The Artist’s Way: Week 2 – recovering a sense of identity

Self-definition is a major component of recovering our creative selves. This week we look at drawing new boundaries and avoiding poisonous playmates and crazymakers.
A young woman reaches out to the camera with her fingers making a frame. The background is an artist's colourwheel.

In this FREE journey to creative recovery, we’re following Julia Cameron’s bestselling creativity self-help manual, The Artist’s Way, tracing the book’s 12-week program with a series of inspiring ArtsHub articles, resources and ideas for artist-date activities. There’s also a Facebook community group you can join for discussion and support.

To recap, the idea with The Artist’s Way is to commit yourself to a structured creative recovery that will spark joy, remove blocks and build the confidence to play and take risks – whether you’re a professional artist or not.

You can read previous articles here – an invitation to change your life, and Week 1: Recovering a sense of safety – or jump right in and follow along, wherever you are in the process. Grab a copy of the book, start reading and look out for ArtsHub’s weekly articles, published each Monday.

Week 2: Recovering a sense of identity and claiming time for ourselves

There’s a line from the U2 song ‘With or without you’ that repeats in my head whenever I’ve betrayed myself: And you give yourself away. And you give, and you give. And you give yourself away.

Whatever Bono is actually singing about, the message I take is always a caution against saying “yes” to others when it means “no” to myself.

I’m a sociable people-pleaser and saying “no” to others is so much harder than saying “no” to myself. A strict Christian upbringing, together with patriarchy, means I grew up absorbing the message to always put others first – to draw my sense of self primarily from care-giving, sharing and nurturing. Add motherhood into the mix and you’ve got someone who feels intense guilt about making time for “non-productive”, non-social activities, like Artist Dates.

Self-sacrifice, caring and nurturing are wonderful and necessary human values, especially when practised judiciously by people with healthy boundaries and a strong sense of vocation. But for our struggling inner-artist children, “unselfishness” can easily become toxic and oppressive – no doubt one of the many reasons why female artists have been so rare and unsung in history.

Claiming time

Defining ourselves as creative beings who have the right to explore and grow is central to this week’s chapter, ‘Recovering a sense of identity’. Here, Julia Cameron addresses self-definition, along with some of the barriers and types of people who prevent us from doing the work.

In this week’s chapter, she writes, ‘You may find yourself drawing new boundaries and staking out new territories as your personal needs, desires and interests announce themselves.’ There’s a warning that we may feel erratic, lurching from ecstatic discovery to self-doubt and sabotage. These feelings are a normal part of the process.

Many people begin reading The Artist’s Way and get excited, but they fall off the program when it becomes clear how hard it is to find time for something that can’t be justified any other way but for its own sake.

I’m putting my hand up here, because even as the instigator and so-called “facilitator” of ArtsHub‘s program, each week I’m struggling to squeeze in a couple hours for an Artist Date. Yet my phone tells me I spend many hours a week on social media, so the time exists. It’s a matter of prioritising. Sacrifices will need to be made and I have to stop giving myself away.

Poisonous playmates

As we learned last week, creativity thrives with a sense of safety. Inner-artist children withdraw when they experience danger, fear, drama and premature criticism. Cameron writes that some of the key threats to our creative recovery are “poisonous playmates” and “crazymakers”. These are the people in our sphere who demand attention, and are threatened by our recovery.

The most poisonous playmates of all are fellow blocked creatives who have an investment in staying blocked.

For me, this may be a fellow writer who constantly bemoans the state of publishing and how hard it is to make a living as an Australian writer. They complain about not having time to finish their novel, yet always have time for lunches and coffees. When they invite me out, citing loneliness or trauma, it feels more urgent than my own timidly-defended Artist Date.

Poisonous playmates may be those friends and lovers who want to hang out, get drunk or wallow in their sense of thwarted genius – genius that will never be disproven by finishing the work or putting it out to an audience.

When such people see us changing and reordering our priorities, it can be threatening. They’re liable to say things like, ‘You’ve changed. You used to be more fun,’ or ‘I miss the old days when we were closer’.

Read: Artists showing women’s bodies is still a battleground


Crazymakers are people who exist in constant chaos, drawing us in with their need for help and sympathy. They seem to sense just when we’ve sat down to work. We all know people like this. It’s hard to get off the phone. Perhaps we are people like this ourselves. Drama and chaos are ways to avoid doing the quiet and courageous work of self-discovery and art-making.

As Cameron writes, crazymakers can themselves be successful and famous artists, ‘surrounded by a cadre of supporters as talented as they are but determined to subvert their own talent in the service of the crazymaking King’.

She describes the destructive patterns that characterise such people.

  • Crazymakers break deals and destroy schedules
  • they expect special treatment, like all narcissists do
  • they discount your reality – they’re the original gaslighters
  • Crazymakers spend your time and money
  • they triangulate and set people against each other, and
  • they deny they are doing it.

Do you know anyone like this? I used to know a few, but one of the gifts of growing older is that I’ve shed them, or learned how to quarantine their impact.

Inner barriers to recovery: scepticism and fantasy

Our own doubts and lack of faith in ourselves can be even more of a block. Cameron talks about facing these doubts head on and watching for our own scepticism when things seem to be working out too well.

The fear of success is a real one and not enough people talk about how scary it actually feels to imagine having your dreams come true, forcing you into the centre of attention. It’s healthy to look at this fear and see whether we may be holding ourselves back because it feels more comfortable to stay small and quiet.

