AW11: Recovering a Sense of Autonomy

(Just a quick aside: most of my blogging is happening on Substack so if you’d like to join me there please do!)

My God it’s been a loooooong almost six months on this Artist’s Way trip. But this chapter reminded me that a lot has genuinely changed since I started on 1 January this year.

Chapter 11 in Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way discusses autonomy in the sense of how you might nuture yourself as an artist through acceptance and self-worth, managing your centre when success comes, the physicality of creativity, and creating for yourself an artist’s altar.

There were some great insights in this chapter and I was particularly delighted by her inclusion of physicality in the creative process, but it was the section on acceptance that got me thinking about how far I’ve come since last year and all the old stories I had about myself, my artistic worth, and my creativity.

Acceptance and self worth

Here are a few lines that stood out for me:

“I have to free myself from determining my value and the value of my work by my work’s market value.”

And: “I must learn that as an artist my credibility lies with me.”

And: “As an artist, my self-respect comes from doing the work.”

These are key phrases for me since each one is a learning that brought me to the Artist’s Way in the first place. And now, towards the end of it all, I’m enjoying the benefits of having these ideas really land for me.

Which is particularly useful at this juncture.

The past month, I’ve had a few people respond with surprise that I’m writing another story. I’ve had more than a handful tell me how inspiring my determination is to continue. I’ve had one or two give me a “Oh good for you!” or “Oh how sweet!”.

However well-meaning some of the cheers, I can’t help but sense an element of gentle and not-so-gentle patronising, like one might do with a child somewhat behind on their two times table but bullishly heading off to start on their nine times table.

I suppose this understandable. Without the success of an instant bestseller or the warm, safe glow of traditional publishing, it can seem crazy to continue.

“Why do it all again if credibility, money, status, or readership isn’t likely?” seems to be the gist of it.

Maybe the more cynical part of myself would’ve agreed a few months back.

When I started writing The Fulcrum, I thought it was of primary importance to find a publisher. Then I thought the primary importance was to find an agent to find that publisher. Later, I thought the primary importance was to find my readership.

All of which was about validation: Look, I am published, therefore I am a real writer; I have an agent, therefore I am credible; look, I have hundreds or thousands of readers who love my work, therefore I am a worthy storyteller.

I thought that if I had those then I’d be validated in continuing to write the stories that come to me. I’d be given permission to continue writing the stories that come to me.

I’m not saying these validations aren’t worthy or complementary to the experience, but they are no longer necessary for it.

None of these validations came to me and yet I’m still fully in love with The Fulcrum and clearer and more confident than ever about continuing with the stories I have regardless of what the possible outcomes might be from doing so.

Because I see now that my purpose is not publishers, or agents, or even readers. Once everything is stripped away, my purpose is the story. Getting the stories that come to me out into the world. Publisher or not, agent or not.

As for readers, there will always be a handful that will read what I write and for that I will always be grateful.

But even without readers, my story and I will still exist for each other.

And there’s something very affirming and empowering for me in that. As an artist, my self-respect comes from doing the work. My credibility lies with me. My value and the value of my work is not determined by market value.

I finally believe this.

Who knew this programme of creative recovery would actually work?*

Love and light fellow Earth dwellers,


Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

*At minimum thousands of people. Thousands. If even 1% of the 50 million copies sold landed in the hearts and minds of those who bought and read them, that’s 50 000 lives changed – and that ripples out to hundreds of thousands of lives around each core human. What a legacy.

(PS I must admit that although I loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, I can’t help but wonder at how much of Cameron’s stuff she just reworked … or maybe this is the nature of universal truths?)

AW10: Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection

You know those people who say, “God I miss school. Those were the best days of my life” or “What I wouldn’t give to be a kid again” or “My twenties were the best years of my life”?

I am not one of those people.

And sometimes, Artist’s Way just feels like one giant, pain-in-the-ass reminder of why.

In this chapter, Cameron does, what I imagine to be, a version of Step 4 of the 12-Step Programme where you “take a couragous and honest look at your life and identify negative thoughts, actions, and emotions that have led to or contributed to your addiction”.

