The Artist’s Way: Risk

When my parents brought me to the emergency room for the second time in as many weeks, they worried that, even in the 1960s, my sudden susceptibility to injury might raise suspicions of mistreatment.

I already wore Raggedy Ann-like black stitches on my face after a mishap involving a swivel chair, coffee table and locked bathroom. Now x-rays confirmed a fractured collar bone after a dead-man’s fall off the back step onto the concrete patio that would have made a B-Western movie actor proud.

It’s not that I was particularly clumsy. Nor was I adventurous or reckless #outside of my own mind. But even as a young child, I expected mastery from the very first effort, refusing to so much as try a new task until I could ensure flawless execution.

My family tells the standing joke that the answer to any question about when I might do something was my current age plus one year. When would I learn to tie my shoes? When I was six. When would I ride a bike? When I was seven. When would I stop biting my nails? We’re shooting for forty-nine.

Unfortunately for four-year-old me and my left clavicle, Learn to #Operate a Door Knob was not on my agenda until the following year. When I returned home from playing, I would wait for someone, anyone, to open the door and let me back into the house. Sometimes, I might have to shout for attention. That day, the fist-pounding on the door cost me my balance.

Julia Cameron suggests this is a common obstacle to creative pursuit.

We deny that in order to do something well we must first be willing to do it badly. Instead,  we opt for setting our limits at the point where we feel assured of success.

 . . . In order to risk, we must jettison our accepted limits. We must break through “I can’t because . . .” Because I am too #old, too broke, too shy, too proud? Self-defended? Timorous?

Usually, when we say we can’t do something, what we mean is that we won’t do something unless we can guarantee we’ll do it perfectly. (The Artist’s Way, p. 129)

I struggle as a writer at times because, in all the time I’ve been writing, it never occurred to me start with a rough draft. When the first words to hit the page must be the final and best words to hit the page, getting a full sentence down can be like giving birth, each agonizing push only producing more worry that what comes out will be all bloody and slimy, making terrible sounds and not doing at all what it’s supposed to.

Only recently have I allowed myself to take the risk of writing badly, on purpose, with the aim of inducing labor, or perhaps even going straight to Cesarean section and cleaning up the mess later.

Cameron pushes for the risk:

Living within these bounds, we may feel stifled, smothered, despairing, bored. But, yes, we do feel safe. And safety is a very expensive illusion. (p. 129)

It seems silly, perhaps, to be afraid of a benign rough draft. But then, refusing to experiment with a door knob to get into the house probably seems a little silly too. I wonder, as I see myself standing there on my back step, what might have happened if only I’d have taken hold of the door handle. Even if I weren’t able to turn the knob, it would have given me something to hang onto when the equilibrium shifted.


We’re exploring Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way together. This week, she suggests that “anything worth doing might even be worth doing badly.” If you didn’t have to do it perfectly, what might you be willing to try? (A painting class? Learning a language? Shooting video?)

What stood out to you in the chapters this week? Perhaps you’d share in the comments about your experience with an Artist’s Date or any of the tasks you tried.

For next week, we’ll consider parts 8 and 9, Recovering a Sense of Strength and Recovering a Sense of Compassion. Give yourself the freedom to do one or both chapters.

If you post about the book at your blog, 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 Ian Lott. Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by LW Lindquist.


Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99— Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In June we’ll be exploring the theme Trees.



  1. says

    We must be willing to do it badly — that tastes rather like vinegar, aye?

    BTW, my equilibrium shifts so much I need a pill for dizzy.

    Thanks for sharing how this book influences you, miss Lyla.


  2. L. L. Barkat says

    Perfectionism passed my DNA by, Glynn 😉

    I love what Julia says in one of the chapters… “Look for progress, not perfection.” I might even say it differently, at least for me…

    look for process.

    I do so enjoy the act of making things happen.

    Lyla, this reminds me a little of my eldest. I told her your story, because I think stories can lead us to open doors despite our fears. We can gain courage and cheer and a new vision through stories.

  3. says

    This one is fully loaded!

    Vinegar! Doorknobs! Rough Drafts! OH MY! I can’t help but feel equal parts of aversion and anticipation of these next two chapters.

    And, Glynn, what you say here is profound. Thank you.

  4. says

    Oh my gosh, you are my daughter!

    For her, it isn’t writing–other creative endeavors. Some of it is fear. Some is just arrogance. She’s slowly learning how to learn.

  5. says

    Not sure if this where to post my “O” poem of the day.

    Butterfly haiku

    when we operate
    outside comfortable confines
    butterflies emerge

  6. says

    Wait. Are you all suggesting I have vinegar in my DNA?

    You know, my refusal to try is, I think, pretty common experience for a lot of people. Taken to its logical end, it’s bone-crushing.

  7. says

    Lyla, very common! More common than it’s counterpart, except for in children and then my experience has taught me the opposite is true. When does the shift occur, and why? Good question! But you are in good company, I’d like to believe, because I’m right there with you and I’m pretty sure the room is full.
    And I think some people seem to enjoy the taste of vinegar, or at least relish the challenge of tasting it without wincing.
    Not me.

