The Artist’s Way: Safety

Somewhere around the fifth grade, I sat cross-legged on the cool linoleum tile floor of my basement and rolled a red-striped tube sock up the sides of an empty tennis ball can. I stood it upright in a white sneaker and tied the laces snug. The sneaker’s mate had been torn asunder when I stepped carelessly into the opening of a storm sewer grate. After walking the rest of the way home from school with a stocking cap wrapped around my foot, I memorialized the lost shoe with a sculpture of recycled objects.

At Julia Cameron’s prodding, I set off last week to retrace the steps of my creative history. Armed with my GPS and a fireplace poker, I frisked bushes and flipped over stones to ferret out the “historic monsters,” insidious brick masons who constructed the wall of negative core beliefs surrounding my creativity. In The Artist’s Way, Cameron considers the importance of early nurturing:

One of our chief needs as creative beings is support. Unfortunately, this can be hard to come by. Ideally, we would be nurtured and encouraged first by our nuclear family and then by ever-widening circles of friends, teachers, well-wishers. As young artists, we need and want to be acknowledged for our attempts and efforts as well as for our achievements and triumphs. Unfortunately, many artists never receive this critical early encouragement. As a result, they may not know they are artists at all. (p. 41)

With works such as the Hollow Leg sculpture to my name, one would think I could have found those monsters right there on the linoleum floor of my childhood home. But I couldn’t.

My parents, while they may have giggled good-naturedly at my latest effort, applauded my work. They equipped me with Chinese bamboo brushes for my watercolor paints and brass nibs for my calligraphy pens. Quick to support my efforts, they continue to show more confidence in my abilities than I do.

Finding no monsters in the comfort of home, I moved on to school. An English teacher was so pleased with my writing he stopped giving me assignments and put me to work grading others’ instead. Misguided, yes (I could have used the work). But hardly malevolent. One art teacher entered my batik panels in a competition. Another choked up the morning he had to tell me that my sculpture — a bust I’d spent an entire semester on — exploded in the kiln.

My local newspaper gave me a regular column when I was just 17 years old. The non-profit that hired me out of college to type letters and prepare mass mailings sent me on writing and photo assignments instead. Even now, I find myself writing within encouraging, supportive communities.

So where are my monsters? Oh, sure. There was the art teacher who told me that Salvador Dali had nothing to fear from my early attempts at surrealism. And there was that one guy on Facebook a couple of weeks ago who didn’t think much of my stick figures. But I shrug them off. They just don’t understand me.

This “time travel” exercise to which Cameron calls me leaves me oddly perplexed. I have no shortage of negative beliefs. These core negatives, she says, “come to us from our parents, our religion, our culture, and our fearful friends.” (p. 46) But I find no cruel Sister Ann Rita at whom to vent my squelched creative angst.

And so I wonder, can these core beliefs also simply come from inside of myself? When the thing I believe most easily about my writing is that “I will do bad work and not know it and look like a fool,” is it reasonable to accept that it’s no one’s fault and that I’m just simply frightened? Despite the monster-hunt, Cameron seems to suggest it is. “What you are is scared. Core negatives keep you scared.” (p. 47)

If anything, I suppose, it might have helped to run into the occasional critic, to lend credible balance to affirmation. I wonder what may have happened if someone had told me I couldn’t go far on a Hollow Leg.


We’re exploring Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way together. How have you experienced nurturing or wounding of your creative spirit in the past? What core negative beliefs can leave you blocked? Did you experiment with Morning Pages or an Artist Date? Perhaps you’d share in the comments about your experience or any of the tasks you tried.

For next week, we’ll consider parts 2 and 3, Recovering a Sense of Identity and Recovering a Sense of Power. Feel free to do one or both chapters.

If you post at your blog on the book, please place your link in the comments so we can join you there, and feel free to use our Book Club button on your page.

ts book club no border

Photo by Claire Burge. Used with permission. Post by LW Lindquist.


Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99— Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In May we’re exploring the theme Roses.



  1. says

    I’m not completely aware of the reasons for my blocking that comes and goes so completely, but, upon reading this, into my mind pops the sight/feeling/sound of my 4th grade teacher tearing to shreds my first masterpiece… a poem that unfortunately fell out of me at the wrong time, taking my attention from whatever it was that SHE was doing that was obviously (to her) more important than a WHOLE POEM falling out of the pen of a shocked 4th grade little girl. It had something to do with leaves, and fall, and blah blah blah… and it was perfectly mine yet such a mystery because I had no intention set to write a poem – it just happened. Now it only happens in spits and spurts. I feel it coming, another spurt, and it scares me a little.

  2. L. L. Barkat says

    Duane, I totally love that photograph you included in your post! :)

    And I’m reminded, from both your story and Donna’s, how much power we have to call others into creativity or to close them down.