In this case, she calls them “The Deadlies” (which I initially read as “the dead lies”), an inventory, so to speak, of all the ways your most popular form of distraction or block – sex, money, food, friends, family, drugs, work and alcohol – has negatively impacted your life and by extension your creativity. In an updated version, I included social media and smoking, and I guess others could include anything from love and sex relationships to shopping to gambling to exercise.

This is the first meaty task after the body of the chapter, which is a lovely deep dive into what she calls the dangers of the creative trail: the ways we block ourselves (The Deadlies), creative U-turns and dry spells, an obsession with fame and credit, and the compulsion and ugly judgement of competition.

“Blocking is essentially an issue of faith. Rather than trust our intuition, our talent, our skill, our desire, we fear where our creator is taking us with this creativity … Blocked, we know who we are and what we are: unhappy people. Unblocked, we may be something much more threatening: happy.”

By the time I was done, I was so goddamn triggered I went into a bit of a Slough of Despond.

poor me

Okay, maybe not that bad, but bad enough for what is supposed to be a cheery writing retreat.

When I drew up my little lists against each “deadly”, I was reminded how much of my life’s energy and brain power up until my early 30s was spent in reeling from trauma, surviving it, managing it and then undertaking the long and, frankly, tiresome process of healing from it.

That’s a lot of youthful energy wasted on young me.

Unfortunately this pattern for early life is fairly common. But some people do all of that and still manage to accomplish something like building careers and businesses and being generally useful to the world. In our the relevant parlance, some people manage to make art from all that personal journeying; funnel all that energy into something creative. I just funneled it inward.

Before I started this Artist’s Way malarkey I would never have considered myself blocked. I’d published books, doodled, understood the inner voice, liked crafting little goedertijies.

And yet, I see now how so much of a block is about the lack of trust in one’s Self and creative impulse and desire; the lack of emotional, spiritual and mental availability to possibility; the lack of faith in one’s worthiness to exist and make sound and take up space.

Anyway. As you can no doubt tell, yet another great week with The Artist’s Way.


Can’t I just be a happy, shiny, making person now?

Over and out, sweet plums.

If you’re on this journey, I hope you’re having a cheerier time of it than I am.


(PS I’ll leave you with this classic…)

Photo by Eric Masur on Unsplash

AW9: Recovering a Sense of Compassion

It’s fitting that this chapter of Cameron’s Artist’s Way is called Recovering a Sense of Compassion; fitting that she talks about “the creative u-turn”. Fitting also, that in the intro she says, “It may be tempting to abandon ship at this point.”

The last two or so weeks have been … something of a surprise. Something of a difficulty.

On one not particularly notable day, I sat down with the morning pages and found myself coming face to face with a bit of a revelation. I wasn’t expecting it, I didn’t want it, but like all personal revelations, there’s really no stuffing it back into the dark corners of the mind and pretending it never happened and so there it was.

En daar lê die ding,” as Tom’s mom would say.*

It’s not the time to write about it all yet. Partly because I don’t know how, but mostly because I’m not ready for the complication it might inject into my family conversations.


There is something to say here about what we’re thrust into as children, what we’re shown about the world, what we’re told about god or gods, what we’re taught is allowed and what is not, who is friend and foe. What we are expected to sacrifice to be accepted into whatever tribe we are born or are co-opted into.

And we either accept that as truth or stumble away from the tribe into the dark to make meaning for ourselves as adults.

When I started this Artist’s Way business, I didn’t expect to confront my base beliefs about god and then confront how those beliefs were put there and by whom and then google “when is a church a cult” and then have that answered in full clarity, point by point, until it showed itself it for what it is: a fiction that has significantly affected my life and not for the better, and one of the foundational reasons that I find myself here having to do the Artist’s Way.

Still. Losing god, even a bad one, even one you didn’t think you believed in anymore, is apparently quite unsettling. Unsettling to find how alive a belief can still be in your life, directing your feelings, your actions, keeping you small, scared, insecure, always desperate, always vulnerable, when you thought it was long dead. (I would use “I” language, but frankly I know I’m not the only human to experience this.)

This wasn’t meant to be cryptic. But I don’t quite have the words for all of this non-sense yet. Or, frankly, the bravery or the conviction to speak about it with any level of confidence. But I know myself. I post this now or I don’t post anything again for months.

So this is both about and not at all about what Cameron unpacks in Week 9 (and 7 and 6) but mostly about not doing what I really want to do, which is just to stop doing this altogether. A creative u-turn, so to speak.

