The Truth About Creative Recovery

Tammy Breitweiser
Sep 11 · 9 min read
Picture from The River House

What is It?

The Artist’s Way is a book by Julia Cameron which came from a creative recovery class she was teaching. It is a 12 week program divided into weeks with tasks and two main tools with the purpose to find and fuel your creativity. It is not just for writers, it is for anyone. There are two main tools in addition to the weekly exercises.

Tool 1: Morning Pages

This is the heart of the program and is likely a word you have heard or read around writers and other creative people. Morning pages are simply three pages of longhand writing done in the morning that are a brain drain. You write whatever comes to mind. They are not supposed to be smart but they can be. Many times it is complaining or what you need to remember for the day.

Yet, there is much conversation around what is the “right” way to do them. Our inner critic makes us perfectionists and many of us are hard wired to want to do things right.

Why do we do morning pages when they aren’t considered real writing? To get to the other side — of the censor, of our own obstacles — they help us get out of our own way.

For me, the morning pages lift the fog and I reach clarity. My relationship with them are different because this is the fourth long term relationship I have engaged in with the tool. It is more about what happens after the morning pages for me. All my other writing is more clear and focused when I use this tool. My MP’s tend to be list like and weird streams of thoughts. There are reflections and random memories as well.

Tool 2: Artist Dates

The artist date is a weekly date you take solo. It is something you and your inner artist/child find life giving and fun. The minimum time is an hour. It can be simple like a trip to buy cool pens and stickers, a trip to a museum you love or a walk in nature. It is very personal. It is about self nurturing.

My Past and Present with the Program

When I was a first year teacher I found The Artist’s Way for the first time. I do not remember the details of the discovery but I do remember writing my morning pages in my super hot farmhouse bedroom. I sat at the desk I had since I was in elementary school with a candle lit.

Since that time, I have done the morning pages four separate times.

I remember feeling very shy about telling people that I was doing The Artist’s Way but I also did not advertise I was a writer either. Through the seasons of my life people have thought I was weird for being a writer in most circles so the program has been a solo endeavor until 6 weeks ago.

A fellow writer and I had been working through Natalie Goldberg’s book and I mentioned The Artist’s Way in one of our discussions and how I had discovered four copies recently which I owned.

Then I heard Sam Kimberle on the Stop Writing Alone podcast talking about an Artist Way group book study. There is synchronicity here because I’ve been writing on Medium since March and I had bookmarked Sam’s article about the group. I had forgotten about it til I heard the podcast. I figured for a $5 investment, I couldn’t go wrong. The group has led me to some creatives and some knowledge about Medium and my life I would not come to on my own.

I made it through the program twice on my own but it is a much richer experience with a group. Community is a key piece of creativity I was missing. I am thankful for the internet!

Currently, I am in week 6 of the program. Here is a recap of some of my biggest takeaways from the previous weeks.

Week 1: Recovering a Sense of Safety

Morning pages have been done every day week 1 through the current day.

Week 1 artist date: Solo sushi lunch

This week was about negativity. There was examination of the people who convinced me writing was not a real job.

Affirmations are also a part of this week. I have worked with affirmations in the past without much success. My inner censor tells me I don’t believe enough for them to really work. I do write them out as part of the program.

The imaginary lives task is introduced this week which is one of my favorites. I use this question in my life and have asked it to numerous people. Basically you ask yourself: If you could live out another life, what would you do or be?

Week 1 lives shared with my group: 1. Tarot card reader 2. Writer in residence on a train 3. Harpist 4. Psychologist 5. Permanent student

It can lead to uncovering what brings you joy and energy.

I participated in the Zoom call with the people in my Artist Way group. I had some connections with my childhood dreams for occupations and the reactions from family and how it shaped what I pursued.

Week 2: Recovering a Sense of Identity

This week was about what is energy giving to me. This is a week of 5 more imaginary lives and ten tiny changes.

5 new lives: 1. used bookstore owner 2. coffee barista 3. professional runner 4. dinner party caterer 5. idea curator

Some takeaways:

  • I felt I needed to protect my writing time since the change in schedule transitioning from summer back to day job was severe. I went from being a full time writer to a full time coach in one day. For the frist time sicne I can remember I logged a 9:30 pm writing session. I do not write at night ever. it is not a creative time for me normally.
  • I also had a hard time coming up with a list of 20 things I enjoy which I found quite sad. I think I was overthinking the exercise a bit. This may have been self imposed pressure with the possibility of sharing with the group even though I did not. I know how this program works and was afraid if I wrote something on the list I would “have to “ commit to making it an artist date. This was a self imposed parameter and I am an adult and don’t HAVE to do anything!
  • I thought a lot about what is energy depleting and life giving in my life.

