review: My Artist’s Way Toolkit

I first heard about The Artist’s Way from a friend back in the mid-90s, when I was a struggling actor still very new to New York. Julia Cameron’s 12-week program changed my life, my outlook, and my career path, and hardly a day goes by (a day during which I create, that is) that I don’t see her words in my head as I work. “Working with these tools may create deep change, some of it turbulent,” Cameron warns, and I can attest that that is true.

Cameron’s overarching message is that it is far more painful and difficult to be creatively blocked than it is to just create. With gentle and loving encouragement to oneself– first and foremost through three longhand pages of journal-writing first thing each day, called “morning pages”– you can recenter yourself and become the creative soul you were meant to be.

It works, I swear it works, and I had just resolved to redo the whole program after a conversation with the lovely Kyran Pittman at this spring’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop when I got an email from the BlogHer Book Club asking me if I’d be interested in reviewing My Artist’s Way Toolkit, a new interactive website based on Cameron’s books.

Using a website or app to do Cameron’s work at all seems a little antithetical to her message, and indeed Cameron still insists that the “morning pages” should be done offline and longhand. (I agree with her.) But since these days we’re less likely to have a Moleskine journal and luxurious pen with us at all times than we are an iPhone, the Toolkit does offer a way to capture your creative impulses (or to get a little creative inspiration) wherever you may be. It’s also nice that you can access your toolkit from your laptop, tablet, or phone, and the most recent version will always be synced across your devices.

 Here’s what I liked about the online toolkit: the “Artist’s Dates” and “Artist’s Way Exercises,” where I was tasked with actual specific activities tailored to wherever I was in my 12 week journey – “visit a part of your city that you are unfamiliar with” was one assigned activity. I thought this improved upon the book’s version of these assignments, where I knew what sort of thing I was supposed to do but would often weasel out of it thinking “next week I’ll have more time.” Here, it’s harder to hide: c’mon, you can do this one thing…
I also liked the “Creativity Notes” tab, to capture creativity in whatever form it strikes you (jpeg, mp3, word doc) and corral it all into one creative inspiration list. I’m already using Evernote and Scrivener to collect inspiration for the novel and screenplay I’m writing right now, and didn’t feel the need to move it over to this Toolkit, but if I hadn’t already had a system this would be a nice one.
Still, I felt that Cameron’s message gets lost in the translation to the web. The “Soundbites” of Cameron’s words, over spa-massage music, make her material sound much more hokey than it does on the page. The actors (or Cameron herself?) doing the voiceovers sound like they’re trying very hard to sound soothing and new-agey and Important. But Cameron’s words, I think, are more powerful without that “help.”
I also found the overall look of the site a little old-fashioned– the graphics could have used an update from the book’s almost-20-year-old cover. And does anyone really want to be journaling in Comic Sans in 2012? If so, I think that person should be led gently away from the keyboard. Again, while Cameron’s work can be powerful, I found this setting diminishing.

My takeaway? Use the Artist’s Way, FOR SURE, if you want to break through in your life or in your creative work. And if you’re an online, app-using person in other areas of your life, you may find the toolkit a great way to stay on the path, even with (or maybe because of) the monthly subscription charge. I prefer the old-fashioned paper version myself, especially since the center of the work (the morning pages) still need to be done offline. But if this brings Cameron’s ideas to the online generation, then maybe it’s a step worth their having taken.

 

I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gooddayregularpeople June 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm

I live with this book on my nightstand. I found it about three or four years ago and it has changed my daily mindset.  Just a little reminder of who I am.  WHO I AM.

It makes all the difference in the world in how I write.

Great review….thanks. xo

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Leigh Ann June 16, 2012 at 6:46 pm

I started going through thr Artist’s Way a frw years ago when I was trying to work ad an actual visual artist. I stopped because I found out I was pregnant with twins and getting up early to do morning pages became so hard with the exhaustion! But I hope to start and finish the program again someday. I really did see progress.

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