And, since I’m not prepared to do that, this “vaguebooking” post will have to suffice.

Hope you don’t mind too much.

Honestly. Waking up super sucks sometimes.


*And there lies the thing.

Guilty as sin

When the landscape of wrongdoing is so vast, where’s the value in feeling bad?

It’s a horror scene. I’m in the lounge looking up at the ceiling and the blood dripping from it. There’s a suitcase hidden there, oozing from the limbs I stuffed in it. I must do something about the bodies before the visitors come. They’ll be here soon and everyone will know about the murders I thought I’d gotten away with…

I wake, overwhelmed by guilt and terror, my heart racing, panic in my throat, my mind desperately trying to piece together the crimes I’ve committed.

For a few milliseconds, I live in this nightmare, trying to reconcile myself to this shocking and macabre truth.

And then! Sweet, generous relief: It was all a dream.

In that moment, I’m the most morally sound human I could ever hope to be. My humanity has been tested and I’ve passed scrutiny: I’m not a psychopath or even a sociopath, for my guilty feelings tell me so. (I mean, sure, just being awake and not feeling the compulsion to take a life tells me so, but it’s good to have that confirmed in dozy semi-consciousness.) And I take this as a good thing.

I know we’re in a “guilt is a useless feeling” pop-culture phase, but as the emotion that should follow wrongdoing, it has its place in the human experience. It’s a precursor for accountability, for genuine apology, for behaviour change and reconciliation if it’s needed and possible. With its partners, empathy and remorse, it forms a collective of responses considered necessary to social cohesion. Without it, we’re oblivious to the consequences of our actions.

So, my problem isn’t with guilt per se. It’s with where guilt is directed on the daily in the hearts and minds of innocent folks.

Take something as simple as eating a pudding or taking a break. “Guilt-free dessert” and “clean eating”, the pushers of toxic food marketing proclaim; or the “guilty pleasure” you indulge in if you take time off after tackling the work, the kids, the house, the admin, the exercise, ad infinitum.

With its partners, empathy and remorse, guilt forms a collective of responses considered necessary to social cohesion

Guilt is the child of many cultures, but in mine its face is defined by Christianity’s Seven Deadly Sins – Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Greed, Gluttony, and Lust – all of which are so open to interpretation and manipulation as to make it dangerous to mental health. Depending on who you talk to, a wrongdoing – a sin to feel guilty about – could be leaving an unhappy marriage, feeling sexy or good about yourself, valuing your career, getting angry when someone violates your boundaries … more so if you’re a woman.

The landscape of guilt is so vast and textured in all the ways we’re supposed to feel bad about ourselves that, left untamed, it can easily reorganise itself into a new kind of hell: shame.

Soon, we forget there’s a difference between the two.

It was a real a-ha moment when I learned that guilt is “I have done something wrong”, while shame is “I am wrong”. But when you’ve been raised to believe that what you do, believe, or want is wrong, everything you are becomes wrong. And the consequences of that are catastrophic for your well being. As Brené Brown points out: shame is the “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging”.

What a cruel belief.

Yet, based on twisted notions of sin and guilt, people innocent of real crimes suffer this nightmare shame and alienation daily. And that’s the real damage done by useless guilt.

If nothing else, the best we can do with it is to use it as a marker for healing: grab those guilty feelings by the scruff and find what they’re really hiding. Because if there’s no blood on the floor (or dripping from the ceiling), no one’s dead, and no one’s irreparably harmed by your actions, guilt is simply a moment to respond to and grow from.

And, now that I think about it, that’s pretty useful.

Photo by Carson Masterson on Unsplash and this was the final column for the April issue of Woman&Home.

AW: Recovering a Sense of Strenth

If there is only one chapter in Artist’s Way that you read, let it be this one

There are so many elements in this section that are so wholesomely practical that if there was only one chapter you were able to work through as an artist in recovery or as an artist in beginning, I would suggest you dive into this one. In all honesty, entire books could be written about just the following sections…

Gains disguised as losses

“The artist’s life will have its injuries. These go with the game,” writes Cameron. “The trick is to survive them, to learn how to let yourself heal.”

I started this process with the Artist’s Way because I got tired of my weeboo-weeboo around The Fulcrum and self-publishing.

