The Creative Life: True Tales of Inspiration

Image of The Creative Life: True Tales of Inspiration
Release Date: 
October 24, 2012
Reviewed by: 

The book jacket description of The Creative Life as a “passionate guide” might suggest the writing will be urgent or lustful or vehement. Actually, one of the strengths of this book of everyday tales is the ease and transparency of the prose, the unassuming way Cameron uses words to open a door on her daily life and invite readers to peer in.

Those familiar with Julia Cameron know she is a multi-talented artist and bestselling author who is respected for her simple and structured approach to helping artists across disciplines discover and nurture their creativity. The passion in The Creative Life seems rooted in Cameron’s unwavering belief that each individual is innately creative, and in her broadminded and inclusive definitions of creativity, art, and artist.

Those who’ve read Cameron’s other works such as her popular and practical creativity guide, The Artist’s Way, will recognize the tools and central insights in The Creative Life. Here, rather than presenting the techniques step-by-step as she does in The Artist’s Way, she shares glimpses into her own life, showing how she practices what she teaches. Usually she refers to the tools by name without explaining them fully or with just enough description to whet curiosity. For readers unfamiliar with Cameron’s spiritual approach to life and creativity, this lack of basics may be a disadvantage

Cameron is extensively published in many genres, yet her periodic self-doubts and feelings of emptiness, isolation, and inability to produce art will resonate with writers and other artists. She confesses that Nigel, her “Inner Censor” scoffs at everything she writes, claiming she is “officially a non-artist.” When Nigel and insecurities surface, she picks up the phone to call a fellow artist and ally, showing readers how she works her tools in her own life.

Cameron is equally open about her spiritual life and sobriety. She relates twelve-step wisdom and slogans such as “write ninety songs in ninety days” and “But for the grace of God, easy does it and one day at a time.” Readers who don’t know the twelve-step tenets or who are skeptical about organized religion may find these spiritual suggestions preachy

The format of these tales is that of a well-written diary as Cameron shares her journey from one day to the next. While not plot driven, she writes about life’s events and diversions that at times interlock to push us forward and other times hold us back and inhibit creativity. The passage of time is frequently marked by observations of the weather and the progress of several creative projects, some her own, others collaborations with or between friends.

The simple clarity of the writing allows the reader to tag along on her daily routines—visits with her daughter, Domenica; her weekly piano lessons; collaborating with her roommate and colleague, Emma, an “official/real musician;” and walking their dogs Charlotte and Tiger Lily. She attends plays, musicals, readings, and evenings of song, and dines regularly with directors, playwrights, actors, musicians, and artists of all ilks— some whom she names and some who remain nameless. The lesson as she recounts these meals and meetings is not how frequently she hobnobs with artists but how she moves through her life exposing herself regularly to creativity and being open always to art’s beauty in all its many forms.

Early in the first chapter, Cameron proclaims, “I want to throw the brakes on. The price of success strikes me as too high to pay. I want time to walk, not run. I’d go as far as to say I want time to dawdle. . . . I want to be in the now.”

At times, the specific details she shares seem to slow the pace of the tales, whether it’s noticing the aroma of savory gravy or sweet gingerbread, describing her own and her dining partner’s salads, or commenting on the still statuesque figure and radiant smile of an aging friend. Viewed through Cameron’s promise to herself to find “time to dawdle,” these details build into the book’s essence and central lesson.

In the end, it’s in the specificity of these descriptions that Cameron keeps her promise to herself and her readers to slow down enough to notice everyday beauty. It’s the clarity and everydayness of these details that reflect the tales’ passion and allows them to shine.