An Excerpt From
The Artist's Way for Parents
Twenty years ago, I published a book called The Artist’s Way. Its premise, that creativity is a spiritual matter and that we are all creative, struck a chord with the reading audience. Nearly four million people bought The Artist’s Way and worked with its toolkit. When I would go out to teach, people would approach me with gifts.
“I used your tools and this is what I made,” they would say, handing me a book, a CD, or a DVD. But with the gifts often came a request: “I’m a parent. Could you write a book about creativity in children?”
“No,” I always laughed. “If you want your children to be creative, practice creativity yourself. Children learn from what we do.” I would face down the disappointment in my petitioners. I truly believed that if they worked their Artist’s Way program, they would come upon imaginative and innovative ways to parent.
But perhaps my answer was too thin. Year after year, request after request, I resisted because I thought that children were already creative, and that their parents could always use the basic Artist’s Way text to free themselves creatively and set an example for their children. But what of the parents who were not already familiar with The Artist’s Way? The early years of parenting were an un-likely time for busy parents to launch into an intensive creative recovery of their own. What assumptions was I making about creative parenting based on my own immersion in a creative life? What assumptions was I making based on my own parents’ parenting—which had been colorful and encouraging? Perhaps there were lessons that could—and should—be taught.
For two decades, people have asked me to write this book.
And so, why now? As my own daughter embarks upon her new journey as a wife and mother, I find myself rethinking my position, wanting to give my daughter a practical toolkit that she can use in her mothering. I want to pass on the tools I myself used as well as the tools my own very creative mother employed.
I come from a family of seven children. Every single one of us makes our living by our wits. My older sister, Connie, is a writer, my brother Jaimie is a musician, my sister Libby is a painter, my brother Christopher is a musician, and my sister Lorrie is another writer, as is my youngest sister, Pegi.
As for my mother, she was a poet who loved mothering. She kept a large bulletin board where she posted our latest artwork. Each holiday was marked by thematically related art projects. We made ghosts and goblins for Halloween, we made snowflakes for Christmas, we made Valentine’s Day cards, and we made Easter eggs. All of us worked on our projects at the big oak dining room table. Boys and girls alike tried their hand at crafts. Our mother displayed our efforts along the wall of our spiral staircase. She taught us the art of making snowflake cutouts, and our flakes were posted on every available window.
Between holidays, our mother still made sure we had art sup-plies. I remember drawing a rearing palomino horse, which my father framed and hung in the family room. There was no sense of competition among the siblings. We were encouraged to delight in one another’s gifts. In this regard, our parents set a good example, always thrilled by what we had wrought.
Somehow, my parents never conveyed to us the message of our culture: that it was difficult to make money as an artist, or that being an artist wasn’t a “real” job. Exercising our creativity was always regarded as a worthwhile endeavor. When we told them of our dreams, they never said, “Oh, sweetheart, don’t you think you need something to fall back on?” Instead, they supported our belief that we could do—and even make a living doing—what we loved.
Looking back, I see my parents as unusual, even radical, in their stubborn support of our creativity. Regardless of cultural norms, they unapologetically placed deep value on creating a culture of healthy creativity in the home. Is it a coincidence—or any wonder—that we all grew up to make our living using our creative gifts? Did this upbringing set the stage for the concepts I would articulate and develop in The Artist’s Way and in thirty more books beyond it?
I’m not a parenting expert. I’m a creativity expert. I am a parent, however, and I used creativity tools in mothering my own child. As she grew up, she reflected back to me my belief that there are few things more inherent—or precious—in children than their creativity. Creativity is a spiritual undertaking. Parenting is also a spiritual undertaking. We are entrusted with the care of our children’s souls as well as their bodies. There are—and will always be—myriad books on the science of child development. The Artist’s Way for Parents is not one of them. It is a spiritual tool-kit, a support, a guide.
In a culture of “more,” the “more” applies to parenting as well. We are perfectionists and we want our children to be perfect. We obsess about the outcome of our actions as we hover above our children, trying to provide every opportunity, every bit of knowledge and exposure. We worry about our toddler’s college education. We think, as parents, that we must be very serious. But we are serious enough. It is a healthy dose of joy that our children require. Let us loosen our grip on the obsession with perfection, with the “mastery” of parenting, and allow ourselves to explore and delight in the mystery instead.
And so, a toolkit: For children, healthy guidance and encouragement of their creative gifts. For parents, companionship, structure, support. Every child—and every parent—is creative. For some of us, it may be easier to see our children’s creativity than our own. As we take in their openness and sense of possibility, we may find that they remind us of our own potential, as well. Exercising our creativity is an act of faith, which connects us to a higher power. When we are willing to explore our creative gifts, we allow both ourselves and our children to connect to something greater—and to each other.