Reality had trumped my dream of making my big debut as a novelist. And by “big debut” I just mean getting traditionally published. Nothing big, nothing grandiose. I’ve done the non-fic trad publishing *just* enough to know what the fishbowl looks like.

Or so I thought.

To be fair to myself, calling it the “weeboo weeboo” is unkindly dismissive.

After endless rounds of closed doors, “no” and rejections, it eventually got to the point where I felt like I was stumbling around the boxing ring getting my ego and spirit round-house kicked in the face and gut every day.

It got messy, emotionally. After a while, the hopelessness and despair became salty self-harming thoughts that I’d rub into the wounds just for fun. Because why not.

Luckily, I had a few things working in my favour: I get bored with reliving trauma and impatient to not be stuck in The Suck 24/7, and have the kind of pig-headed determination and perseverance to keep moving towards the light. Even if it’s at slug-like speed.

At the end of last year, I was done with the creative wound that bringing The Fulcrum to life had reopened. Without realising it fully then, choosing to self-publish wasn’t about falling back on the next – what I believed to be lesser – option, it was about not waiting for the world to open a door for me but finding the next available door and opening it for myself. It didn’t feel so kick-ass as I was doing it, but that’s what was happening.

“I learned, when hit by a loss, to ask ‘What next?’ Instead of ‘Why me?’” writes Cameron. “I have learned that the key to career resiliency is self-empowerment and choice.”

I was really moved by this reminder (and validation) that, in every human endeavour, the ability to see the silver lining in the cloud, to problem-solve, to take “action towards” is what gets us from point A to point B, from now to next, from stasis to dynamic movement. From no book to book.

I can’t think of a more important message to an artist in recovery than this.

Here’s a great clip of Michael Caine discussing his version of “use the difficulty”.

The Ivory Power

I don’t have a lot of experience with academia and certainly not as a student of uni-based English or Literature.

As a kid, university wasn’t an option on the table. There wasn’t money for it and that was okay. I was too fuzzy around the edges to know what I wanted anyway.

Still, I’ve sometimes envied the connections and networks formed while doing MFAs, and the ease with which talent and “writerlyness” is assumed simply because one has made it through the programme. Until I published The Fulcrum, I even thought about paying the casholas to do one to finally “become a real writer”. Hilarious, given that I’d been working as a writer for almost two decades.

But then I’d talk to the recovering academic creatives around me and find myself feeling lucky that I never had the privilege. Not because I wouldn’t have loved it, but because I’m not sure I would’ve found my own voice and allowed myself to love what I love.

As a young adult, the chances of my insecurity and codependency allowing the prescribed system to overwhelm me would’ve been very high.

Without specific tools and sufficient ego strengths, writes Cameron, young talent can easily be squashed in this environment. “To be blunt, most academics know how to take something apart, but not how to assemble it.”

I think this part of the book is incredibly important for those who believe there are right ways of being a writer or who have been creatively damaged by the academic framework or unkind teachers.

Filling the form

“The creative life is grounded on many, many small steps and very, very few large steps,” writes Cameron.

Filling the form means working with what you have now (rather than languishing in complaints about what you don’t have) to take the daily steps towards what you want.

It is in the doing that magic happens.

Creativity requires action on your part to express itself in the world – it requires action without you wasting time and bogging it down by overthinking whether it’s good enough or worthy to be in the world or whether the system will approve of it or not.

“In a creative career, [simply] thinking about the odds is a drink of emotional poison. It robs us of the dignity of art-as-process and puts us at the mercy of imagined powers out there. Taking this drink quickly leads to a severe and toxic emotional bender. It leads us to ask, ‘What’s the use?’ instead of ‘What’s Next?’”

I follow a lot of screenwriting and movie profiles on Instagram (more entertaining than following writer stuff; we’re typically less interviewed and more awkward and boring I think) and not a week goes by that I don’t hear a super famous director or screenwriter say “Just write the damn thing”.

Stop waiting and start. Take the step. And then take another and another. Fill the form. There’s no reason to postpone.

One life and all that.

Anyway, I’m loving this chapter and I’m working through it slowly for another week. The tasks are also super in this one. Lot of fun.

Okay cutie. Keep going.
Over and out,

Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash