Category Archives: The Artist’s Way

How to Start a Quest

Step one: Recognize and Answer the Call to Adventure

My inner writer died. 

I’m not really sure when it happened, but I came to the stark realization that it did a few weeks ago. I’ve been trying to push past what some people I guess would call “writer’s block”, but it’s not a block—it’s a death. Life got busy. Priorities shifted. And I just did take time to breathe life into my inner writer. 

So I mourned her death. Struggled with a little depression…and then began the process of rebirth. 

“ None of us possess a life devoid of magic, barren of grace, divorced from power” 

Julia Cameron

Photo by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash

That’s the beautiful part about our creativity—as we grow and change we will often kill off the playful and inspired part of ourselves that wants to push limits and think outside the box…but we can get it back if we are willing to do the work. 

So, I invite you on my QUEST to resurrect a part of myself that I lost sight of. 

Step two: Get help–Assistance is always required to complete a quest

I mentioned in my last post how much I enjoyed Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way and that book was incredibly inspiring several years ago during my golden age of writing. So, naturally, I went back to Cameron and have found another installment that seems to be exactly what I need right now. I am starting my journey by reading The Vein of Gold, a book whose primary concern is healing the inner child. And let’s face it—I pretty much ignore my inner child. I’m sure she’s in there somewhere—probably sleeping. If I want my creative juices to start flowing again I’m going to have to wake her up. So I’m embarking on this quest with Cameron at the helm and one goal in mind: resurrect my inner writer and return to my golden age of creativity. I invite you to join me (through my blog posts, of course, but if you are feeling a little fuddy-duddy-ish, grab yourself a copy and take the journey with me literally!

Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash

“Something has changed within me. Something is not the same. I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game.” Defying Gravity—Stephen Schwartz—Wicked

Step three: Depart—and don’t let the valid excuses become reasons to avoid the Renaissance

“We are romancing our creative urges. Nothing kills a romance more quickly than a few broken promises” Julia Cameron

I started in several ways this week. First, I said yes spontaneously (me???) to an unexpected invitation to see Wicked with a friend—which just reminded me how much I really do love musicals…and the theater…

So I spent most of the rest of the week singing different broadway musicals at the top (and I do mean the top) of my ever-so-off-key lungs. 

And I realized that my mood journal took a huge upswing this week—so many more positives than negatives. Coincidence? Well, maybe. But it sure did feel good. Did I do a lot of writing? Not really, but I don’t expect the world to right itself overnight. And hey—I did a blog post 2 weeks in a row, so that’s improvement!

So stop fearing the worst, continue to hope for the best, and take a few leaps of faith along the way and you might be surprised by when and where the Lord meets you in your unadulterated neediness. 

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek” Joseph Campbell

Photo by Ian Chen on Unsplash

20 Goals for 2020

Sure, it may be cheesy.

It may be cliche.

BUT who can resist a good numbers game as we kick off a new decade?

And so, here I am, finally back into the writing groove and ready to set some goals, because next to godliness and cleanliness–goal-setting should always be a top priority.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Goal 1: Write More

I didn’t list these in any particular order, but I wanted to start with writing, because, let’s face it–that is what this blog is all about. I’ve always loved writing, but when I first started this journey, one of the main things I learned is that writers don’t just write when it is convenient, but they make it a priority. I have not been making it much of a priority lately–there are other things going on and I just kind of push the writing off to the side. I realized recently what a terrible idea that is, because writing is how I process and release. The other day I couldn’t figure out why the past couple of years have felt like such a backslide in personal growth–then it struck me: duh! You aren’t doing what you love, what comes as naturally as breathing, what helps you make sense of the world and express the emotions that you often find so overwhelming that you shut down, you turtle into something nearly unrecognizable as you shut people out. So I need to stop making excuses and make a concentrated effort to write more.

I know, that’s vague, so the next few goals are really kind of subgoals for this one.

Goal 2 (or 1a): Do Your Morning Pages

A few years ago, I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron with a group of writer friends. It really opened up some passionate ideas and projects, so I’m going to rewind and go through this again (I did some posts about it on here too #TheArtist’sWay). I cram a lot into my mornings as it is, but this was always a successful way to start the day–not exactly journaling, but just getting thoughts and ideas on paper. I’ve never been a good journaler, but filling up notebooks with ideas was a useful way to start my mornings back in my writing prime, so I want to get back to that.