I will use the word “God” in this book. Please do not let semantics stop you from experimenting with the concepts within. No matter what you call it—the source, the force, the universe, the Tao—there is a benevolent Something greater than ourselves to which we can connect. We can find a spiritual path regardless of our religious upbringing, which, for many of us, may have lapsed. Fostering our children’s creativity, we are fostering our children’s spirituality as well. Parents and children have independent and direct relationships to a higher power, and so both al-ways have an unlimited supply of spiritual support available to them. This book will help parents and children alike tap into that source.
Every child has different needs at different times. And yet the same spiritual tools provide answers over and over. This source-book focuses on universal concepts that parents can return to again and again as their children evolve. It functions as a gentle reminder that we are all spiritual beings with creativity stamped into our DNA. The smallest bit of spiritual encouragement yields large results. Divided into twelve chapters, each with a spiritual theme and accompanying exercises, The Artist’s Way for Parents is aimed at parents with children newborn through age twelve. It is never too early—or too late—to nurture children’s creativity. Working with this book, parents replenish their own creative stores as well as nurture those of their children, giving them valu-able tools for the journey toward adulthood.
Parenting is a great adventure. The early years of parenting can be one of the most inspiring chapters of your life, opening you to love and growth you may not have yet experienced. Using these years to tap into your own creativity as well as your child’s, you will love and grow together. Awakening your child’s sense of curiosity and wonder helps you reawaken your own. Reawakening your own sense of curiosity and wonder helps you awaken your child’s. Exercising creativity, alone and together, strengthens the bond between parent and child. Funded by optimism, your child is guided to an expansive and adventurous life.
THE THREE BASIC TOOLS
The Artist’s Way for Parents utilizes three basic tools: Morning Pages, Creative Expeditions, and Highlights. These tools, when used in conjunction with one another, will help you to develop a sense of guidance, energy, and clarity as you explore the many healthy creative impulses that will arise for you and for your children. Used consistently, these tools will give you a spiritual foundation and an ongoing sense of structure and safety.
1. Morning Pages—three pages of longhand daily writing that the parent does alone
The bedrock tool of a creative recovery—or discovery—is some-thing I call Morning Pages. Done first thing, they siphon off negativity as they provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize, and synchronize the day at hand. Sometimes parents feel that they have lost their right to privacy, but this does not have to be the case. Morning Pages are for your eyes only. They are a safe place to vent, muse, strategize, and dream. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages. Just write longhand—yes, longhand—for three pages, about anything, and then stop. Do not share your Morning Pages with anyone. I have had students shred, burn, hide, or lock up their Morning Pages. I myself have often joked that in my will, it should state, “First, cremate the Morning Pages. Then take care of the body.” Morning Pages are a portable, private support kit for the parent. Parenting is an emotional experience, and you are al-lowed to have all of the feelings you are experiencing. Morning Pages are a safe place for you to process these feelings, ultimately making you able to be more present in your day—and with your child.
“But Julia!” my students sometimes exclaim. “I don’t have time to get up and do Morning Pages before my child wakes up.” I tell them to do as many Pages as they can before their child wakes, and then to go about their family duties, finishing the Pages as they can. In a perfect world, we would all have time to get Morning Pages done in their entirety. But it is better to get them done piecemeal than not at all. What is important here is that you have a place to safely process turbulent emotions. Virginia Woolf said that a writer needed “a room of her own,” by which I take it that she meant all writers need privacy and solitude. I would extend this advice to include everybody, not just writers, and most especially parents. Viewed this way, the Morning Pages can be seen as a private, portable “room of your own.” At first, it may be tempting to share them, but within weeks of having started the process, the importance of their privacy will be revealed.
I invented Morning Pages when my daughter was a toddler and I was feeling overwhelmed by her demands for my attention. I began getting up earlier than my daughter and taking myself quickly to the page. I was having a feeling common to many new mothers: I don’t know who I am anymore. The Pages helped me make contact with myself.
Morning Pages are not intended to be “art.” Rather, they are “artless.” The simple act of moving the hand across the page puts us into contact with our authentic self. It is important that they are written longhand. Most of us are able to go faster by computer. But faster is not better. In this case, velocity is the enemy.
Picture yourself driving a car, speeding along at seventy-five miles an hour. “Oops! Was that my exit? Was that a gas station or a convenience store?” This is what it is like to write Morning Pages on the computer.
Now picture yourself driving more temperately, at fifty-five: “Here comes a gas station,” and “It’s my exit—there’s a convenience store, too.” In other words, Morning Pages allow you to place yourself precisely in the landscape of your life.
I often think of Morning Pages as a form of meditation uniquely suited to hyperactive Westerners. It is very difficult for most of us to sit for twenty minutes and do nothing. Pages allow you to sit and do something. With Pages we are saying, “This is what I like, this is what I don’t like. . . . This is what I want more of, this is what I want less of.” It is as if we are sending a telegram to the Universe.
“But Julia! I’m already shy on sleep,” I can hear you protesting. I need to tell you that I sympathize, and promise you that the Morning Pages will bring you time and energy.