Week 3: Recovering a sense of Power

This is the week where synchronicity is introduced which is a bit of magic to me. I believe this book is where I first heard this word and it has been imprinted on me ever since. This is the week I dreamed of where I had “safely” placed a library book I had lost!

Many of the tasks were centered around childhood. There was some work with habits as well.

My description of my childhood bedroom: It was 12x12 and I know because we bought new carpet. I had Holly Hobbie decorations even though I loved Strawberry Shortcake. I had a desk I loved. My favorite thing about my bedroom now is my bed.

Words to describe myself as a child: Creative…I was always writing or making things. Independent. I didn’t follow the crowd and didn’t understand others. Decisive. I knew what I wanted to do and did it. Stubborn. If I believed something I stood by it. Loving. With my grandmother especially.

In school I always earned good grades and was a model student. I overcame reading comprehension issues from 2nd grade and reading became my comfort and my passion.

Favorite foods as a child: My mom’s stew and spaghetti. My Oma’s potato salad, scrambled egg sandwiches, and roast and potatoes.

Week 4: Recovering a Sense of Integrity

This is the week of reading deprivation which I did not participate in. At the beginning of June, I had been going through a reading slump and put myself on a reading deprivation. I also took at the social media off my phone. It was partially in response to Cal Newport and his digital minimalism work. I did not want to do this exercise again. I did not feel it was in my creative best interest so close to the last time.

From the experience, I learned that I need to be intentional about what I am reading and all input in general. I am a learning machine but can also get overwhelmed with too much information. My output is usually writing but sometimes I like a good conversation with people who have interacted with the same media as I have.

I brought back the media I enjoy and took all notifications off my phone. I check when I am ready not when my phone makes a noise.

This was the week I started to notice I had resistance to certain tasks. I started to examine why this was. Usually it is because there is a negative emotion attached to the memory. There is a lot of strife with all family in the present season of my life and it is exhausting. If it is blocking me in some way I need to work through the pain and stop trying to go around it.

Other task responses:

My Ideal environment is a house on the lake in Minnesota. An open style house layout with a loft. All wood cabin. Winter is my favorite season and always has been. The long winter was my favorite little house on the prairie book. The lake picture from international falls is now my picture on the desktop on my computer. I wouldn’t mind being in a cabin in Norway.

Sadly, I do not have space in my house to make into a private space for creating. I have in my mind’s eye. I can imagine when I close my eyes and dream about being in Minnesota. I could go out to the swing or the hammock. Or just into my notebook.

Week 5: Recovering a Sense of Possibility

This week in morning pages there is an exercise where you ask for answers in the evening by writing or thinking of topics and where you listen for the answers in the morning pages the next morning.

Story ideas was a topic I asked myself and there were a couple days I was frantically writing down ideas! It was not at morning pages time though. I felt one day I just needed a writing day.

This is also the week you ponder your self destructive tendencies and more times you might be getting in your own way.

There are lists that are made of actions you would take if you didn’t think they were crazy or selfish. This is the week that the idea of earning an MFA came up for me repeatedly.

An MFA is not really feasible at this time in my life but I do think that Sarah Selecky’s Story Intensive is a real option for me. It opens next fall. The group on the call this week really helped me work this out.

There is also an exercise where you write 20 “I wish” statements. It is done fast so your intuition plays more of a part. This was eyeopening for me this week.

The Zoom call this week was enlightening and life giving conversation.

“There is enough” is the mantra I am moving forward with from this call!

Week 6: Recovering a Sense of Abundance

Current week and this is an examination of money which is a huge block for me. A few months ago I listening to You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth by Jen Sincero which ties in nicely. Again the affirmation thing comes up this week and in Jen’s book which I do not do well with.

Mid program Thoughts

I am not completely recovered but on a good path. The accountability to do some of the exercises I have resistance to is easier since I have a group I check in with. Sam started to pair us up with another person in the group which has made it more personal as well. The group will end in 6 weeks and I will be sad to not have this group anymore. I do hope that some of us continue to interact. The creatives I have met though the group are not people I would have met any other way and I have learned a lot from them and their ambition.

The morning pages are something I will continue after the 12 weeks. I do these in additional to my regular writing practice every morning now. The month of September I am also participating in Storyaday. It is a lot of writing but it is what I love.

I am struggling with the artist dates and scheduling time to do them. I have a big one I want to do that involves a train. I will keep you posted on my journey!

Tammy Breitweiser

Written by

Tammy is force of nature; woman of honor; seer of nuance; ultra runner and ultra reader; & an accidental inspirationalist who writes.

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