    I do like these opening scenes with Julia though, as she reminds *us* that we don’t have to let others close us down; neither do we have to let ourselves lace up the heart against creativity. It’s there, it’s ours for the sweet taking.

    Lyla, I loved your sculpture. Oh my. There’s more to it, I think. I just can’t put my finger on it quite yet (yes, it’s on the tip of my brain 😉

  3. says

    I can really relate to this post, as i grew up in an encouraging environment as well. I think that I’ve been my own monster…biggest critic and creative dream squasher. I started this book about a year ago, but never finished. Excited to continue the journey with friends. :)

  4. says

    Oh, Donna. I hope those spurts keep coming. I love the one you dropped in the comments yesterday: Perfect / imperfection / Shaken / Or stirred. Keep playing with us, ok?

    Duane, I consider myself quite fortunate, really. And sometimes a bit of a dork, that despite the positive experiences, I still managed to choke of the creativity for such a time. I had my reasons, you know? :) (And, by the way, the boundary waters are a beautiful place. It’s hard not to have something deep happen in you there. :)

    There’s more to the Hollow Leg, L.L.? I don’t know. I think it’s just an old tennis ball can sitting in a shoe. :)

    Kim, I’m glad you’re coming along. It’s interesting to look back, even in the midst of encouragement, and see how we’ve developed and how we formed some of the ideas we have.

  5. says

    Life is so surprising… we think we know why we are blocked or that it matters, but in the end it just is what it really is. It seems everyone who creates get’s blocked, whether they are supported or not, praised or teased, celebrated or shamed. The block, I am starting to believe, is not caused by life… i am starting to believe that the block is inherent in life and it’s not a bad thing…maybe it means that we are living… maybe it is here to teach us something but only when we’re ready. It’s just so bloody painful and I want to blame it on someone or some thing or some event, and imagine that if they or that or this never happened I would not be blocked or stuck or afraid… but I am all of these things at one time or another. These experiences we have become juicy when I look at it in this way. Does this sound familiar at all to anyone?

  6. Sheila Dailie says

    As I’ve experimented sporadically with the morning pages, the journey brought me a fresh realization about my blocks, both creatively and emotionally. Acknowledgement of my participation/ownership of blockage is needed to move on.

    Upon re-visiting some places along the way, I find that life can seduce me into that “comfortable” place. And since creativity is that true part of us that grows and branches out, it can easily go dormant without enough nourishment, sunlight, or moisture.

    So thanks to all of you for refreshing me! Those morning pages are full of junk and trash, but like all living matter, the compost can be life-giving!

  7. says

    Ya know, to be honest (and I’m never anything other), my greatest block/wound/dilema continues to roll over me in gagging waves as I find so many grande great writers all vying for a place in the world.

    During elementary school & high school, especially, I was told I have a gift. I thought I was special in that regard. Now I see, it’s not really so much the case. It’s an odd place of tension out here in Blogland. I like to encourage others and banter (about chimps and what-nots) and I like it when someone gets a giggle from something I write, but is that gonna be it for me?

    Is that enough for me?

    (I’m not reading the book, but I fancy the conversation.)


  8. Donna says

    Sheila I love how you said that about dormancy… trash… and compost! Ah… that hits the spot!

  9. says

    Lyla, it’s Wednesday, so you know what that means! Love you post!

    No Shortage of Creativity Monsters

    I choked up somewhere
    around fifth grade and flipped

    over the creativity monsters
    snug in my cool basement. I

    frisked my upright Hollow Leg
    for negative beliefs rolled

    carelessly up inside, a tube
    of recycled bamboo brushes

    and Chinese paints hard to come
    by not giving me confidence

    to prepare mass mailings on
    angst memorialized on Facebook.

    Oddly perplexing fear of art
    assignments squelched many

    attempts at surrealism. Stick
    figures kept me scared, cross

    -legged on the linoleum floor,
    that wall constructed of early

    triumphs by my nuclear family
    acknowledged instead of my efforts.

    Julie Cameron prodding me
    to time travel and ferret out

    the insidious thing at my core,
    that I could not shrug off, easily

    frightened me. Circles of childhood
    well-wishers, not artists

    at all, giggled, applauded, sent
    me, fearful, to Sister Ann Rita.

    “What you are is scared
    of the critic you are.” It helped

    I had a red-striped stocking
    cap wrapped good-naturedly

    around my spirit the morning
    I lost my calligraphy pens.

  10. says

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”–Nelson Mandela, inauguration speech, May 10, 1994.

  11. says

    Donna, I like that. Sometimes we think we know what it is, but we don’t. The best we can do is keep trying to work it out, yes?

