A few months after my middle child was born, I was roped into participating in The Artist’s Way, a 12-step creativity recovery program developed by Julia Cameron. The book had been calling my name ever since I’d picked it off out of my mother’s bookshelf on a visit home, a year or two before. I’d idly thumbed through it, and tossed in in my suitcase. It seemed a little “woo-woo,” and I had a strong aversion to self-help, but there was no denying that I was one of the “blocked creatives” at whom the book was aimed.

Expectations about my writing were raised high and early, mostly by myself. I wrote and published my first free-verse poem at nine, around the time my father’s own star as a poet was rising. My father was thrilled that I showed literary aptitude. He bragged about my precocious talent far and wide. I was the heir apparent to his poetic gift, and I accepted the mantle with pride and earnestness. No more “roses are red…” for me. No more “moon-june.”

I wrote poems through adolescence and brought them to my father for his effusive praise. I was too young to understand that paternal pride wasn’t necessarily equivalent to critical acclaim. You can’t imagine how shattering it was to recieve a form rejection letter after my first adult contest submission. I was eighteen, and the competition was one of the most prestigous in the nation. I just knew the judges would be blown away by my talent. For weeks, I had mentally rehearsed the media interviews that would surely follow the discovery of the exciting new voice that was mine.

I quit writing poems for a while after that. Then struck up again, let the fantasy build up again, exposed my work to an inappropriate standard again, and then quit. Again. I cycled through this pattern of self-sabotage all the way through my twenties. My work was maturing and gaining recognition, but in painful fits & starts. And I had unconsciously bought into a whole host of toxic beliefs about what it cost one to make art. By the time Artist’s Way found me, I had the unassailable excuse of babies to offer by way of explanation to those who wondered what was holding me back. But I knew there was more to it than that. Why else would I feel so guilt-stricken whenever I was asked?

After bringing the book home, I attempted to work through it on my own. I didn’t get very far. I got a little further with an online study group. Then stalled. Then a couple of friends who had heard about the book suggested working on it together, and we committed to meeting weekly for however long it took.

We took about fifteen weeks to finish the twelve week program. It was one of the most transformational experiences of my life, and was the catalyst for an incredible amount of personal growth. I can’t overstate how that book changed my life.

I went on to lead another Artist’s Way group in my church several years ago. The members of that group were mainly middle-aged people who did not identify as “artists”. But they had that tug, and were brave and curious enough to show up. Every one of them surprised themselves and me with the creative energy that came spilling out of them.

Last week, a book was dropped off on my doorstep. Inside was a handwritten inscription:

Kyran, your Sunday school class ignited the creative & spiritual energy that made this book a reality.

I could not be more proud. But it wasn’t my class; it was the Artist’s Way. I only gave back what had been given to me.

If you’ve done the book, and I mean DONE, not read, it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, and you feel the slightest tug about it, here’s what you need to do:

  • Get two or three friends or strangers who feel the same tug. Don’t worry if you can’t come up with any right away. Just put it out there. They will come.
  • Make a promise to meet weekly, and keep it. You can do this for twelve weeks. Really. It helps to pick a meeting place with a good pastry selection.
  • Get the book.
  • Now do it. Step by step, and literally. Some of the exercises are hokey. Some of them will make you roll your eyes and make retching sounds. Do them anyway. If it says write and sign a contract with yourself, get a pen and paper and do it. If it says to color, do it. DO NOT TRY AND DO THIS IN YOUR HEAD. It does not count. You have my solemn warranty, nothing in the book will kill you. But staying blocked or stifled might.

Let me know how it goes. And when that book/play/pilot/collage/pottery/painting/show comes out, I’ll tell you how to get to my doorstep.