense of enchantment and connect you "to a larger and more fascinating world than our normal beaten path," Cameron says. On one artist date, she visits The American Museum of Natural History close to her Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan. You could visit an art gallery, a fabric store, a photo exhibit or see a movie in French with subtitles.
"Solvitur ambulando," St. Augustine is said to have remarked. "It is solved by walking." Cameron recommends walking to increase our creativity. That's when the "sorting process" begins. When we walk by ourselves, we "soon sense that the Divine is close at hand."
There you are: the tools. In each chapter, organized to cover twelve weeks of creative persevering, Cameron asks if you have done your morning pages, your artist date and your weekly walk. To carry the water theme throughout, in sections called Divining Rod, Cameron poses questions and prompts to help readers identify their Inner Censor (for instance) or exploring the art forms they could practice if they took the "easy does it" approach. "Remember, the Grand Canyon was carved a drop at a time." Cameron reminds us in her chapter, "Uncovering a Sense of Perspective." Having visited the Grand Canyon recently, I'd say that's a lot of drops!
Although Cameron's life may sound glamorous to those of us who don't live in New York City and who haven't published several books, it isn't. She struggles to earn a living just as we do, those of us trying to earn a living from our creativity. She has extra challenges, too: alcoholism, depression, and three breakdowns. I think she's a truly amazing woman and I applaud her for her courage and perseverance. She is a sober alcoholic who has learned to live each day very carefully, with writing, walking, praying, and contenting herself with "small amounts of progress." "All of the stratagems I have learned to apply to the artist's life come straight out of the toolkits I have acquired to maintain my sobriety," she says.
Besides using her own suggested tools, Cameron writes three pages a day on whatever project is at hand, whether it's a screenplay, a nonfiction book or a novel. After she reaches this quota, she is free to do something else, such as visit with friends or take in a movie. She wants to wear her identity as a writer as "a garment worn more loosely" and to approach writing as part of normal life. That approach she says, has "served me very well." Just as she doesn't let the laundry or the dishes pile up, she doesn't let the writing pile up either.
Cameron admits that she has found it necessary to repeat herself in this book. But what she repeats is important to our creative lives. The "small and gentle daily actions" lead to the large accomplishments. She waits at the keyboard to hear "what wants to come into being." I had to be reminded that there are really no magical answers. It is with a regular and committed practice that the magic can occur. I am grateful to have Finding Water as a companion and aim to commit to those three pages a day.
by Mary Ann Moore
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women