    Sheila, leave it to the farmer’s wife to get me into the compost. There’s not much light in that pile, but there’s plenty of heat, right? The morning pages (when I do them) are very helpful. I don’t always get them done, but I try. Gets a lot of things just plain out of the system.

    What do you think, Darlene? Is it enough? For some of us, a chimp in lipstick would be so far more than enough we wouldn’t know what else to do next. 😉 But others? We need more. I think that’s an every-person-has-to-answer thing. What they told you? They were right, you know. :)

  12. says

    Maureen, Maureen. Always, you come through. :) I don’t know if Julia prodding me or being sent, fearful, to Sister Ann Rita unnerves me more. :)

    TUC, great homework! I’m letting the book selection grow on me. :)

    I agree, Sandy, they come from somewhere. It’s interesting how you consider how maybe you heard something one way that was meant another. Which, of course, makes me consider how I say things. Which, to the people that matter most, is often not the way I wish I would. :)

    Megan, you are brilliant, as always. Thanks for sharing that Mandela quote. It’s one to ponder. What really does scare us?

  13. says

    Wow, Megan. Great quote for pondering.

    And Lyla, yes. I wonder how my words meant for good may have impacted badly. Where I tried to uplift, was it perceived as a putdown? Of course, we’re not so powerful that we can always control the reception as hard as we try.

  14. says

    Thanks for all the discussion here. I don’t have the book but am learning from you all. Lyla, your Hollow Leg inspires me. :) That’s one way I would mourn a lost shoe. I also appreciated knowing some of your rich artist’s history—and I really like your parents!

  15. says

    Megan, Thanks for sharing that Mandela quote: food for thought (and for soul)!

    Maureen, you are the goddess of found poetry. How DO you do it?

    Lyla, I read and worked through the Artist’s Way the summer I turned 23. I told my husband last week that if it hadn’t been for Julia Cameron, I’d never have agreed to date him; I was that shy, that scared. I think he’s going to write her a thank you note. :)

    As I reread Chapter 1 this week, a couple lines stood out to me:

    1. “It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time.” (p 30) I thought of all we do here at Tweetspeak, playing with words, and sometimes we probably look like dorks and don’t even know it (you’re not the only one who fears that!), but the lovely thing about this place is that people (Laura is especially good at this) get that we’re growing and that we might say/write lame things and that that is simply part of becoming a better writer.

    2. “All too often it is audacity and not talent that moves an artist to center stage…We may be able to defer to true genius, but if it’s merely a genius for self-promotion we’re witnessing, our resentment runs high. This is not just jealousy. It is a stalling technique that reinforces our staying stuck.” (p.33-4)

    Ahem. I often feel like the green-eyed monster’s vacation house in the Hamptons. You know, the place he comes for a few weeks a couple times a year, to make a mess and let the butler (that would also be me in this mixed-up metaphor) clean up after he goes back to his job in Manhattan. Because every few months or so, just when I think I’ve grown out of this tendency-toward-envy, he rears his ugly head and hisses in my ears and I find that I am very, very jealous of this writer or that one, whose skill seems fairly equal to my own but whose audience surpasses mine by a mile-high stack of zeroes after the one.

    It’s humiliating to admit that because of what it says about me, about what I want. I’d rather not want to be lauded and adored, you know? It feels so…egotistical, so selfish, so unartistic and vain. But there it is, this ugly desire, green-eyed and grinning wickedly as it flicks its forked tongue in my face. Looks like I’m going to have to face it, face me, and actually do the work I need to do so I can stop being jealous. Bother.

    Why are we reading this book again?

  16. says

    It’s funny, Monica, I didn’t really put the mourning and shoe together until today. Which would probably be fascinating if you knew the importance of shoes to me. Not from a fashion perspective, but function. Perhaps in my own strange 11yo way, it was mourning. :)

    Kimberlee, comment away. This must be what happens when you comment and it’s still daylight in our time zones. :) Her thoughts on jealousy were really interesting, I think. And I have a few notes in the margin with respect to the audacity vs. talent thing. Actually, let me be more honest. I have a name written in the margin by that section. Ha! Your first point, about having a safe place to look a little silly in the process of getting better? Yes. Here. I feel that in so many ways. (Thanks, Laura, and the rest who gather here.)

  17. Paul Willingham says

    Looking back on your childhood Lyla, your mom and I aren’t sure that we deserve that much credit. This event I do not remember but then all three of you kids relate things to us that we never knew about at the time that the occurred.

    I’m sure the following does not meet any of the criteria underlying the Tweetspeak site but I had fun.












    (Thanks to “Shoeless Joe Jackson”, “Chester Good” and “Hopalong Cassidy”)

  18. says


    I read your comment too fast (it’s a disorder of mine). Anyway, I thought you said something about a green-eyed monster making a mess in your butter. To me, this whole chapter review was worth that part. 😉 I have a vivid imagination, ya know?

