The Artist Date: Resuscitating Your Writer’s Mojo

get your writing mojo back courtesy of pixabay woman-591576_640After I finished grad school, I took some time off from writing. Okay, I took a number of years off. I was discouraged that I hadn’t gotten a publishing contract right away. I couldn’t even sell a short story. So I gave up and put everything away, and concentrated on raising my kids.

I don’t know how many of you have stepped away from your passion for any length of time. But it started to grate on me. I knew I needed to start writing again, but I felt as if I needed a jump start. So one summer when the kids spent a number of weeks with their father, I committed to working through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s a twelve-week, self-guided course designed to help stuck creative-types get their mojo back. The original book was published in 1992, and it’s spawned a number of spin-off publications, from workbooks to journals to flash cards.

The journal makes sense; one of the things you’re supposed to do every day is a thing called morning pages. Basically, you put pen to paper as soon as you get out of bed and write longhand for three pages – whatever comes to mind, whether it’s related to your WIP or just griping about your life. You’re not allowed to go back and edit. You’re not even allowed to reread what you’ve written until the end of the course. What this does is allow you to get all the junk out of your head first thing in the morning, to clear out the space for creativity. I did this off and on for a few years (although the last couple of times, I resorted to the computer!), and I did find the practice helpful.

But what I want to talk about in this post is the other practice that Cameron requires throughout the course: the artist date. You’re required to set aside an hour or two each week for some sort of activity that will nurture your creativity. And there are rules: You have to plan the date, and you can’t take anybody else with you.

Both of these rules make sense, when you’re not digging in your heels against the whole idea. Think of all the people you know who have a daily appointment called “Gym” on their calendars. They do it to make sure they go, and to make sure they don’t schedule anything else during that time. The same reasoning applies here – you need to make plans so that you don’t blow it off as soon as someone gives you a better offer.

As for going alone? I don’t know about you, but I have friends who will agree to do thing A one-on-one with me, but then suddenly we’re doing thing B with three other people and I never get to do thing A at all. Also, the idea is to feed and nurture your own creativity; if others come, too, you will likely find yourself jollying them along instead of listening to what’s going on inside your own head.

And the stuff inside your own head is what’s important here. The idea of an artist date isn’t just to step away from life’s daily stresses – although it can help with that, too. The most important thing, though, is to give the wellspring of your creativity an opportunity to replenish itself with thoughts and images and emotions, so you can go back to your work with new ideas, or at least a sense of the way forward.

Even though it’s called a date, don’t think you have to spend a fortune. Taking a walk doesn’t cost anything. Poking around the dollar store for colored pencils (or something else that strikes your fancy) is unlikely to break your budget. And don’t think it Must Be Done with Serious Intent. If what you really want to do is see a cartoon and get ice cream, don’t force yourself to go to a museum instead.

Think of the artist date as one more tool in your arsenal. If you’re stuck, give it a try. You might decide it’s fun.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

15 thoughts on “The Artist Date: Resuscitating Your Writer’s Mojo”

  1. Years ago, I read the Artist’s Way when it was first published, and diligently wrote the pages for ages. I never started seriously writing my book until much later. Now I’ve published my book, and stashed away in a box I have a huge pile of my Artist’s Way production, and not sure what to do with it! Now and then I look through some of the pages and am amazed at what I’ve written—poems, reflections, and lots of interesting bits and pieces of information I had forgotten about, and some of which I would definitely not like my children to read when I fly off to other realms! So, what would you do? Hmmm…

    1. According to the last lesson or two of the program, Ester, you’re supposed to sift through the pages, make notes about how many times you talked about each “topic,” and…here’s where my memory gets hazy. I want to say that you’re supposed to evaluate the topics in some way — like, if X is constantly bugging you, and if it’s something you can fix, then you should fix it. But I’m not 100% sure about that, and I don’t have my copy of the book with me right now. Anyway, I do remember that once you’ve reviewed the pages, you’re supposed to get rid of them, and that’s what I did with mine. 🙂

      1. I still have my book and don’t remember the last instructions, but obviously never did it! After prolific, diligent writing, I attended a lecture by an author who urged me not to destroy my pages but to give them to her to use. Of course I never did that…I’m sure there’s a story somewhere in my stashed collection. Problem is, it also dredges up old, sometimes unwelcome, memories.

  2. I’ve never tried the “artist date” – unless puttering in my garden counts. Something to think about, especially now, as I’m at a loss for an idea for my next book.

  3. Right on target. I think it was John Cleese who said sometimes the best writing comes out of NOT writing. Or that a problem or a place where we’re “stuck” in creative work is best resolved by doing something else and allowing the unconscious some room and time to provide the answer.

  4. I often go for a walk around my local park and its wetland with the ducks just to let the mind wander, especially when I’m stuck. Or else I’ll head for the beach about 1.5km away. I always come up with a sentence or two, or a future path my characters can take. I enjoy my time alone to do this thinking – I’ve never thought to call it an Artist’s Date, but that’s a good idea. I don’t do the ‘Gym’, but Art time is a must.

  5. Interesting, Lynn. As for myself, I spend so much time alone at this “solitary profession” that I like to spend a few hours off with a good friend. We can discuss other subjects that have nothing to do with writing–a pleasant distraction for my overtaxed brain. I enjoy a walk by myself or a trip to the shopping mall; but for the most part, giving myself a break from writing usually involves interaction with a real person instead of a fictional one!

    1. I get what you’re saying, Linda. But these techniques aren’t really about taking a break from your writing. They’re more for creative people who are stuck in neutral and need some help getting started again. So just keep ’em in the back of your brain, in case you find yourself in that situation someday. 🙂

  6. Horses for courses. 🙂 For me it’s music. I’ll go looking for a new writing soundtrack and the process seems to cement something in my motivation. And then, of course, the music itself is like a little reward I can look forward to even when the story is at a difficult stage. 🙂

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