Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Way of the Artist

I'm a total books-on-writing junkie.  I own a million of them.  (Some favorites: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Escaping into the Open by Elizabeth Berg, On Writing by Stephen King, The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogel, and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.)  When I find myself in that section of a bookstore, I'm like an addict jonesing for a fix.  There used to be a bookstore in North Hollywood called Many Paths that was entirely devoted to these kinds of books.  That store was like my dealer.

Many, many years ago, I found myself in that section of a bookstore.  And there, on the shelf, was the most beautiful book on writing I had ever seen.  Its red and gold cover called to me.  Its pages were thick and heavy and substantial.  I had to have it.

It was The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron.

When I got home with my treasure, I slid it out of the bag and flipped it open.  It was divided into twelve "weeks," ie, chapters.  Each week had several homework assignments.  "Oh," I thought, "this book is going to make me work.  I don't have time for this."  And I put the beautiful book away on a shelf.

A few years later, I pulled the book off the shelf and read the introduction.  Cameron talked about "the morning pages" - three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing that you do every morning when you wake up.  The morning pages are an essential part of The Artist's Way.  I thought I'd try out the morning pages before committing to the full 12-week program.  After a couple of weeks, I got busy or lazy or I overslept, and the book went back on the shelf.

A few years after that, I picked it up again.  This time I got about two weeks into the program before "something" came up - and I stuck the book back on the shelf again.

Then in 2006 my life changed.  I had been living in NYC for ten years, temping full-time while trying to be an actor and a writer.  I say "trying to be" because I never felt I owned the right to just call myself an actor or a writer, even though in my heart of hearts, that's what I was.  I wasn't a temp.  I was an artist.  But I felt like a phony identifying myself as that, because I didn't make my living at it.

So I shoved my artist-self into a corner and told myself I was just a temp.  And I was miserable. 

But then in the summer of 2006, I was cast in a summer-stock production of Twelfth Night.  So I hauled myself up to Connecticut, and became a full-time actor for the summer.  I taught kids about Shakespeare during the day, and I rehearsed at night.  I lived and breathed Shakespeare.  My artist-self came out of the corner and into the light.  And I realized I needed to be an artist all the time.

Towards the end of the summer, a few other actors in the company started working through The Artist's Way.  Inspired by them, I pulled the book off the shelf.  This time, I was ready for it.  I was ready to do the morning pages.  I was ready to do the homework every week.  I was ready to dig deep inside myself and answer some of the tough questions that Cameron poses in the book.  I was ready for the transformation I underwent, from a sad shadow-artist hiding out in a corner to a stronger, vibrant artist who no longer felt like a phony.

Yes, I still had to temp to make money.  But just because I was sitting at a desk answering phones didn't mean I wasn't an artist.  If you claim yourself as an artist, then that is what you are - no matter how you make your living.   

So all those years this beautiful book spent sitting on my shelf, it was just waiting.  Waiting for me to be ready, to be open enough to let it in, and to need the change it brought to my life.  Maybe that's why I own so many writing books.  They've all come to me at different times in my life, and at exactly the moment when I needed them.  And, like the closest of friends, they are always there for me, waiting on the shelf, for whenever I will need them again.

Nicole Maggi lives in Los Angeles, CA with her amazingly supportive husband and beautiful daughter Emilia.  She graduated from Emerson College with a BFA, and worked as an actress for many years in New York before the lure of sunshine and avocados enticed her to the West Coast.  Though she still acts, her focus now is on her writing.  In her very limited spare time, Nicole enjoys yoga, hiking, baking...and eating what she bakes!  Her novel SHIFT will be out in early 2013 from HarperTeen.  Follow her on Twitter so she can reach her goal of 1000 followers by her book's release!


  1. Great post, Nicole. It's really interesting to read about your journey towards being able to call yourself an artist (something I can identify with, as I have only recently felt as if I can call myself a writer). THE ARTIST'S WAY sounds fascinating, and how wonderful that it has helped you so much.

  2. A friend gave me a copy of THE ARTIST'S WAY back in 2000 or 2001 and I diligently worked my way through the whole book -- until the last week! I was scared to finish it, so I never did. (Healthy!) Since then I've moved twice and always brought the book with me. One day I'll start fresh and go through it again. Thanks for the inspiring post about your own transformation.

  3. Great post! The Artist's Way is a book that should be read over and over!

  4. This is inspiring me to pull THE ARTIST'S DAY off my bookshelf again! I worked through parts of it and loved it, but it always ends up back on the shelf for whatever reason. Maybe I'll put it out right now :)

  5. I see echoes of myself in your words -- and believe it or not, THE ARTIST'S WAY might be the only writing book I haven't yet read. I think I was even afraid to dive in there for a while. It's clearly high time...

    Thanks for the inspirational post.