  19. says

    Just to say that i am jumping back into morning papers again and they really can be a window to the inner workings. Someone told me once, quite LOUDLY, that the papers had to be done by hand… a right brain/left brain thing… and since my hands fall asleep when I write with a pen or pencil I thought they were just not meant for me… so I stopped feeling somehow like I was cheating (as if it were possible to cheat at morning papers). But papers will be what they will be for me, and who’s to judge or care if I could have ‘gotten more’ from longhand for pity sake!? so here I go. Trying again… toes in the water…

    Today, in this moment, I realize (because I found myself writing this) that my block is fear of going back to that dark place where my writing always has seemed to “work” the best. That place I never want to go to again.It was not just a bad mood… it was pretty serious and scary. Maybe I have told myself that the writing was only there to save me… to be the light when there was no other light… and maybe, just maybe I can learn something new… that just like Motel 6, the light is always on, the muse is always there, the words will always come – even if I’m happy. I think, and maybe I know, that I am afraid writing too deeply will bring me back to a place I don’t want to be.

    Will I hit submit? Will I really put myself out there? Im not sure yet.
    Well… .if this is going to work for me, something tells me I ought to hit submit so here goes… 1 …. 2 … 3

  20. says

    Duane, I loved your story and the photo of you! What a perfect place to re-discover words — in the Boundary Waters. I spent two summers there and simply drank in the open-space, the water, the awe of God’s creation. I’m so glad He took you to the quiet, the removed, touched your soul and re-awakened the writer just waiting to be freed in you — because isn’t this all holy ground — breathing in His Presence as we journey toward eternity?

  21. says

    Welcome, Donna! I’m glad you hit submit! I’m here right now praying for you. Bless you for the courage to dip your toes in the water and hear His still small voice calling you to write.

  22. says

    Thank you Cindee, and to all the welcoming tweetspeakers here. I enjoy all of the comments, quotes, and popping poetry shared… really glad someone thought to do this group!

  23. says

    A femur fashioned from a shoe? Dad, Dad… You don’t remember this because you probably had your nose buried in a thesaurus, preparing for such a time as this. :) I also imagine there is much you might opt to forget from raising me. I know I would. :)

    Cindee and Lexanne, come when you can. Kimberlee actually prefers to swing in once the conversation is already rolling. We don’t have office hours here, so it just keeps going… So appreciate both of your posts and glad you linked up!

    Darlene, sometime I want you to interpret my life. Reading too fast. I wonder what you’d see in the butter.

    Yeah, Donna, I’m pretty sure if you lose use of your hands by the time you finish the morning papers then it’s more than ok to do them with a keyboard. She has some great ideas, but do them in a way that works for you. And I hear you. I was saying to a friend a couple of weeks ago that my writing hasn’t been coming from a deep place that it had before. I was kind of wishing I could reach back into that, but then I’m not sure it’s the time. I think that’s ok right now.

  24. says

    I grew up in an environment where creativity was encouraged. I wouldn’t need to look very far at all to find the biggest threat to my creativity lurking inside my overly self-conscious mind. As I’ve gotten older, that has been massaged out, bit by bit. One of my favorite art-moments, in this respect, was a few months ago in the Laity Lodge art studio. The artist who’d come to lead us in the studio that weekend kept encouraging me: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. They might turn out to be the best part of your art.”

  25. says

    Diana … just wanted to say that I don’t think your post was at all whiny, unless whiny means flat out straight from the hip honestly calling ones self out with courage! So, okay… if THATS what it means then yes… I stand corrected! ;o) Loved it!

  26. says

    It was shocking for some reason to read Julia Cameron’s words stating that she needed to learn how to write SOBER when it has come to my attention that my PRECISE need is to learn how to write HAPPY (and for today I don’t think I can go to that layer that reveals a connection – addiction is to misery as sober is to happy, but it’s there). It seems to make sense… simply write every day, happy or otherwise… just write. And the only way to drown out the internal critics who whisper “but your work is so much BETTER when you’re miserable” is to keep typing over their voices … letting them chatter away in the back seat like unruly children while I just simply drive the damn car.

  27. says

    Thanks, Donna – you are kind. I have agreed with Lyla to explore the anger that rises in this process, so I’ll hang in for a while. Your encouragement is helpful! And personally, I think perhaps you need to make a voodoo doll of some sort in memory of that teacher – yikes! What kind of teaching is that?

  28. Donna says

    Diana! A voodoo doll! What a great idea! Sadly she is not so rare- she probably made me a much better teacher tho, in retrospect! Yeah, as for the anger et al I’m glad you’re hanging in …. After reading ‘what to expect’ I’m wondering if I will need to keep a therapist on retainer (seriously)!! :)

  29. says

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