Julia Cameron is a world-renowned, highly acclaimed artistic talent. She created a movement within the art scene in 1992 with the release of her book ‘The Artist’s Way‘, and has been inspiring creatives with further reads, songs, films, and plays ever since.
Julia recently added another book to her collection with ‘WRITE FOR LIFE: Creative Tools for Every Writer. As what she calls a ‘love letter to writing, and to writers’, it shares some of the tools and insights she’s learned to use over the course of her prolific career.
While this latest book is targeted to writers in particular, the expertise within it is something all creators can learn from. I recently had the pleasure of welcoming Julia back to the podcast to discuss her work, career, and insights for success in the creative field.
Exceeding Expectations Is About… Lowering the Bar?
Julia is very used to people, like myself, telling her how amazed they are by her prolific abilities as a creator. With over 40 published books at her back, it’s truly hard to fathom such a consistently successful career. But how did she get here? What’s the secret recipe to her success? You’ll definitely find the best answers to those questions in her book, but from our conversation, they can be summed up with two words: mindset and strategy.
We often associate the creative process, and writing in particular, with feelings of painstakingly slow progress and stress. There’s a vision to be realized, but an undetermined and daunting path to get there. As an overachiever, this can be particularly frustrating and discouraging.
Julia says that this expectation to ‘conquer the whole thing’ at once has troubled her at points in her career. She sees the problem as one of mindset, where we’re setting ourselves up for failure by demanding too much in the first place. The solution to this is the exact opposite, and kind of counterintuitive for those of us who are used to non-stop grinding. Instead of setting lofty ambitions for her work, Julia starts off every day with small, achievable goals. She came up with a concept she calls a ‘daily quota’, which simply means setting yourself a target that’s within reach.
Doing it every day ‘primes the pumps’ so to speak, and makes it easier for pages to accumulate while keeping progress linear.
Perfectionism Kills Creativity
On the same note of getting out of one’s way, Julia makes a point of mentioning the issue of perfectionism and how it can stifle the creative process.
If you sit back and really think about it, the number one reason we feel blocked as creators comes down to a lack of confidence. We’re often so set on success that we hyper criticize our own work and second guess what we put out into the world.
But that’s not how great art is made. Often, it’s our early unplanned work that ends up being the best. They’re encapsulations of real expression and the type of thing you simply can’t fabricate or pre-plan. As we start overthinking it, trying to improve and edit ourselves, the work becomes overworked.
According to Julia, grabbing these impulses is the single most effective thing creators can do to dismantle the challenge of perfectionism. She believes that working in this way makes it easier to experiment and explore your art form to its full breadth.
The Tension Between Play and Work
Many people love the idea of doing what they love for a living. The idea is that by choosing such a path, the lines between work and play blur to create a life where passion is the fuel to your livelihood.
But they shouldn’t be viewed as completely one and the same – Julia sees them as more of a ‘hand in glove’ relationship of balance. To her, it’s all about using each side, both work and play, to feed off of one another and crescendo in tandem.
The logic behind this makes sense; when we play, it enlivens our work. I can personally think of countless times when my own personal creativity provided me with a spark of inspiration to carry over into more “professional” pursuits. There have also been instances where the success of my work has afforded me the opportunity to step back and truly appreciate the value of play.
It’s a kind of cycle that Julia acknowledges and encourages, where the formalities of work are offset by moments of exploration and self-expression.
The formula for success, according to her, is to find a balance between the two — something ‘priming the pump’ and making time for careless creation can help with.
At the end of the day, Julia explains that creativity is a natural inclination we all have as human beings. The key to unlocking – and making a career – out of it is to allow yourself to be free and open-minded. Take chances, experiment, play, write your morning pages – whatever it takes to get the creative juices flowing. By doing this, you’re sure to find a path that’s uniquely yours and brings out your true genius.