It’s time to recapture our inner strength in Week Eight, Part One of The Artist’s Way challenge! This week our aim is “Recovering a Sense of Strength.” In this chapter, Cameron has us focus on artistic loss. We often hide our emotional pain by refusing to acknowledge how an incident has affected us. If we don’t affirm this old pain, however, we’ll continue to allow it to block our artistic growth. She writes,
“This week tackles another major creative block: time. You will explore the ways in which you have used your perception of time to preclude taking creative risks. You will identify immediate and practical changes you can make to your current life. You will excavate the early conditioning that may have encouraged you to settle for far less than you desire creatively.”
There are Seven sections in this chapter, plus a variety of exercises to work through at the end.
As artists, we all experience loss in relation to our art. It may stem from a harsh review, a book that didn’t sell, or an injury which prevents us from performing. Either way, it can make us feel hopeless or humiliated, and thus prevent us from moving forward.
Often, we experience loss in the form of criticism. Constructive criticism is golden because there’s truth behind it. It may hurt our egos, but it will hopefully lead to a light bulb moment in which we recognize its intention: genuine interest in our improvement.
“There is a sacred trust inherent in the bond between teacher and student.”
The other kind of criticism, even if well intentioned, is cruel.
Imagine feeling proud of an assignment. What if you turned it in, and your teacher gave you an F with his or her only explanation being that you did a terrible job or lacked genuine talent? What a personal attack! And to make things worse, he or she offered no specifics as to how you might improve.
It’s easy to understand how this absence of constructive feedback might send a young and hopeful student into a shame spiral and possibly make him or her reconsider ever trying again. Heck, I still feel this way sometimes. Our inner strength can take a beating.
Stop destroying dreams!
The Ivory Power
Encouragement. It’s an easy thing to give, but some of the aforementioned criticism tyrants are so lost in their own creative defeat that they know no other way than to take others down with them. Often, these tyrants are on the academic end of creative pursuits. Cameron puts it this way,
“To be blunt, most academics know how to take something apart, but not how to assemble it.”
We’ve all encountered someone like this, such as a respected teacher or professor with a cutting remark about our latest assignment. The boss at our first job who yells at us for letting someone walk out on their dinner check. But we can’t control other people. We must acknowledge these old wounds so we can begin to heal and reclaim our inner strength.
Gain Disguised as Loss
It’s all about perspective. We can dwell on our losses and brushes with failure, or we can take a good look at them and ask ourselves,
“What can I learn from this that will help me on my next project?”
We’re always going to run into obstacles. Life is like that. The only thing we truly have control over are our reactions. So before you accept your next creative defeat, ask,
“What can I do next to make this work?”
Be open to the possibility that things won’t always go as you planned, and that sometimes, that ends up being a very great thing. Working through obstacles develops our inner strength better than anything.
Age and Time: Product and Process
This section includes the classic,
“Question: Do you know how old I’ll be by the time I learn to play the piano?”
“Answer: The same age you will be if you don’t.”
Our age, our time, the amount of money we have (or don’t). They’re all just big excuses for why we stay blocked. We use them to avoid the uncomfortable truths about our creative desires, like the feelings of failure we might face as beginners or the discomfort with how long it will take us to be “good.”
When I’m feeling hopeless, I collect stories, like this one from Writer’s Digest to help me realize it’s never too late to jump back in: Confessions of a Late Bloomer.
Filling the Form
“Blocked creatives like to think they are looking at changing their whole life in one fell swoop.”
Here, Cameron is suggesting that blocked creatives set the mark too high. Instead of starting with one small step, like coming up with a great idea, we demand immediate fulfillment. We want that book to be written already! I feel this one, although I suppose this year has been kind of perfect when it comes to life changing events. The pandemic has upended my life in countless ways.
“Instead of writing three pages a day on a screenplay, we prefer worrying about how we will have to move to Hollywood if the script gets bought.”
I feel seen. It’s time to take one small daily action.
“By altering the launch trajectory very slightly, a great difference can be made over time.”
Time to live that rocket life.
Early Patterns, An Exercise
In this section, Cameron offers some fill-in-the-blank style questions to ponder. There are 20, so to move things along I’m only including a couple:
“The thing that ruined my chance to be an artist was______.”
For me, it was repeatedly hearing people say things like, “It took me 15 years before I made any money from writing or acting,” or “Only a small percentage of writers actually make enough money to live off their writing alone.”
“The negative lesson I got from that, which wasn’t logical but I still believe, is that I can’t______and be an artist.”
Creative pursuits have always been attractive to me, but I’m also very security conscious and I appreciate living a certain lifestyle. Unfortunately, instead of writing on the side, I abandoned it all together as a waste of time when I felt like I couldn’t make money from it.
So I guess that’s the negative lesson I received, that artists don’t make enough money until or unless they’re one of the greats. That’s why I’m going through this challenge. I’m trying to embrace the mindset that I should love the process and write for myself first. Plus, acknowledging my fear and previous losses is a great way to develop my inner strength.
Finally, Cameron asks us to choose five affirmations from a list and focus on them this week.
- I am a talented person
- I have a right to be an artist.
- I now share my creativity more openly.
- I now accept hope.
- I now allow myself to heal.
Week Eight, part two will be up shortly! Until then, you can find my week seven Artist’s Way posts below (and if you’d like to, go further back from there):
Week Seven Part One: Embracing Failure