    I have been fighting with myself about what to do with a piece of glass … a very BIG piece of glass that I rescued on its way to the trash heap, leftover from a broken storm door. I swear I heard it scream “SAVE ME! PAINT ME!” So I saved it and now it sits there in my porch not knowing I am not an artist!!!! Oh my Lord what was I doing? My husband gave me such a funny look, but he obliged! Gulp. Now what? My sister, as if she read my fear from across the miles having read about my glass on facebook suggested I paint on it with acrylic just for fun and then wash it all away again… and that was appealing. As long as no one is looking. Which makes me wonder, is the risk in what we end up with, or is the risk in the feeling of the eyes that catch a fool painting glass as if she has a clue? Surely this piece of glass had me confused with my mom or my sister – or maybe I just seemed as good as the others for this kind of saving! Well, it’s safe. Will it ever be a work of art? Something tells me the morning pages will have thing or two to say about this.

  8. says

    Yikes me again! But puhleez how can I NOT mention that I have enlisted the help of a ‘coach’ of sorts in my emergent work as a writer. As I arrived at her office today the DOOR KNOB came OFF in my HAND! Hmmm. And THEN she asked me if I was the type who needed to have my work be just right…perfect…before I even do it? IDK. I thought that was weird in a JC Artist’s Way kind of way!!!!

  9. says

    “. . . what might have happened if only I’d have taken hold of the door handle. Even if I weren’t able to turn the knob, it would have given me something to hang onto when the equilibrium shifted.”

    And if it had fallen off in your hand?

    I’m thinking about what Glynn said and the possibility of the desire for perfectionism being in our DNA. It strikes me that God said each thing He made was good, and taken all together they were very good. But He never said it was all perfect. Maybe perfect is still in progress?

  10. says

    Risking It Perfectly

    Mistreatment of words outside
    time with Julia is not acceptable,

    even if x-rays of this full sentence
    do not confirm a clumsy

    rough draft. Getting to shout
    for attention and fist-pounding

    are only allowed when a writer
    has a sudden mishap involving

    a locked bathroom. That I
    struggle with! That is a confirmed

    emergency! Refusing to let
    Julia back into the house

    to try the swivel chair is not
    something on my current agenda

    either. That joke cost me a movie. I
    assured my parents of success

    but it never occurred to me
    that Julia has limits, would jettison

    our concrete door (a common obstacle
    for the writer who is not Julia),

    and opt for biting my nails bloody
    with reckless if flawless execution,

    because she would not wait until
    the next year for Western chair mastery.

    Recently I allowed myself to allow
    in anyone who is adventurous.

    My family tells me already, going straight
    to the page, writing badly on purpose,

    doing to words what could never raise
    suspicions: that would make Julia proud!

  11. says


    My first thought: Anne Lamott’s famous advice about writing shoddy* first drafts might help you? Maybe?

    My second thought: I love this post. I love the way you tie the whole thing together. I love that (like me) you’re afraid of taking risks, and yet you do. I especially love that.

    *Anne uses another word that also starts with sh and ends in y, but good girls like me are not supposed to say it. Too risky to our good-girl reputation. :)

    • says

      Oh, Kimberlee, I wondered when someone might bring that up. :) I toyed with it in the post and thought surely if I left it out, someone would get to it. So, thank you.

      Yes, her advice would help me, if I heeded it. I actually find it very helpful to write the draft, good or bad, just to get something to work with. But there’s a little fight there all the time even so.

      (And now, I’ll confess so we can all be properly mortified: I’m the one writer on the planet who has not read Bird by Bird. :)

  12. says

    Lyla – I think you take lots of risks, putting your words right out there for us. But yes, maybe this is the way you are growing. It’s risky growing right in front of people like that. This post also made me think of the phrase “kill your darlings” – not sure who exactly to attribute that to. But I heard it at a writing conference referring to those perfect little phrases we right in first drafts that end up getting painfully cut in the end because they don’t really fit. Even though they sound SO good!

    • says

      Isn’t that funny, how we think they do sound so good, and everyone else will agree? And some days, for me anyway, they really suck. 😉

      It’s all risky, I think. Just a different kind of risk. (Why, on a cold day I’d risk frost bite in favor of not having to risk learning something new.)

  13. says

    Loved this post, Lyla. And had one that started a little bit the same way, but when I saw yours – I scrapped that. Instead, you get a little whining from the 2nd chapter of LAST week’s assignment. (And yes, I did read this week’s – just didn’t absorb them in a timely fashion…) I’ll post the link here, but don’t think I’ll put it out anywhere else, like FB or Twitter. This one feels almost too personal. What is it about Julia??? Dang.

  14. says

    For someone who can’t stand to even edit her blog posts this resonates. The idea of first drafts and editing and all that WORK makes me want to lie down and take a nap. For some reason I think it possible to produce a perfect product without doing all that messy learning and working stuff.
    I’m going to try to work on that very soon.

  15. Laurie says

    Okay I’m In

    I’ll take the risk
    a shoddy first draft only
    later I can craft it into something
    worth the read – or write –
    as perspective reveals
    what may not be perfect
    yet shows the prospect of
    better stuff to come in
    the promise of the not quite
    enough of
    what’s off the cuff


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