Zibby is joined by literary icon and bestselling author of The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron to talk about her latest guide for artists, Seeking Wisdom. The two talk about which experiences inspired Julia to write a book about asking for guidance, her advice on how to avoid distractions while writing, and what her close friends do to help keep her grounded. Julia also shares how she applies the tools offered in her books in her own creative life and what she is working on next.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Julia. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Seeking Wisdom: A Spiritual Path to Creative Connection, A Six-Week Artist’s Way Program. Thank you for coming on.

Julia Cameron: You’re very welcome.

Zibby: It is a huge honor to talk to you, the morning pages guru, if you will, after all the effects you’ve had on the writer community, author community with your advice and your guidance and all of that. How does it feel to now be coming out with yet a new book and a new set of prescriptions for how to access our best writing selves?

Julia: I felt like it was a good thing to write about prayer. It was an intimidating thing to write about prayer. I asked for guidance about what to write next. I was told prayer. I said, oh, my god, no. I’m not holy enough. That should be for somebody much more spiritual. The guidance persisted and said, you will write about prayer. It’s a worthy topic. I thought, well, if I’m going to try to write about prayer, I don’t want to appear to be talking down to people from some pedestal, so I think I better tell them the story of how I came to pray. That’s why the book opens with me not praying and then being guided to prayer and discovering it was a powerful resource.

Zibby: You did pull the reader right in by sharing your most vulnerable self with us at a time where you were having a hard time controlling your drinking and your marriage. Everything seemed to be just flying out of your control. Then you regrouped and, in a very inspiring way, went off on this new path. I was struck time and time again with how much you were willing to listen and take in what you heard. It’s one thing to say, I’m going to pray, which is putting things out there, but it’s another to say, I’m taking everything in. I’m getting the answers I need. I just have to be patient and listen for them. Tell me a little bit more about that.

Julia: When I was told to pray, I said, you don’t understand. I have sixteen years of Catholic education. That’s the grease slide to agnosticism. They said, you must believe in something. I thought about it. I asked a girlfriend what she prayed to. She said, “Oh, I pray to Mick Jagger.” I asked someone else. She said, “Oh, I pray to sunspots.” I thought, well, I could pray to the force that, through the green fuse, drives the flower, a line from Dylan Thomas about creative energy. I started praying to that force. What happened was that my prose straightened out. Previously, I had been trying to be brilliant. Every sentence had to be rewritten and rewritten until there was a scratched hole in the paper. When I started trying to be of service and write what seemed to want to come through me, my prose straightened out. My career straightened out. I began to try and help people.

Zibby: So it’s as simple as that. It’s a piece of cake. I understand the series of events that led you to also be more receptive to this and having things like calling the one friend who called the other friend and next thing you know, there was somebody right there who could help you through becoming sober and all of that. Time and again, you trusted your instincts and listened. Was it hard to stay in that framework? You listen even with things like storms and having to spend Thanksgiving by yourself and not braving the weather because you listen. You hear, okay, I shouldn’t try that, and so you don’t do it. Do you second-guess yourself at all? Do you just take it in and then you calmly process? How does it work?

Julia: When I ask for guidance guidance and I find myself sometimes doubting it and then I get angry with myself, I say, you have so many years, you have thirty years of trusting guidance. Why do you doubt? The answer is because it’s human nature to doubt. When I get a piece of guidance that seems hard or impossible to me, I find myself reminding myself that previously, it has proven to be true. I have what we call sober reference. The sober reference tells me that I can trust what I’m hearing and that there’s wisdom to it. When I had the Thanksgiving storm, I didn’t like it. I wanted to go to my friend Nick’s house. When I called Nick and told him, “I think I should stay in,” he sounded relieved and said he would bring me a plate full of Thanksgiving food the next day.

