Last week, I stepped on stage and played a short set of three original punk songs at a local open mic night.
Honestly, it felt fucking amazing.
See, I love punk rock music. I love listening to it. I love playing it. And I’ve been wanting to perform again for years.
I played in a punk band as a teenager, and a rock band as a student, but I hadn’t played or performed publicly since.
The last time was over 10 years ago.
So how did I get back on stage, shouting these songs about being a loner, an ill-fated LSD trip, and the war on drugs?
Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. I have been building back to this for a while. A key moment was stopping in Berlin, and getting back into going to live shows.
But regardless, I have no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t have made it back to the stage already without doing The Artist’s Way.
The Artist’s Way is a course in book form. Subtitled ‘the classic course in discovering and recovering your creative self’, it is a program to be followed over 12 weeks. There are weekly reading and homework exercises to be done throughout the 12 week period.
So, wanting to use the new year’s energy as a fresh boost, I started the course on January 1st and just finished on Saturday.
The course is deep and the book covers a lot of ground, so in this post I won’t cover everything.
This will be a brief overview of my experience with The Artists Way, to give you an idea of what it’s like and if it might be for you.
Outside of the weekly reading and exercises, there are two main tools in The Artists Way, The Morning Pages and The Artist’s Date.
The Morning Pages
The morning pages are three pages of longhand journaling to be done every morning.
So about 30 minutes of pen and paper journaling every single morning.
I definitely felt resistance to this amount of journaling at times. But when I commit to something, I like to stick with it. So I did.
Generally, the pages can be about anything and everything.
For me, I found they were a chance to check in with myself, see what’s on my mind, dump it onto the page (I see notepads somewhat like therapists – in their non-judgmental receptivity), and actively think through things.
The pages gave me a chance to think actively and somewhat consciously, about areas I want to focus on in my life.
One section of the course involved writing down areas you need help or guidance on before you sleep and then journaling about them in the morning. This was like active brainstorming and problem-solving. I put key areas of my life I wanted to focus on: business, romance, and music – and fundamentals: eat, move, sleep.
As directed, the pages were also used for affirmations, exploring personal beliefs, and open-ended brainstorming.
Though the pages were quite a commitment, I found them to be hugely helpful.
I felt mentally clearer, and more ready and eager for each day by the time I finished them.
I could also see which topics were recurring, giving me insight into the contents of my mind.
Will I keep them up since finishing the 12 weeks?
Not every single day, but more as needed. Maybe a couple of times a week.
The Artist’s Date
The second main tool is The Artist’s Date.
The Artist’s Date is a weekly activity, say 2 hours, where you take you – and your inner artist – on a play date. It’s something to capture your imagination and nurture your creative consciousness. And the emphasis should be on fun.
It is to be done alone, with the idea that you are able to receive thoughts, and ideas – to hear your own inner voice.
I will admit that I found this surprisingly hard to keep up. I was also a bit unimaginative.
Still, I found it worthwhile. I went to the cinema a few times, a great hobby that I haven’t been up to much in the last couple of years. (and at a local cinema, for £5 a film, it’s a steal really).
Birmingham Artists Date
My funnest and most story-worthy artist date was heading over to the city of Birmingham, booking myself into a hostel for the night, and taking MDMA to go and see Titus Andronicus, a punk/indie band whose album An Obelisk has one of my favourites of the last few years.
The gig was a poignant experience in an unexpected way – but to save turning this into a trip report – the highlight was meeting one of my heroes after the show.
At the merch stand, I told ringleader Patrick that his music has been important to me, and thanked him. He visibly softened, expressed his appreciation, and extended his hand to shake in a tender and meaningful moment that’ll stay with me.
Honestly, I get a little misty just recalling it now.
After the gig, I went back to the hostel and ended up playing guitar in the common area for the travelers staying up and hanging out. I felt nervous before, but 7 weeks into the course, with the exercises I’d been doing, reflecting on my creative dreams, and plotting steps to get there, it pushed me over the edge in terms of picking up the guitar. Those continued steps got me to the first open mic a couple of weeks later on.
Through the course, I would go to a cafe each Sunday and do my weekly reading and any journaling or written exercises.
This was a highlight of my week. It got me excited, inspired, and dreaming. I reflected, and wrote out action plans and small changes I would make.
Outside of journaling and reflection, other homework tasks included clearing out old stuff, writing letters to yourself, and mailing postcards to friends. An interesting one was a ban on reading for a week! There was a tonne of others. I won’t spoil the surprises but a few others were making collages, saying prayers, collecting pretty rocks, and treating oneself to childhood favorite foods.
There was a wide range of topics explored through the twelve weeks, really too much for me to dig into here, but one that resonated with me was perfectionism, process, and balance.
Perfectionism and Process
A key returning revelation was that we must allow ourselves to be bad artists if we are to be artists at all.
We must allow ourselves to make mistakes, understand that doing so is a necessary part of the process, and know that we won’t start great. This shifts the framing to process over result.
The Artist’s Way emphasizes a point of balance. It’s not all directly about creative work – in fact, very little of it is.
Sure, there is inner therapeutic work that includes looking at previous and childhood experiences and how they may have conditioned us. And the exercises include establishing a support system. And I can see why the process has apparently been used by therapists.
But a lot of it is about personal growth and self-care, bringing fun into life, and understanding that this leads to creative lives. Creativity is about festivity, enthusiasm, joy, and dreams. This was one of my favorite things about it.
One part I liked was that we surveyed six areas of our life. These were: work, exercise, romance/adventure, spirituality, play, and friends. These were rated three times throughout the course to check progress. Although I did go down in some areas (spirituality, exercise, and work suffered losses), overall, I gained 7 points across the board between week 2 and week 11, and this was hugely encouraging. Honestly, it felt great.
Overall, the 12 weeks on The Artist’s Way has been an amazing experience.
In general, I really enjoy committing to a guided growth process and allowing it to unfold as it will.
A couple of years ago I did a course in creativity: Amplify by Steve Pavlina, and the fruits were largely directed toward my psychedelic work. It was also hugely rewarding and had a big hand in the creation of the first version of The Conscious Psychedelic Explorer course, now three cohorts in and with plans to grow.
This time it was great for the focus to be on music, a love of mine that has been somewhat dormant but crying for attention in recent years. The fact I’ve performed solo in public now 5 times in the last 4 weeks (after 0 performances in the last 10 years, and never solo), with a childlike eagerness to continue, and a tonne of fresh ideas for songs and performances, speaks for itself.
I will admit that my enthusiasm for the process did wax and wane over the 12 weeks, and at times I found it quite hard to keep up. I didn’t do all of the exercises, not even close. But as Cameron writes, you can’t do the course perfectly, and as someone with sometimes obsessive tendencies (I like to be really thorough when I do things like this), I took this as a chance to practice letting go of perfectionism.
That said, I also think I will cycle back around for a second time, and do the things that I didn’t manage the first.
I have seen it dubbed: “A revolutionary program for personal renewal, The Artist’s Way will help get you back on track, rediscover your passions, and take the steps you need to change your life.”
I absolutely agree.
Overall, it’s been a great reminder of how much growth can be achieved in a short time when one is committed. And just as importantly, how fun, interesting, and exciting our lives can be.
Do The Artist’s Way With My Support
I’m hugely excited about the idea of offering a group process with The Artists Way, with weekly meetings and check-ins with a group of fellow explorers to share the journey with. I have some ideas for incorporating psychedelics into this course that I’m massively excited about too.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in doing this in a 1-1 coaching format, just send me a message. I’d love to support you in your creative life!