When I began writing Morning Pages, I was a single mother. Domenica and I were living in Taos, New Mexico, in an adobe house at the end of a winding dirt road. The house had windows looking north to Taos Mountain. I would get up early and take myself to a long pine table where I faced north. I don’t know where the idea came from for me to write three pages daily, but that is what I did, rising as the sun cleared the mountains. At first my Pages were grumpy and griping. I was asking them what direction I should take next. At the time, I was a Hollywood screen-writer, and my scripts kept being bought but not made. I was discouraged. And then, one morning as I was finishing my Morning Pages, a character strolled into my consciousness along with the idea, “You could write a novel, not a movie.” And so I did. Every day I would write my Morning Pages and then turn my hand to writing a novel. The Pages had seen my creative dilemma and offered me a solution. As time went on, I found my Pages offering me solutions for problems of many stripes. Finishing my novel, my Pages made it clear to me that I didn’t really want to live down a dirt road in an adobe house. Maybe someday, just not now. Instead, the Pages suggested I should go back to New York. When I did that, I received the marching orders that told me I was to teach.
I remember it all so clearly: I was walking in Greenwich Village, and I was praying for another writing idea. What I heard clearly was the directive, “Teach.” I was horrified. I didn’t want to teach. I thought that teaching would squelch my own inner artist. Heading home from my walk, I called a girlfriend.
“Regina,” I said. “I’ve been called to teach.”
“Ahh,” said Regina. “I’ll call you right back.”
True to her word, she phoned me fifteen minutes later.
“Congratulations,” she said. “You’re now on the faculty of the New York Feminist Art Institute, and your first class gathers on Thursday.”
And so it was that I started teaching, assigning my students three pages of morning writing and discovering, for them as for me, that the Pages led to breakthroughs.
I noticed that this phenomenon seemed particularly true for parents. Although they protested that they “couldn’t” do them, they in fact did do them, and excitedly reported insights and ideas that came tumbling onto the page. The loneliness of parenting made the Pages an all-the-more-valuable companion. At last, someone to talk to.
I urge you to try Morning Pages, and discover the results for yourself.
2. Creative Expedition—a once-weekly dual adventure that the parent and child plan, look forward to, and take together
A Creative Expedition doesn’t need to be large, but it does need to be festive. The point is to refill our spiritual coffers. When looking for ideas for Creative Expeditions, think whimsy, frivolity, fun. Depending on the age of your children, they may be actively involved in choosing the destination.
Natasha, a stay-at-home mom, started taking Creative Expeditions when her child was still an infant. “I knew I needed to get out of the house. The fresh air was good for me and for my daughter. I would put her in her carrier and venture out to a place that I would enjoy. Sometimes it was a museum, sometimes it was a shoe store. I could tell that even though my child was too young to experience the places herself, she was alert and taking in the images. I could tell the change of scenery interested her and made her happy, as it did me. As my daughter got older, she helped me choose the adventures. I took her to zoos and toy stores, aquariums and concerts. Even though I might have done this anyway, the act of making a point of it, planning the outing and looking forward to it, made all the difference. It forced me to come up with a new adventure every week. It’s been one of the favorite things my daughter and I do together.”
For parents of older or multiple children, the act of organizing Creative Expeditions can bring a sense of magic into the home. Minette, a mother of four, rotates which son gets to choose the adventure of the week.
“My oldest, Cormic, is twelve and loves planning the Creative Expedition,” Minette says. “He’s very protective of his three younger brothers, and he takes pride in choosing something that everyone will enjoy. I feel like he’s getting some good experience with parenting, really. Having multiple children is a balancing act. But there are adventures that everyone can participate in. It is always a bonding experience for our family. The older my kids get, the more responsibility they take—and the more interested they are in taking responsibility in the first place.”
For parent and child, the commitment to planned “fun” can be a highlight of the week—and one of the most important parts of developing consistency and wonder in the lives of our children. It is important that Creative Expeditions do not evolve into shopping trips. A visit to the zoo or an aquarium is preferable to visiting a toy store.
3. Highlights—a daily bedtime ritual in which the parent and child each share their favorite moment from the day
Many mothers and fathers reach day’s end tired—and even crabby. Tucking their child into bed, they are ready for the day to be over. But bedtime can be a time of restorative ritual. The third tool, Highlights, helps to end the day on a positive note. “Here was my very favorite part of the day,” the parent says. “It was when we went to the dog park and watched the dogs play. What was your favorite part of the day?”
“I liked swinging,” their child may reply, or even, “Me too,” also picking the dog park.
“Yes. It was fun to push you on the swing,” or “Yes—I thought you were enjoying those puppies.” The habit of looking for the positive is something that makes each day’s march into a game.
Domenica and I practiced this nightly ritual. Now, living in separate cities, we still maintain the routine of a daily check-in. Our conversations need not be long for us to connect and feel up to date with each other’s lives as we quickly review the most memorable parts of our day.
A habit of reviewing the day’s highlights is a habit of forging happy memories.