In his books and classes, when it comes to writing a book, Tim Grahl advises to follow Hugh MacLeod’s great advice:
“Treat it like an adventure, an adventure worth sharing.” - Hugh MacLeod
I love it. (I also enjoy the idea of quoting someone quoting someone else—a quote within a quote, advice within advice. I don’t think it quite qualifies as full-on name-dropping, but it sure feels like staring into the abyss.)
These guys are right: Writing a book is an adventure: an adventure worth sharing.
So... where does my own book-writing adventure begin?
I don’t know!
Anywhere, I guess, because it seems to me, writing is an adventure that keeps on starting forever. And starting again, and restarting, over and over. A bit like a computer, but—I hope!—the similarity ends there.
Not that it’s a problem, and far from it. It is writing’s intrinsic nature to require you to keep beginning over and over (both in the sense of, 1-working on several consecutive drafts, and 2-in the sense of starting over and over, fresh—or rotten—each time you sit down to work on your project because, heck, life always insists on happening in-between).
I could start with the novel I wrote in school back when I was eight. It was cool; it featured an active volcano and a mica-eating monster. Very scary. I might still have the manuscript somewhere. It was just a bunch of pages, really: a very short novel indeed, but I remember it keeping my attention for a while back then, and I remember feeling pretty darn proud of myself after finishing it.
I guess I’ve always wanted to write.
But for too many decades, I did it very seldom. How come? I had other things on my mind, I imagine.
Besides, each time I tried, the experience was too frustrating. My hand couldn’t keep up with my impatient, anxious mind. Writing was too slow, too sluggish, and my ideas either too disconnected or too eager to run away into the distance.
With a bit of aging, though, my mind did eventually slow down enough to make the effort less unbearable. Maybe at some point in the future, my writing speed is going to catch up, and then it will pass my slow, gastropodic brain, leaving it in the dust. I don’t know what will happen then.
Where and When?
Where or when the writing adventure begins isn’t that important after all. What matters most, I feel, is how it starts. Or better said, how it unfolds.
So, I’ll go back to the summer of 1996—Oops, that's still about when.
Context: we’re back in 1996. I’m turning thirty. I’m graduating from WLU (Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario) and I just got my Opera Diploma. Incidentally, I have just built my first website ever in my spare time (remember Geocities?) The site was about my classical singing career, which was both budding and peaking toward the turn of the century.
Yes, there is such a think as an Opera Diploma. It is a wonderful post-graduate journey, and i had the opportunity to meet and hang out with many exceptional people while I was part of it.
This is me, my face dead-center in the picture, right below famous Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester, after a master class that made me a temporary pan-faculty star back in the year 1996. Me and so many outstanding friends of the time, including our beloved voice professors, David Falk and Victor Martens.
Back in the summer of 1996, shortly before we moved to Montreal, my wife Marie-Claude stumbled on Julia Cameron’s book: The Artist’s Way.
The Artist’s Way
Asserting that creative expression is the natural direction of life, noted Hollywood screenwriter and director Julia Cameron presents an exciting method for artists to recover their creativity from limiting beliefs, self-sabotage, inattention, fear, jealousy, guilt, addictions, and other forces that inhibit the creative process. (Goodreads) My Amazon affiliate links: The Artist's Way The Artist's Way (audiobook)
I positively loved that book. I went all the way into it, I literally reveled in it. I did all the exercices, and I did them again. Still love 'em.
It possessed—and still does to this day—a kind of power I didn’t know existed. Okay, now. I’m making it sound like it’s some sort of a cult, which clearly, it is not.
The Artist’s Way is nothing more than a book on creativity, but I would say it is a book on finding in yourself what’s been there all along, buried underneath some inner stuff.
Be advised though, Cameron does use the word GOD expansively. I don't do religion, so it tended to put me off in the beginning, but the author invites you to think of it as Good Orderly Direction—be it direction from the universe, the ether or whatever else: pick you own metaphor. I chose to get over it and reap the benefits of the book. I’m glad I did.
What The Artist’s Way offers is guidance. It delivers many, many useful tips, and it gives you much needed belief and encouragement in your creative endeavours, whatever they may be.
Julia Cameron’s book got me writing again: Morning pages. It got me having fun again: Artist dates. It helped me identify my creative monsters (no name dropping here). It made me aware of the importance of filling the well—you may have heard the expression before; this is where it comes from.
The Artist's Way was fun and astonishing, it opened doors I had closed in myself without even knowing. It got my gears going. But most importantly, it got me actually doing the work.
No book can prevent life from happening, but I came back to this one, over and over. Each time, I got new thoughts out of the experience, new insights, ideas and action items to further my creative life—be it musical, technological or literary. I went through The Artist’s Way and all its exercises for the first time back in 1996. I felt the need to do it again around the year 2003-ish, and I came back to it again in 2009. Then I went for all of Julia Cameron’s other books as well.
Any Human Alive
Julia Cameron’s ideas aren’t for writers only. Of course not, far from it. Not even for artists only. Nope. They benefit all venues of creative people: visual artists, painters, photographers, actors and comedians, musicians, architects, parents, web developers and all… If fact, whether you consider yourself a creative person or not, this book and its sequels will benefit all aspects of your life. Because life itself is a creative undertaking, and I challenge you to say it isn't.
Writing Science Fiction
Over my two first times doing The Artist’s Way, I was focussed on my singing career, and writing was more like a by-product. But still, the creative challenges helped tremendously.
