The Creative Life: True Tales of Inspiration
by Julia Cameron

Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2010. ISBN 978-1-585-42824-3.
Reviewed by Becky Lane
Posted on 09/30/2010

Nonfiction: Creative Life; Nonfiction: Memoir

For those of you who are fans of Julia Cameron's most popular book, I will start off by warning you that this is not another The Artist's Way, nor should we expect it to be. In my experience, those who write life-altering works of non-fiction such as that one, or Sarah Ban Breathnach's Simple Abundance, or Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun, rarely get the same wow factor from the books that follow. That first was the book they were meant to write—the one that had been roiling around inside their heads for years. If we expect them to crank out another just like it year after year, as our fiction writers do, we deserve to be disappointed. Thankfully, that is not what Cameron has done.

Perhaps you should think of The Artist's Way as going to college to acquire the tools and techniques you will need for the pursuit of a creative life. For most careers, however, college just barely scratches the surface. Most of what you need to be successful will be acquired from the school of hard knocks, picked up on the job as you go along. With The Creative Life, Cameron allows us to jump ahead thirty or forty years, past a very successful and prolific career in the arts, to see what she has learned along the way.

This book is not a handbook. It is merely little glimpses into her daily life as it is now. Most people believe the myth that portrays the artist as loner, but Cameron finds the opposite to be true. "Instead of being a solo act, the artist's life involves many. It could be said that 'it takes a village,'" so Cameron starts by introducing us to her village, that we might see how they inspire, encourage, even prop her up when need be, as she does for them. "I will string together the beautiful beads that make up my life. I will slow down and savor my days as they unfurl. I will keep a diary of sorts, with vignettes of my everyday life. Slowing down and paying attention to particular moments, people and feelings will help me to appreciate them—not to take them for granted." As you meet her "village," you will begin to pick up on the many ways in which they have influenced her, and the important lessons she has learned from them.

On the subject of collaboration, Cameron writes: "Once I relaxed, my writing became clearer and easier. No longer striving to be brilliant and clever, I began to write more about communication. As I practiced more humility, my work became far more accessible. People liked it better, and I liked it better myself. My ego became less invested in 'my' work. As a result, I found myself able to collaborate. I discovered that others had ideas that could strengthen my own. This was a far cry from me as a young writer, who couldn't bear to have a comma changed."

On developing a creative practice, she says: "You don't need to be 'in the mood' in order to write. A writer's relationship to writing resembles a marriage. Just as a long-term couple may not feel like making love until the first caress leads to the next, for a writer the first sentence on a page often leads to other sentences. Some of the finest writing gets done when we're 'not in the mood.'"

Reading this little book led me to ponder my own village—the one that has gradually grown up around me over the last few years through my connections with Story Circle Network, my interactions with fellow bloggers, and the many creative souls that inhabit this amazing community of mine—and the critical role it has played in the blossoming of my own creative life. It made me realize how very fortunate I am to be a part of this village. "Making a piece of art requires myriad tiny steps," Cameron writes. "Grumbling about each of them may well free up the energy to act. One thing it surely does is dismantle the mythology that tells us art is made by loners and made with heroic ease. Based on that false standard, we will always come up short. How much better and how much healthier to admit the need for help and support."

Julia Cameron was born and raised in a Chicago suburb. She started her journalism career at The Washington Post, then moved on to Rolling Stone. While there she was sent to interview film director Martin Scorsese, whom she later married (briefly) and with whom she has a daughter. She now resides in NYC, with her two dogs. For more about her poems, plays, films, books and musicals, visit her website.

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