Goal 3 (or 1b): Set aside a least 15 minutes per day for writing

Sometimes I complain that I don’t have time for anything, and then I realize I spent time on an electronic device, or staring at the TV that I could have easily spent on something more productive; again that is cliche. I don’t love how much screen time I use–my excuse has always been that I am so tired of thinking by the end of the day I need something mindless to relax. On some level, that’s still true. On another, it is just an excuse for laziness. And that’s not okay. Especially when I have such big goals that have yet to be accomplished.

Goal 4 (or 1c): Finish What You Started

At the moment I have 3 books completely written, but I haven’t taken the time to gut and edit them–or I’ve been putting it off–or I’ve been busy and overwhelmed with other things in life. But now is the time to finish what I have started and stop with all the meh.

Goal 5 (or 1d): Find your Niche

I moved to SC a few years ago and it was absolutely the right move, but I miss the writing community I had when I lived in NC. I’ve tried a couple of different things here, but I haven’t been able to find the right fit yet. So, I’m going to make a concentrated effort to find that community again.

Goal 6 (or 1e): Don’t abandon the blog

Blogging is not my passion, but I think the public sharing of my writing is kind of an important step that I took a few years ago, so I want to keep maintaining it. Sometimes, as you know, I will go months without posting. Not on purpose, but just because, you know, life. Putting it on the priority list, will help me ensure it doesn’t fall by the wayside. I hope.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Goal 7: Read More

I read a lot. Trust me, I do. But this can always be a goal for me, because even when I read a lot, I can always make time to read more–or maybe what I really mean is to read more diverse things. I read a lot of fiction. I need to balance that with a healthy dose of non fiction and books I might not have chosen for myself, but that open up something new for me to learn.

Goal 8 (or 7a): Read at least 75 books (Goodreads)

Last year the goal was 60–so I’m upping the ante…

Goal 9 (or 7b): Of the 75 books at least 25 will be non fiction

That sounds pretty silly, but that’s saying a lot for me, so it’s attainable, but challenging.

Goal 10 (or 7c): Write reviews for at lest 50% of the books I read

Sometimes, I’m re-reading so the 50% accounts for that, and also for the times I read series and have pretty much the same thing to say for each of the books and don’t want to be redundant.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Goal 11: Monitor Emotional Health

I bought a mood journal, and it was a good move. It’s a planner, but it always asks great reflective questions at the end of the week that help me focus on the good and process the bad. I know, at 34 you’d think I’d have this all figured out, but I’m a work in progress. So yeah.

Goal 12: Be Ready for God to Move

God is mighty and powerful. Sometimes though I underestimate just how powerful He is. That is dangerous. So, for my 2020 word, I chose (with a little prompting from the Holy Spirit) a Hebrew word: Hinneni. This roughly translates to Here I am or I am Ready, but the connotations take it further and deeper–it requires an enriching trust, a bond between father and child. This is what I want to build this year on.

Goal 13 (or 9a): Seek after God by spending more time in His Word

I think the Bible is beautiful. In addition to a weekly Bible study and morning quiet times, I want to seek to organize what I learn in new ways, which interestingly enough helps with goals 1 and 7 and even 8.

Goal 14 (or 9b): Don’t just say you are praying–spend more time in focused prayer.

One thing I know about relationships is they don’t grow unless you spend time conversing–and that requires a sacrifice. Those times when I feel like I need to escape into mindlessness are a great place to start.

Goal 15 (or 9c): Let go of the doubt, Embrace the promises

I have a hard time, sometimes, seeing past the tangible and trusting in the intangible. Especially if it isn’t the plan I expected or wanted. Those doubts can choke the life out of me. I need to make a concentrated effort everyday to choose what I will serve: doubt or truth.

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Goal 16: Drink more water

I know, health goals are cheesy. And honestly, I make this a goal most weeks–sometimes I stick to it; other times I don’t. But writing it down, that’s what helps make it more of a probability rather than an afterthought.

