Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Back: My Most Meaningful Read of 2013

My most meaningful read of 2013 was, without a doubt, Julia Cameron's The Right to Write. It transformed my understanding of the creative process; it has me writing Morning Pages every morning and loving it. I go on regular Artists's Dates (see, for example, my trip to the Japanese Garden in Rockford), and I go on Walks as often as possible, two of the three tools (along with Morning Pages) she prescribes as crucial to sustaining a creative life.

I've given this book to all my writer friends, and I've read it with my Advanced Memoir class at StoryStudio Chicago. It's that important, in my opinion. I went on to read pretty much all of Julia Cameron's books, including the ground-breaking The Artist's Way, and I know I will keep going back to them as I'd like to keep her voice in my life.

Rather than waxing rhapsodic, I thought I'd quote some of the lines I underlined while reading The Right to Write for the first time, because they resonated with me. I have since reread chapters, and I keep going back to do the exercises. Copying these lines is also a nice way for me to savor Julia Cameron's wisdom again, and to, for once, actually write down those lines which I always underline with the intention to go back and do exactly that. So, without further ado, here are my lines from Julia Cameron's The Right to Write:

"The brain enjoys writing. It enjoys the act of naming things, the processes of association and discernment." (p. 4)

"Moving our hands across the page, we make a handmade life." (on the necessity of writing Morning Pages by hand, p. 28)

"Writing is medicine. It is an appropriate antidote to injury. It is an appropriate companion for any difficult change. Because writing is a practice of observation as much as invention, we can become curious as much as frightened in the face of change. Writing about the change, we can help it along, lean into it, cooperate. Writing allows us to rewrite our lives." (p.31)

"We can use writing the way a filmmaker uses a lens: to pull focus, to put things into a different perspective. We can zoom into a close-up. We can pull back and put something against a larger swathe of landscape." (p. 31)

"Valuing our experience is not narcissism. [...] It is, rather, the act of paying active witness to ourselves and to our world. Such witness is an act of dignity, an act that recognizes that life is essentially a sacred transaction of which we know only the shadow, not the shape." (p. 50)

"It is a great paradox that the more personal, focused, and specific your writing becomes, the more universally it communicates." (p. 54)

"We must take the time and attention necessary to fill the well instead of drawing on it unrelentingly and without consciousness of our inner limits." (p. 66, on the rationale behind Artist's Dates)

"Not writing is a lonely business. The minute I let myself write, everything else falls into place." (p. 76)

"Not writing, I drop the thread of my consciousness. I lose track of myself. [...] Writing is like looking at an inner compass. We check in and get our bearings." (p. 77)

"Writing, we witness ourselves." (p.83)

"[Morning Pages] allow us to empty our minds and hearts of disturbing distractions and simultaneously open our minds and hearts to deeper reflections." (p. 85)

"When we write about our lives we respond to them. As we respond to them we are rendered more fluid, more centered, more agile on our own behalf." (p. 94)

"When we commit our thoughts to paper, we send a strong and clear message that what we are writing about and whom we are writing about matters." (p. 97)

"It is my experience that the mere act of putting wishes on the page begins to put them into motion." (p. 112; that's been my experience, too, hence my Writer's Workbook 2014.)

"It is impossible to be honest and boring at the same time." (p. 139)

"If I put it on the page, it is only a matter of time before I put it into practice.: (p. 146)

"A lot of what frightens people about writing is this precise idea that, once we put something on the page we are rendered vulnerable. There is truth to that, but the greater truth, for me, is that once I put something on the page I am also rendered a little less vulnerable. I have created for myself a piece of turf on which I am willing to stand." (p. 147)

"Writing is the commitment to move forward. [...] Progress, even if that progress is in baby steps, is what writing is about." (p. 150)

"Writing is the meditative act of cherishing. [...] If we witness our own lives and our own thoughts with accuracy, taking it down as we see and hear it, we find ourselves witnessing something larger than we had realized at first. We find ourselves witnessing life. We find ourselves learning." (p. 151)

"The ability to show up brings with it the ability to grow up." (p. 151 - this reminds me of Woody Allen's saying: "80% of success is showing up.")

"Each of us already has a unique voice. We do not need to 'develop' it; rather, we need to discover or, perhaps better, uncover it." (p. 154)

"Writing regularly and repetitively and from the gut yields you a writing voice that is full and beautiful regardless of which genre you apply it in." (p. 155)

"Art is the doorway to a larger, livelier, and more involved self. [...] The consistent practice of art is a bridge between the self and the world." (p. 173)

"Everything has been done already. Don't worry about being new. There is no 'new.' Worry about being human." (p. 189)

"We want official validation that we are 'really' writers. The truth is, we need to give that permission, that validation, ourselves." (p. 191)

"We do not need the courage to finish and publish a novel all in one fell swoop. All we need is the courage to do the next right thing." (p. 191)

"If I had accepted the idea that market should determine what I wrote, The Artist's Way would not exist." (p. 219 - note: She self-published The Artist's Way before a publisher picked it up and it became the bestseller it is to this day.)

"It is the act of writing that calls ideas forward, not ideas that call forward writing." (p. 223)

"I want us all to write. I want us to remember that we used to write. Before phones, we wrote each other letters. [...] Taking the time to write something down grounds us. Taking the time to write how we feel helps us to know how we feel." (p. 232)

"Writing is an active form of meditation that lets us examine our lives and see where and how we can alter them to make them more sound.
Yes, writing is an art, but 'art' is part of the verb 'to be' - as in 'Thou art truly human.' To be truly human, we all have the right to make are. We all have the right to write." (p. 233)

End note: Thank you, Julia Cameron, for your most inspiring work!


  1. Hi, Annette. Happy New Year to you! This is such an inspiring post. Julia Cameron has perhaps created more writers than anyone else, except, possibly Natalie Goldberg. I am savoring these quotes along with my morning coffee. So good to connect with you. I feel like I dropped a stitch in 2013 that I would like to pick up again in 2014. My latest post includes a summary that can catch you up on my own journey. Hope you are still enjoying the snow outdoors and the fire within. All the best for a Happy New Year!

    1. Shirley, I'm so glad you enjoyed these quotes. And, you did not drop a stitch last year, you published a book! That does keep one occupied, right?

  2. I love this and plan to read this book. My problem with handwriting anything is my handwriting, though--I hate it, and it's unduly effortful, too, maybe because I spend over a decade feverishly taking notes as a journalist. Oh well. I don't suppose she countenances journaling via typing?

    1. Richard, I hope you do read this book. I'm sure you will find it worth your while. I wasn't fond of the whole handwriting thing, either, but I've gotten used to it. In fact, I almost enjoy it now. Since my Morning Pages are pretty much the only longer thing I handwrite, it makes them even more special and more persona. It's my trace on the page, rather than the generic typed letters I'd leave behind if I wrote them on the computer.

    2. Thanks, Annette. I'll consider it!

  3. Writing is medicine. That's a quote that really speaks to me.

    1. William - it's a great quote. I'm glad that it resonated with you.

  4. What wonderful quotes! Thank you, Annette, I'm looking forward to reading this book.