Do what’s right for you
Written by Nazira Vania
I attended an online conversation with Julia Cameron recently, hosted by the London Writers Salon. Hearing from the artist behind The Artist’s Way was a joy, especially when she read one of her poems and sang – sang! – one of her songs. The conversation was inspiring and affirming and I returned to my creative work with a renewed sense of energy and purpose.
The interview with Julia Cameron got me thinking about the significant influence that The Artist’s Way (TAW) has had on my progress as a writer. It was the 12-week online Becoming a Writer course from The Asian Writer, based on TAW, that helped me claim the writer identity after being a secret (or maybe stunted) scribbler for decades. It is the source of the numerous mantras pinned to my noticeboard and jotted in my notebooks that kept me going when I felt discouraged and overwhelmed in the process of completing my first novel. And it is TAW that helped me embrace the idea that I don’t only have to be a writer. It isn’t a choice of one thing or another. I can be a writer and other things beside.
I completed the book version of TAW nearly two years ago, at a time when I wasn’t working. I hadn’t left my job to write, but with all the time in the world on my hands I had the opportunity to make a go of being a full-time writer if I wanted to. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I continued to write, to edit, to have magical-thinking-time, at the same pace that I used to when working. At first, I questioned what was wrong with me. I was in a position that so many other writers dream of – a position that I had often dreamed of – yet here I was, epically failing to live the dream. So, what on earth was wrong with me?
I didn’t know, but on reaching Week 11 of The Artist’s Way, ‘Recovering a Sense of Autonomy,’ I found an explanation:
‘I am an artist. As an artist, I may need a different mix of stability and flow from other people. I may find that a nine-to-five job steadies me and leaves me freer to create. Or I may find that a nine-to-five drains me of energy and leaves me unable to create. I must experiment with what works for me.’
Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, 2016 edition, p.179
I reflected on that passage over and over. Which of these two types of creatives was I? Being free of the 9 to 5, freer to create, hadn’t made me any more productive a writer, and being a social worker prior to that, one of the most time- and energy-hungry jobs out there, hadn’t stopped me writing my novel. Drained as I was at the end of the day, the end of the week, I had still managed to get enough words down on the page with enough regularity to go from concept to completed draft manuscript. But I had really believed, before those months of freedom-from-employment came along, that I would thrive as a writer if I ever had the chance to do it full-time. I looked at what I was achieving with my novel and thought, ‘Imagine how much more I could do if I didn’t have to work!’ Yet when that chance came along, it turned out I wasn’t in the latter stifled-by-the-job camp after all.
That came as a bit of a surprise to me, but not an entirely unpleasant one. In fact, it actually made a lot of sense. For many artists in the early stages of their development, their creativity is a seedling that needs protecting and nurturing until it grows into a strongly rooted plant able to withstand the elements (another of Julia’s analogies). Making their income dependent on their art, placing pressure on it to be the source of their livelihood, subjecting it to the fickleness of market forces too soon could be destructive. So separating art and income is almost a necessity for some. Maybe that’s why being free from work hadn’t changed anything for me. Maybe my art wasn’t ready for that type of acceleration and exposure just yet.
I returned to work after a while, as I had always intended, confident that my writing wasn’t going to live or die according to how many hours I was putting into a job. It would be just fine so long as I looked out for it, which I am managing to do reasonably well. I’m lucky enough to be in a job that lets me bring my creativity to it, too, and which is fulfilling in lots of other ways as well, so things are working out on both fronts. Of course, the arrangement I currently have in place might have to change over time because the growth and development of an artist, and the needs that arise from that, do not stand still, but I have done the experiment of which Julia Cameron speaks and have found the balance that works for me right now.
Often, beginner writers worry that they won’t get anywhere if they don’t give fully of themselves to the cause. I will address that by taking the liberty of touching on the journeys of my fellow Koyal Writers. We have been doing this writing gig for years now, but we are all still walking our respective paths in our own way and at our own pace whilst seeking the right balance between our different commitments, our duties and passions, our paid and unpaid labours. This is unique to each of us – between us we have ranged from the leap-in-with-both-feet approach to the toe-dipping when it comes to getting paid writing work – but whichever approach we have chosen, each of us has moved on from where we started as writers and drawn closer to where we want to be. My experience, and that of the other Koyals, is proof that you don’t have to fear not throwing your everything at your writing career. If you are a writer, you will always be one, however little space in your life your circumstances might allow you to give over to it at times.
So, my lessons of a writer are to do what Julia Cameron advises and experiment with what works for you, and know that this might change over time, depending on where you are on your creative path. What works for you today might not work for you tomorrow as you grow and develop as an artist, so trust in the process and do what’s right for you.