I opened the door to my mailbox and there it was: My first-ever paycheck for a writing assignment. It was for a newspaper article about a local abstract painter.
I ripped open the envelope and held the check in my hands as if it were alive. $125. The amount was so meager I considered framing the check, like the first baby dollar bill of a newly hatched business. But I needed the cash.
I also needed to acknowledge the triumph. I hopped in my car for what would become the first in a series of celebratory latte runs with each published work. So what if it was only 125 bucks? Who cares?
Nothing could lessen the glow sparked by that small paycheck and heady byline. Except, of course, when my monthly electric bill arrived, and I realized that one measly freelance newspaper article wasn’t going to cover even the cost of making toast and keeping the lights on. (It would, however, keep me in lattes for some time.)
That was many years ago, and while I’ve come a long way, I fantasized then, as I do now, about creating a more abundant writing life. But fantasies can quickly turn to anxiety if we don’t have a support system and learn to shut out the naysayers.
Julia Cameron, bestselling creativity author of The Artist’s Way, says, “You have to learn to ignore the odds you hear on the street about ‘making it’ as a writer.” This only discourages us, she says.
“For feedback on your work, use people that you know and trust and who will see the good in you and your work,” she adds.
The 67-year-old teacher who invented the tool “Morning Pages” – three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing done first thing in the morning – and who is widely considered a guru of “creative unblocking” and “prosperity,” says daily journaling remains a viable method to ground our busy minds. She first suggested it more than 20 years ago in The Artist’s Way.
“Morning Pages create a sense of safety and get you in touch with your higher power,” says Cameron. “I don’t mean to be fanatical, but keep doing them. It’s the cornerstone.”
Cameron defines prosperity as “sufficient means that we feel comfortable. It involves emotional security as well as financial bottom lines.” She recommends these tools for easing anxiety and creating abundance.
Morning Pages: Write three pages every day, long hand in the morning.
Budget/Counting: That’s Cameron’s term for closely monitoring the in-and-out flow of money.
Walking: Do it daily.
Artist Dates: Schedule a weekly date with yourself to go do something interesting.
Prosperity Plan: Create a plot for where you’d like to see your money go.
Anxiety can block our creative flow, but using these tools, says Cameron, begins what she calls “creative recovery,” the unblocking of the artist and the return of the creative state.
“These tools create a sense of security and power which reduces anxiety and increases optimism,” she says.
In her newest book, Prosperity Every Day: A Daily Companion on Your Journey to Greater Wealth and Happiness, written with Emma Lively, Cameron takes on the money side of the business – and concomitant anxiety – as a focus for success.
“Worried about what we don’t have, focused on our lack, our anxiety increases. It takes a deliberate act of faith to reverse our scarcity thinking,” she says.
Many writers believe that creativity will flow when financial anxieties are tamed. Some may even put off dream projects until the money is right. But creativity does not depend on money, says Cameron.
“It depends on our sense of abundance. When we tend ourselves creatively, we often trigger an increased flow financially,” she says.
In this way, creativity becomes an act of faith. “This act of faith brings us closer to our Creator, closer to our flow of good,” Cameron writes in Prosperity Every Day.
Goethe says: “In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm…in the real world all rests on perseverance.” If you have talent, devotion and plenty of perseverance with writing, does that mean that prosperity, in some form, is inevitable?
“Yes,” says Cameron. “You can’t help but get there. We don’t work in vain. It’s like in the movie Field of Dreams. Build it, and they will come.”
The key to this success? Faith, says Cameron. Having faith establishes an atmosphere in which creativity flourishes. As areinforcement, she advises making two lists. For the first, list five instances when you demonstrated persistence. For the second, she draws on Joseph Campbell as a reminder of the help already in place: “When we follow our bliss, we are met by a thousand unseen helping hands.” She advises making a list of five people who can or do help you in your life and writing career.
Of course, fame can be tempting, but it’s often illusory and not the same as a job well done. While it can bring money and prestige, Cameron says, we need only to look to the tabloids to see how the famous are faring.
“Fame keeps us squinting toward the horizon, jealous of our luckier neighbors and dissatisfied with our own condition,” she says.
Fame is more like empty calories, devoid of nutrition. But as a culture, we’re drawn to the idea of fame, and this can lead us in the wrong direction.
“Fame is an addiction. And there’s never enough,” says Cameron.
She reflected on a time when fame shifted her focus on only bad news: “Sometimes you can get too hungry for results. This happened with my book The Dark Room. It got a lot of great reviews and only one bad one. But the bad one was from The New York Times. And so that was all I focused on.”
The Artist’s Way has sold more than four million copies. When it was released in 1992, Cameron got a real-life taste of the adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”
After The Dark Room, Cameron wrote The Artist’s Way. “It zoomed ahead. At the time, I got frightened that I would be known as just a writing teacher as opposed to an artist. I didn’t have enough help to handle it, and so I fled to England to hide out,” says Cameron.
Walking and Artist Dates, says Cameron, are antidotes to the fame game. “The tool of walking balances you. When you’re absorbed in your surroundings, it checks the ego,” she says.
“And making Artist Dates (a solitary expedition, once a week) where you go and do something you love and ask, ‘Dear God, how can I be of service?’ All of these tools siphon off self-importance,” she adds.
The reliable approach, she advises, is to stop asking, “Will this be my breakthrough project?” and start asking, “Is this project worthy?”
Therein lies the artist’s way.
Tips to strengthen your writing from Prosperity Every Day: A Daily Companion on Your Journey to Greater Wealth and Happiness by Julia Cameron with Emma Lively
On money and creativity
“Many of us believe we will be more creative when we are financially comfortable. ‘When I have enough money, then I’ll try…’ we tell ourselves. But creativity does not depend on money. It depends on our sense of abundance. When we tend ourselves creatively, we often trigger an increased flow financially. Creativity is an act of faith. We extend ourselves, believing that good will come to pass. This act of faith brings us closer to our Creator, closer to our flow of good.”
“Anxiety blocks our flow. Worried about what we don’t have, focused on our lack, our anxiety increases. It takes a deliberate act of faith to reverse our scarcity thinking. Often, work with an affirmation will clear a channel. The affirmation can be simple: ‘There is plenty for all of us, including myself.’”
“Procrastination is a side effect of perfectionism. Afraid that we cannot do something perfectly, we hang back from trying at all. Often we call procrastination laziness, but it is not laziness. It is fear. As we learn to dismantle our perfectionism, we find ourselves free to move ahead. Our procrastination yields to baby steps in the direction of our dreams.”
“We tell ourselves that risk is dangerous, and yet, no risk is more dangerous. When we cling to our known life, we deny ourselves the chance for expansion. A habit of risk — small risk building upon small risk — prepares us to meet opportunity with optimism.”
“A serene environment makes for serene thinking. A cluttered environment causes our thinking to be scattered. Chaos breeds chaos. Serenity breeds serenity. The choice is ours. How do we choose to live? Most meditation practices emphasize twenty minutes as an ideal. A daily twenty minutes, put to de-cluttering, leaves us with a sense of spiritual well-being and expansion.”
“Competition is grounded in scarcity thinking. There is enough for one winner, we believe, and not enough for all. The truth is, there is enough for all of us. We need not compete with each other. We need only focus on our own growth and expansion.”
Julie Krug is a regular contributor to The Writer.