Goal 17: Move more

I’m constantly moving from about 8am to 3pm. After that I have no desire to move. That’s not very healthy, so I’m adding it to the goal. Yes, I know this is vague, but saying “I’ll exercise at least 30 minutes a day” is pretty unrealistic for me (I’m just being honest), so I’ll keep it vague and see where it goes–then if needed, the goal will be adjusted.

Goal 18: Eat more vegetables

Fruits are easy. Vegetables are hard. Enough said.

Goal 19: Take an “artist date” at least 6 times

This goes back to the book, The Artist’s Way. I used to do these all the time and had such fun, so I’m going to add those back to my goal list.

Goal 20: Seek out real connections, even when (or maybe especially when) it feels uncomfortable.

Social events make me anxious. Partly because I struggle so much with feeling unwanted–making small talk is so hard for me, and that is half of what a social event is all about. After I attempt it, and kind of fail, I feel an irrational sense of contempt from others, even though I know it is really just that annoying voice in my head that wishes I didn’t have any failings–but this is a big one. So the goal, even when I’m uncomfortable or worried about feeling unwanted or ‘weird’ or overlooked or whatever–I will still strive for those connections.

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

Your turn! What are some of your goals? List them in the comments! I love to learn from you

The Artist Way Week 9-10: Take fear out of the driver’s seat, Ashley.

There is little in life more powerful than fear. It makes us sick. It cripples us. It steals years from viable living. We give fear power, fueling it when we should be putting our energy and intentionality into our creative pursuits. Can you imagine how much more productive we would be if we eliminated our fears and concentrated more on what we could do rather than what we might not be able to do?

Julia Cameron explains it best in her book The Artist Way with this epiphany: “Life expands or shrinks in proportion to one’s courage.”

But you can’t just wish away fear. You have to be intentional and vigilant about fear—how you handle it and, for that matter, how you mishandle it.

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear […emphasis added].

This is not a passive act.

Not much in life is passive actually, and the sooner we learn this lesson the happier, more creative and fulfilled we will be.

One thing I’ve been learning (failing and then intentionally recovering from) to do is to be more intentional about praying (action) and asking for God’s help in making changes in my life (active) especially when I am fearful. And God knows I’ve had my share of fear—but He also knows that each time I have intentionally made a positive change I release something inside that has been trapped and eating away at my soul—like releasing a toxin.

The other day I decided to wallow in self-pity on my couch. Life was not going according to my plan that day and I was exhausted. I felt my options were limited and I was stuck—trapped in this never ending cycle of insanity. In short, I was afraid. I stayed in this emotional state for about 10 minutes—a world class pity party until I realized all this passivity was doing was making me feel worse and not better. It wasn’t about releasing emotion, it was about regressing into a childish tantrum.

Thankfully after a prayer for strength, I picked myself off the couch and did something about it. Once I took that active step, I felt 10,000 times better and it actually yielded an unexpected return—synchronicity at its finest.

Actions—activity—doing—that’s how you cast something out, not by passively allowing your fear to take control of you. You take control. And that’s why action is so cathartic and healing. Doing something literally puts you into a self-empowering mode, on a path where fear is no longer in the driver’s seat—you are, or better yet, God is. And who doesn’t want control like that?

The Artist’s Way Week 8: Created to be Creators, Ashley

Not that long ago, I was on a date. Inevitably we were talking about our professions and I had to confess: I am an English teacher.

Whenever I tell someone my profession I can expect one of two responses: “Wow” accompanied with wild-eyed shock, bewilderment and confusion. Stuttering, and maybe a bit of awe.

Or something that resembles disgust, an evoked memory of sorts surfacing and as I watched this man’s face fall, almost contorting, I was sure a second date wasn’t in our future.

It wasn’t long before I found out why: “My senior English teacher,” he said, bitterness dripping from his tongue to the now cold chicken, half-eaten parmesan on his plate. “She crushed me. I spent hours on a paper and when she gave it back to me it bled with all the red, judgmental ink. An F, for all that hard work.”

He poked at the chicken. I wondered whether or not you could taste the tangible bitter drippings.

