One of the basic tools for Julia Cameron’s the Artist’s Way 12-week program is the Artist Date.
A block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers. You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist, a.k.a. your creative child. That means no lovers, friends, spouses, children— no taggers-on of any stripe.
This was the hardest part of the program for me. My whores of negativity ran rampant. How dare you go to a movie without your kids, or try out the new restaurant in town without your husband. Who gave you permission to spend money on a dance class when the screen in the backdoor needs to be replaced? Two hours in a museum? Don’t you have laundry to do, classes to plan, tests to grade, a soccer game to attend? What’s this time off bullshit? Plays and novels don’t spring from an author’s head fully formed like Athena from Zeus. Writing and working are the only way.
I hated those whores, but refused to give in— whoa! Lightbulb moment of rebellion in hindsight. Hold that thought— Twelve weeks of artist dates unfolded, followed by at least twelve more as I worked my way through the exercises in Cameron’s The Vein of Gold. My artist dates were carefully chosen and scheduled because I was always an A student, except for when I flunked the exam in Economics and needed to drop Physics because I couldn’t comprehend the equations.
My intention was to make the weekly artist date a lifelong practice, in the same way Morning Pages and yoga were a part of my daily routine. Artist dates were squeezed out by life. Morning Pages hung on for five years, but were sucked down the sinkhole of the depression that nearly ended my life. Yoga survived; it kept me breathing. Hold that thought.
Fast forward to Round One of the Revision process. How I whined about how emotionally draining the work was and about the snail pace of my writing and how I needed Saturdays off to fortify myself by not thinking about Kaitlyn’s story. An Artist Date?
I never considered Saturday’s shopping, laundry, housecleaning, and reading a date with my inner artist. An artist date needs to be planned and scheduled and— and what? And nothing. Because here’s what happened. Once my creative flow-zone kicked in I wrote every day. Even on Saturdays. After the shopping and a bit of reading or a podcast I was back at the keyboard.
Jump Back to Rebellion in hindsight. The routine established at the beginning of Round One was the structure I needed to develop momentum for steady progress in order to complete the draft. But as my creative flow strengthened, I began to question the rigidness of my schedule. Why did I have to stop at such and such a time each day? What was the real problem with writing on Saturdays? And why could I only write this post on Sunday? No reason.
That got me thinking about Artist Dates. The way they’re laid out in the Artist’s Way made me feel as if the date needed to be a formal thing— a Big Deal. But it doesn’t. The secret to a date with your inner artist or creative child is simply finding time, for you the artist, to let go and open yourself up to insight, inspiration and guidance.
Any and all of that can happen in a nano second. Refilling my coffee can be jammed with inspiration as long as I’m fully engaged in the activity. Now I understand why Chuck Palahniuk swears that one of the best things to do when writer’s block hits is clean the toilet bowl. It’s the complete disengagement with the story that paves the way for the Muse to whisper in my ear— it’s the yoga breath for writing.
And so, Round 2 of the revision process begins not only with my new creative flow-zone, but also with a flexible whimsy to my artist dates. And not a whore of negativity around.