JULIA CAMERON Part 1 Talks About Unblocking: Creative Writing Help
[This transcript is excerpted from an Art of the Song interview as broadcast nationally on Public Radio. Click here to listen to the complete show with music.]
Viv: It’s a beautiful rainy afternoon in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and we have the great pleasure of talking with Julia Cameron for Art of the Song. Julia, thank you so much for joining us.
Julia: You’re welcome. It’s good to have you in my home.
Viv: Julia, your book, the Artist’s Way has changed millions of lives and has certainly opened my heart and I know John also and many of the Art of the Song alumni have mentioned the Artist’s Way. It’s been a seminal book for a lot of artists. It’s caused us to reach deep and find our creative recovery and our spiritual path as creatives. So we just want to honor that first out of the gate and thank you for that work.
Julia: You’re welcome. That’s the sentence that I get told when I go out to teach people who come up and say, “Your book changed my life”. It’s always the same sentence.
Viv: Is that an exciting thing for you to hear?
Julia: Yes, it’s very exciting. Sometimes when I teach classes, people will come up to me and they’ll hand me a DVD and they’ll say, “I used your tools and this is what I made”. Well, I’ll tell you one brief story. I was teaching in New York and a woman came up to me, while I was teaching, and handed me a plain brown wrapped package and said, “Open it when you get home”. So I kept on teaching but I was very curious about what was in this package. She said, I” used your tools and it unblocked my creativity. So take this with you”. So I took it with me, I went home, very curious what had I unblocked and I opened the book up and it was S&M pornography.
And I thought, “Well, clearly we could unblock almost anything”.
Viv: So there’s many paths, right, to creative recovery.
Julia: Yes, many paths.
Viv: Well, Julia, you are known and loved by all of us as the author of the Artist’s Way. And, you have your own creative path. The Artist’s Way came out of your own personal experience of unblocking yourself.
Julia: Yes. I like to say when I go teach, “This isn’t theory. This is practice.” I had these tools. I discovered these tools. I worked with these tools. They are practical. I say if you do this, it unblocks the artist.
Viv: And you did this because of a need that you felt. These were exercises that you developed for yourself to unblock your writing. Is that correct?
Julia: Well, I had been a writer since I was eighteen. When I was twenty-eight, I got sober. I had ten years of hard drinking and writing out of ego. And then when I got sober I thought, “I don’t know if I can write without a bottle of scotch”. As though the scotch had written everything. Then I discover that I needed to let something larger than myself write through me. That I was, in fact, sort of a conduit. So I began writing more freely and I put a little sign up by my writing station that said, “Ok, God, you take care of the quality, I’ll take care of the quantity.” As I did that, I began to write as if I were listening rather than as if I were speaking. So I would sort of drop down the well and listen to what seemed to want to be written. And I would write that down. I found that my egoless writing was much more accessible to people and my career began to lift off when I began to do this form of writing.
Viv: What form was your writing taking before you got sober and then opened up to writing in this way?
Julia: Well, before I got sober, I did have some success. I had an article that I wrote on E. Howard Hunt’s children. It was a cover story in Rolling Stone and it got written up in Time Magazine. I began to be known as a hip journalist. I met Martin Scorsese when he was shooting “Taxi Driver” and I wrote some fixes for that script even though it’s overwhelmingly Paul Schrader’s script. There was still some stuff that I knew more about from living in Washington. I was a helper and, when I became sober, I suddenly began to write longer things instead of fixing other people’s scripts. I began to write my own scripts. I had some success selling them to Paramount. And I became a Hollywood screenwriter. But I discovered that I was very frustrated by the fact that they would buy my scripts and then not make the movies. So I moved to Chicago where I taught on the faculty of two film schools, and that gave me access to free materials. So I began to be able to be a filmmaker in fact instead of a filmmaker in theory.
Viv: What a wonderful distinction. Because, particularly in the arts, you can say, “I’m an actor. I’m a painter. I’m a dancer. I’m a this”. You can label yourself as such because you’re in studio working all the time and yet the first question is, “Have I seen you in anything?” or “Have I seen your work? Have I heard you on the radio? Have I…Have I…Have I….”
Julia: Well, this is America. We’re very product-oriented. So if you say, “I’ve written a novel”. They said, “Did you sell it?” And if you were writing a novel, it’s the equivalent creatively of having run a marathon. And, if you ran a marathon, they wouldn’t say, “Did you win?” But when you write a book, it’s, “Have you got a publisher?” And I have been very excited by watching my tool kit get used so that people would self-publish. I have a friend who is actually going to be coming to New Mexico in order to direct “Love in the DMZ”, the play we’re doing together. His name is Daniel Region. Daniel worked with Artist’s Way tools and wrote a short story collection and it’s just brilliant.
Viv: That is wonderful. And self-publishing has now taken on a place of honor. Over time we’ve managed to loose that stigma of, “Well, Random House didn’t pick you up so…”.
Julia: Right. And I should say that the Artist’s Way was first self-published. I was living in Chicago. We xeroxed it at a little communist copy shop. We probably ran off five hundred copies and sold them before it became clear that we should send it to a literary agent and try for a legit success.
Viv: That’s really great to know. I think that’s going to lift a lot of people’s spirits in a way even more to know that these things take time. They take perseverance. And they also take testing.