I don’t remember how I responded, I don’t suppose it really mattered. I wasn’t the English teacher who crushed his creative soul, but I might as well have been. I know I have done the same. Not on purpose, of course, but by the very nature of my job—I deconstruct, I judge, I take apart, ripping work to the very seams. It’s what I’m paid to do. I quantify creativity that is never really meant to be quantified and for students who actually work hard to produce that piece, it can be debilitating to their creative egos.

I never get to appreciate my student work for what it is—a beautiful process of self-discovery.

Granted, this process is supposed to help them improve on their process of self-discovery, but as an academic I have to be careful. There is a fine line between butcher and doctor, destroyer and healer. Like a tightrope walker, one step in the wrong direction and I will plummet taking delicate psyches with me.

Through the process of reading The Artist’s Way I am beginning to understand not only more about myself, but the importance of what I do as a teacher—not only of academics but of creative aspirations. Not all of my students are writers, readers, or academics. But all of my students have creative souls, in some way shape or form, because they are all humans and it is a basic human need, maybe even a right, to create.

If we are created in God’s image, then we are created to be creators.

The Artist’s Way Week 7: The Paradox of Creativity and Ashley’s Writing Brain

Sometimes we hold so tight to the control we think we need that we don’t realize the act of releasing control puts us more in control than when we were holding on. It’s a paradox. One that might make your head spin, but starts to answer the question of how to access more or at least a different kind of authenticity.

When my nieces play, they do a great job of sharing…most of the time. But, they are human and what’s more, they are children and so occasionally conflict does arise. This past year, they all dressed as different Frozen characters for Halloween (I know, you’re downright shocked), which was all well and good until Maggie, the youngest, got an Elsa costume for her birthday. Suddenly Sadie and Maggie could both be Elsa at the same time, while Bailey was stuck being Anna.

Anyone who has ever been around small children, can predict the next scene.

We tried reason: “But Bailey, you love Anna. You’ll be the only Anna. Don’t you want to be Anna.”

No. She wanted to be Elsa too.

We tried logic: “If you wear the Cinderella dress, you’ll look like Elsa. It’s blue too.”

No. It has a picture of Cinderella. Obviously one cannot be Elsa without a cape and with Cinderella tattooed on the front of your dress.

Clearly, she was left out. She could not be Elsa.

The Frozen phenomenon still strikes me as odd. Why do all the girls want to be Elsa? This is obviously a special case, but all over the world little girls are imitating this new Disney Princess turned Queen who doesn’t “get the guy”, who is not in the film as much as Anna, and doesn’t have as many musical numbers and yet, she steals the show almost every time. What is it about Elsa?

As I was reading though this chapter, It struck me in a new way: Elsa is the creator. Sure, she has magic, but even more she is an artists. And like all artists, she lives in a paradox—the more she tries to control something, the less control she has and when she let’s go—that’s when she becomes her true self…a conduit for creativity, change, power, and, of course, love. That kind of repression is something we can all relate to, especially as artists.

Regardless of whether or not you have or have had Frozen fever, or if you’ve even seen the movie, you can still relate to this idea of letting go and becoming your own true artist self. I dislike the idea of letting go—especially of control. It makes me uncomfortable, which is probably why it is most likely to work.

I can reflect on my life, and I know that the most fun I’ve had is when I let go of the fear, the worry, the regret…all of it and embraced the unknown and all the possibilities it could bring: surfing in the Pacific ocean, traveling around Europe, taking a train to Connecticut, singing Karaoke in front of a room full of strangers. I look back on these and wonder why I don’t do more of these things. The power in letting go brings us closer to who we really are, inside and out.

I became a better writer when I stopped trying to control the story. Maybe I’ll be a better person when I stop trying to control the world; maybe that’s really where the authenticity comes from.

My sister and I took both of Bailey’s complaints about the Cinderella dress to heart in solving the problem. Rigging a towel as a cape, my sister was able to solve one problem while I performed surgery on the dress to remove the Cinderella stamp. The blue dress was now ready, and donned in her costume, Baily sailed into the family room, singing at the top of her lungs right along with her two sisters: “Let it go…Let it go…can’t hold it back anymore!”

And you’re welcome…that’ll be stuck in your head now.