Zibby: Which is really the main perk of Thanksgiving anyway, right? It’s all those leftovers. I am inspired by this. For anyone with anxiety who tends to ruminate or second-guess or change your mind or whatever, the notion of letting the first instinct live and guide is sort of revolutionary. I’m really going to work hard to try and implement what you do.

Julia: I think that the practice of writing morning pages trains us to trust. There’s no “wrong way” to write morning pages. We write them. The little doubting voice says, oh, you’re being boring. We say to the voice, thank you for sharing. We go right on with what we’re doing. That ability to step past the censor is a learned skill. The more we practice it with morning pages, the more we are able to accept guidance in other areas of our life.

Zibby: Interesting. You still do morning pages? I know it’s obviously a huge part of this book and all your previous work. Do you do it every single day? Literally every day?

Julia: I do. I do, but this morning — this is very early for me.

Zibby: Oh, I’m so sorry.

Julia: I found myself trying to write morning pages and saying, oh, I don’t know if I’ll be awake enough to be alert. Dear God, please give me guidance. It took a long time to write a single page.

Zibby: Basically, my podcast has ruined your streak of morning pages production. By asking you about it, now I’ve made it impossible. I understand that. That makes sense. What do you do with all of your morning pages? Do you ever go back and read them and save them and share them at all? Where are they? Are they in a closet? What do you do with them all?

Julia: I put them in a big bookshelf. What I find is that I go back and read guidance. I write morning pages, and then I say “LJ” for little Julie.

Zibby: Yes, I saw that.

Julia: Can I hear guidance about X? Then I listen. I write down what I hear. What I find is that the guidance is trustworthy and helpful and deliberate and encouraging. Sometimes it’s comforting to reread the guidance, so I will do that. I don’t share my pages with anybody. They’re top secret, but I share them with myself.

Zibby: Do you ever worry about what’s going to happen to all the things that you write after you pass away? I have all these cabinets full of writing and documents on the computer and all these things. Every so often, I’m like, I don’t want these out. What am I going to do with all these things? Do you ever think about that? Maybe that’s too depressing a thought.

Julia: I find myself saying, first, cremate the pages. Then worry about the body.

Zibby: Interesting. What are your hopes and dreams for this new program, the six-week artist’s way program?

Julia: I’m hoping that people will start to use guidance. The book opens with tools. They are familiar tools for people who have been working with my teachings. Morning pages, artist dates, walking, they’re all tools of introspection. Then I ask people to try using guidance and to practice using guidance. What I find is that people are, at first, astonished. They say, Julia, what if I ask for guidance and I don’t hear anything? More commonly, Julia, I asked for guidance. I hear something back. I’m worried that it’s just my imagination. I say to people, if it is just your imagination, your imagination is much more powerful and encouraging and helpful than you’ve previously thought. It’s my hope that people will start to use prayer in their creativity and ask to be guided.

Zibby: You made a very strong case for walking without distractions, getting out there, walking, listening, looking around, not putting headphones on, not using that as time to do something else. It’s tempting to use walking time to get other things done. I feel like you’re so good at protecting all your time. How do you do that? How do you get other people to do that when they feel like life is so busy?

Julia: I think if we do morning pages, we tend to intuitively protect our time. We find ourselves saying no to distractions. People will sometimes say to me, Julia, you’re so productive. How do you do it? I say, well, I don’t watch TV. I don’t get on the internet. I don’t surf. They say, oh, you mean we have a choice about these activities? I say, yes, we have a choice about these activities. I want you to try to live a life without being sabotaged.

Zibby: Interesting. Sabotage, it’s almost like we’re the victims of all of the distractions.

Julia: I think we are. I have a friend who came over. He was nervous. I said to him, “You don’t seem like yourself today.” He said, “I stayed up all night watching the war.” I thought, you have a choice about that.