It was in 1998 that I realized I wanted to turn writing into my principal activity. Writing science fiction especially, first because it kind of was my first literary love, and second, because it had the potential to include all the aspects of life I was interested in: sciences—astrophysics, astronomy, cosmology, philosophy, biology, history, archeology, anthropology and evolution—music, adventure, societal issues and themes... and pretty much everything else in-between.
What if everything we have been taught about learning to write was wrong? In The Right to Write, Julia Cameron's most revolutionary book, the author of the bestselling self-help guide The Artist's Way, asserts that conventional writing wisdom would have you believe in a false doctrine that stifles creativity. With the techniques and anecdotes in The Right to Write, readers learn to make writing a natural, intensely personal part of life. Cameron's instruction and examples include the details of the writing processes she uses to create her own bestselling books. She makes writing a playful and realistic as well as a reflective event. Anyone jumping into the writing life for the first time and those already living it will discover the art of writing is never the same after reading The Right to Write. (Goodreads) My Amazon affiliate link: The Right to Write
Why not do it back then?
Why did I wait so long? Because I still had a lot to do with my singing. “Sing while you’re young,” I told myself, “then later on, you can write all you want.”
There were some detours and dead ends along the way—and some nice achievements too, that I am very proud of. And not to mention, a much nourishing career in IT I got in the process.
In 2006, I turned forty and I knew I was ripe for a change. Still, it took me a few more years to really gear my mind for more serious writing.
Something happened in 2009 though: I read The Artist’s Way once again, and this time, it felt like a lifesaver, as though it was helping me not to drown, and to find hope again—which means I was long overdue. Afterwards, I dove into The Right To Write, another of Julia Cameron’s books, more focussed on writing. it was another empowering process, and I plan to read—and do—The Right to Write again in the future.
My Next Game Changer
Then I grabbed the next arrow in my Julia Cameron quiver: The Vein of Gold.
In The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart, Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, draws from her remarkable teaching experience to help readers reach out into ever-broadening creative horizons. As in The Artist's Way, she combines eloquent essays with playful and imaginative experiential exercises to make The Vein of Gold an extraordinary book of learning-through-doing. Inspiring essays on the creative process and more than one hundred engaging and energizing tasks involve the reader in "inner play," leading to authentic growth, renewal, and healing. (Goodreads) My Amazon affiliate links: The Vein of Gold The Vein of Gold (audiobook)
But I still have to finish the book to this day!
That's because the door it opened for me propelled me into the writing I am doing today. It introduced me to one particular exercise that made a world of difference for me. It is called the Narrative Timeline.
The Narrative Timeline was about splitting my life into bite-sized five-year chunks and writing down all the memories that came up: what friends I played with, what food I liked or disliked, what smells stood out, what music I enjoyed listening to, what I loved to do—and what I didn't like—what games I played, what fears I had... And much more: Cameron provides an extensive memory-jogging list. The effect is amazing.
It took me weeks: I couldn’t stop myself. I was excited, my mind bubbling up with revelatory memories, one after the other. I didn’t waste time with matters of style, grammar and such, nor did I care about writing things in order. I doubled back a bunch of times, adding one more thought, one more memory. It was a pure first draft, unhampered, unrestricted, no editing involved whatsoever. It was a complete mess—and no shit, it was fun, like playing with goo!
With just this one exercise at the beginning of The Vein of Gold, I filled up two notebooks—one hundred pagers each.
Then I stopped, because I had reached the end of the current five-year chunk, and as the memories were becoming fresher and fresher, they were infinitely more numerous and detailed, so I could have filled many, many other notebooks—which I ended up doing too, but that’s more about years of Morning Pages. (Try googling them: Morning Pages are all over the Internet.)
One side-effect of the Narrative Timeline, besides me gathering a ton of potential writing material, was that I had just hatched two hundred pages, all in one single project. This in itself was revelatory: I hadn't realized I had it in me to focus in this way over a period of time, to the point of filling up two hundred freaking pages. It takes a first time for everything, and that was mine for this.
Wasn't the next logical next step to start working on a novel?
This is where I ventured away from Julia Cameron’s books—but forever keeping them close at hand. But now, I wanted to learn the ropes. I wanted more storytelling-focussed advice and knowledge. And I knew I needed to practice. A lot. (This is where a history of musical practice comes in handy: you know it takes time and dedication, and you know true results are happening for you if you just keep at it long enough.)
There is an entire non-fictional universe out there to discover: a whole slew of books (of course!), awesome websites and blogs, insightful newsletters, incredible podcasts. Wonderful tools all!
A life-changing series of new adventures (to come).
Julia Cameron has been an active artist for more than thirty years, with fifteen books (including bestsellers The Artist's Way, Walking In This World and The Right to Write) and countless television, film, and theater scripts to her credit. Writing since the age of 18, Cameron has a long list of screenplay and teleplay credits to her name, including an episode of Miami Vice, and Elvis and the Beauty Queen, which starred Don Johnson. She was a writer on such movies as Taxi Driver, New York, New York, and The Last Waltz. She wrote, produced, and directed the award-winning independent feature film, God's Will, which premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival, and was selected by the London Film Festival, the Munich International Film Festival, and Women in Film Festival, among others. In addition to making film, Cameron has taught film at such diverse places as Chicago Filmmakers, Northwestern University, and Columbia College. Her profound teachings on unlocking creativity and living from the creative center have inspired countless artists to unleash their full potential. (Goodreads)
To get her books...
My Amazon affiliate links: The Artist's Way The Artist's Way (audiobook) The Right to Write The Vein of Gold The Vein of Gold (audiobook)
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