On the other hand, an addiction to fantasy can be another way of avoiding the present moment. Instead of paying attention to the here and now, with the very real work in front of us, we may indulge in self-aggrandising and unachievable daydreams.

Good art comes from paying attention, Cameron says, and at this juncture in The Artist’s Way, at Week 2, we’re still learning how to do that with baby steps, returning again and again to the Rules of the Road.

Rules of the Road

In order to be an artist, according to the Rules of the Road, we must:

  • Show up to the Morning Pages and use them to rest, dream, try.
  • Fill the well of images by caring for our artist (i.e. Artist Dates).
  • Set small and gentle goals and meet them.
  • Choose companions wisely who encourage us and help us actually do the work.
  • Remember that it’s far harder and more painful to be a blocked artist than it is to do the work.
  • Be alert for serendipity and signs that our creativity is a blessing, not a curse.

My personal journey this week

My Artist Date

I managed to steal an hour for a quick visit to the NGV Triennial. (I know, dates are supposed to be at least two hours long, but something is better than nothing!) I kept it modest and paid attention to a couple of rooms of the gallery, letting the images wash over me and refusing to be rushed.

Yoko Ono’s participatory installation My Mommy is Beautiful was very moving with its vast space, walls filled with notes handwritten by visitors – anonymous messages to their mothers. Pencils and paper were provided and a large table was filled with adults and children, all writing to their mums. There was so much tenderness, and sadness too – the universal experience of having a mother and having strong feelings about her. I didn’t feel the need to participate, but thought of my own mother, and how grateful I am to be able to call her whenever I want.

Then I spent time in a room with intriguing paintings by Australian artist Prudence Flint. These are large oils on canvas, featuring single female figures – sitting on the bed, accompanied by a banana or apple, looking in the mirror, calmly assessing their own bodies. I thought of my own body and how difficult it can be to calmly assess it. And I admired Flint for having the guts to turn up at the canvas and say, effectively, ‘I’m an artist. Here’s what I made for you to look at’.

It was interesting to me to notice how hard it was to claim that time. To be there in the NGV without a companion. My time-frugal tendency to always turn gallery visits into social catch-ups or romantic dates. I felt a tiny bit of awkwardness at being there for no other reason than my own desire to see – and also to fulfil the Artist Date task of course and tell you about it!

Morning Pages

Image: Amy Loughlin/ArtsHub.

These are easy for me because they’re built into my routine along with coffee. I did them six days out of seven, and already I’m noticing some shifts and changes emerging because of this structured revisiting of the program. A new confidence and the buds of a new short story are beginning to bloom.


There are always far too many tasks at the end of each chapter so I choose one or two. This week I listed ’10 tiny changes I’d like to make’ and noticed how many of them involved reorganising and decorating my home space to be more beautiful and functional.

I also noticed some emerging ideas for future dates: swimming in the ocean, collecting shells, snorkelling on my own. Sketching and putting paint on a canvas (note: I can’t draw, yet, but I love colour).

Weekly check-in

It’s early days, but I’m noticing how I spend (waste) my free time and also how difficult it is for me to set boundaries with others – even my dog! I’m dreaming about trying something new that doesn’t involve words. Maybe painting, ceramics, listening to music just for pleasure. My “blurts” this week involved shame, arrogance and … here we go again, selfishness! Progress is so often circular not linear.

Some ideas for Artist Dates

Cameron advises that we look to some of the lists we’ve made about “other lives we’d lead” or “things we’d like to try” to come up with Artist Dates. So if one of your childhood dreams was being a ballet dancer, maybe you’d like to take an adult class, try barre pilates or just go to the ballet and watch.

Artist Dates at home – because sometimes it’s hard to get out

  • Make a photo essay using your phone camera, taking photos around a theme of your choice: food and cooking, things you love, your own domestic space, trees, your body in a mirror.
  • If you love make-up, experiment with your own face. Play with colour. Let it get ugly. Look at yourself.
  • Using your journal, try decorating your pages with drawings, pasted images or pressed leaves and flowers.
  • Reorganise your bookshelves so only the books you love are in places you can see them.
  • Cut up an old T-shirt or piece of clothing and see how you can reuse or destroy it, creatively.
  • Put on your favourite music and dance like an idiot.
  • Find a documentary to stream about your favourite artist or filmmaker.

More adventurous Artist Dates

  • If you can leave the house, check out ArtsHub Events listings with options in all States – activities including art exhibitions, theatre, dance, writing festivals.
  • Go to the library. Browse and read and borrow.
  • Go to a bar and get a drink. Sit there alone and journal or sketch, or just notice what’s going on.
  • Visit a niche museum you’ve never been to.
  • Ride your bike to a new neighbourhood and explore.
  • Visit a specialty grocery store and buy ingredients you’ve never cooked with.
  • Go to the zoo.
  • Go see some circus.

Other resources

Next up is Week Three: Recovering a sense of power – and we’ll be exploring anger, synchronicity, shame and dealing with criticism. Stay on the path and don’t let perfectionism be the enemy of discovery.

Download on Apple Books badge

Audiobook (Apple Books) is available here

OR Purchase for Kindle or from Amazon here.

Rochelle Siemienowicz is the ArtsHub Group's Education and Career Editor. She is a journalist for Screenhub and is a writer, film critic and cultural commentator with a PhD in Australian cinema. She was the co-host of Australia's longest-running film podcast 'Hell is for Hyphenates' and has written a memoir, Fallen, published by Affirm Press. Her second book, Double Happiness, a novel, will be published by Midnight Sun in 2024. Instagram: @Rochelle_Rochelle Twitter: @Milan2Pinsk