Zibby: It’s true. I’ve been watching. I don’t know why I save it for right before bed. Then I have bad dreams all night. I have to do better. It’s hard to know when to, when something is so — it’s just hard to stop sometimes. It’s hard to put those limits on. Do you view yourself as a guru the way that other people see you, or do you just view yourself as, oh, whatever, I’m just going to get up and write these pages? You’re such an icon. So many people can credit you with their own productivity and their own work. Does that change your self-perception on a day-to-day basis, or not?

Julia: No. I have a loyal group of friends who do not have me on a pedestal. I will call them up. I will say, “I’m nervous.” For example, about this interview early in the morning, I said, “I’m nervous.” My friends said, “I’m lighting a stick of incense for you.”

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, Julia, I feel terrible. I feel so terrible that this interview is causing you stress. I’m so sorry. We easily could’ve done it later in the day. I’m sorry. I feel terrible, but that’s so nice that your friends lit incense for you. That is so nice.

Julia: My friendships are grounded in what I call “before, during, and after” friends. They don’t have me on a pedestal. They don’t regard me as a guru. They regard me as someone who needs peer support, and I ask for it.

Zibby: What are you struggling with the most right now?

Julia: I’m writing a book on guidance. I’m struggling to believe that I have enough to say. I want the book to be positive. I want the book to be helpful. I feel like people do look to me for guidance. All I can do is report my own process. That’s my scoop.

Zibby: Does reading help you when you’re having a hard time focusing on a book or worrying about that you don’t have enough to say or anything? Do you ever read just to regroup, or do you view that also as a distraction?

Julia: I tend to view it as a distraction. Yet there are some people, most notably, Thich Nhat Hanh, who recently died, the Buddhist teacher. He often talked about walking as if each foot kissed the earth. He talks about mindfulness. I tend to want to call it heartfulness. I feel like if we do the practices of the tools, we wake up. What I’m trying to do with this book, to go back to your question, is to gently coax people into waking up. I want them to pray colloquially. They may not have as much formality to set aside as I did. I think a lot of people are intimidated by the idea of prayer. I think if I can say to them, speak in your own words, pray to a God concept that seems helpful to you, then I’ve done a service.

Zibby: My husband’s really good friend Dan is a singer-songwriter. He thinks you are the greatest thing since sliced bread and has followed your work forever. He writes songs. That’s how he gets in touch with his creativity. Asking for him here, on the topic creativity in general — you have guidance. You have all of the tips and tools in this book, which of course, he read. How can somebody who’s not necessarily a novelist or something, but how does somebody tap into that creativity and keep it as part of their daily life, aside from morning pages and that?

Julia: I feel like when you say aside from morning pages, it’s like, is there a secret —

Zibby: — I can’t say that.

Julia: Is there is a secret tool? The answer is, there is no secret tool. The tools do work. I don’t have a tool that’s mine alone. I just try to gently guide people along what I hope is a proven path.

Zibby: In terms of somebody who’s just trying to get their book published, do you have any advice for them? Having been an international best-selling author, do you have industry advice?

Julia: No. What I did with The Artist’s Way was self-publish. We Xeroxed copies of it. I think there’s a lot to be said for self-publishing and for not waiting for the powers that be to say, let it be in print.

Zibby: Interesting. Love it. Are you going to go finish your morning pages now?

Julia: I will. I couldn’t tell, what kind of name is Zibby? I have a sister named Libby.

Zibby: It’s for Elizabeth.

Julia: Zibby is for Elizabeth? So is Libby.

Zibby: I get called Libby all the time. I should’ve just made that my nickname, but my parents picked this when I was one.

Julia: So you became a Zibby.

Zibby: So I became a Zibby, yes. It was lovely chatting with you today. Thank you for your time. I’m sorry for the imposition and the timing.

Julia: You’re very welcome. You’re so alert yourself at this hour that I found myself waking up a little to connect with you, which is great. Maybe I won’t be so frightened of early mornings in the future.

Zibby: Good idea. You can do it. Thank you so much.

Julia: You’re welcome.

Zibby: Have a great day.

Julia: Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you.

SEEKING WISDOM by Julia Cameron

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