Life & Culture

Julia Cameron: How to Get Creative in Later Life

“Aging with attitude means being a little bit rambunctious and not allowing people to talk you out of your creativity. If you find yourself aging with attitude, you’re saying, “Yes, I can!” —Julia Cameron

cameron_bookDon’t let anyone tell you you’re too old or it’s too late in life to be creative, and be especially unwelcoming of that small voice whispering inside your head —the voice that can get louder and louder as we age. The second half of life can be our most imaginative and gratifying stage yet. That’s the message in Julia Cameron’s new book, “It’s Never Too Late to Being Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond.”

Published in April and written with Emma Lively, Cameron’s book addresses many taboo subjects that many older people and the newly retired  grapple with: boredom, a sense of being untethered, irritability and depression.

Cameron, now 68, is well known for her best-selling 1992 book “The Artist’s Way” and is considered a master teacher in the personal development movement that grew from it. She’s written 40 books (including fiction, nonfiction, poetry and prayer books) and is also an accomplished playwright, songwriter and filmmaker.

In “It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again” Cameron provides readers with a set of four tools to gently begin a creative rebirth:

  • Morning pages — three handwritten pages, for your eyes only, of stream-of-consciousness writing done daily first thing in the morning
  • Memoir — a 12-week process guided by prompts in the book that are meant to trigger memories and help you revisit your life in several-year increments
  • Artist Dates — a weekly outing where you explore something fun on your own
  • Walking — a 20-minute, twice-weekly solo walk without a dog, friend or cell phone to distract you

Cameron spoke with us by phone from her big leather writing chair in her Santa Fe, New Mexico home.

You write, “In the moment of creation we are ageless.”  Can you tell us more? 

When we are making something, we’re caught up in the moment. We are exploring new terrain and doing it with what you might call “new eyes.” As you work with your creativity, you become alive. And that aliveness is an experience of agelessness. I think a lot of times, we’re afraid that we’re too old to try something, and what I say is try morning pages, try artist dates, try walks. Those three tools will spur you into greater creativity. They fill the well, and the well has a way of overflowing into creative actions.

One of the book’s messages is that creativity is not limited to the arts. We are all creative beings and live creative lives. In what ways can an older adult begin to explore this part of themselves if they’ve never felt they’re creative or artistic in any way?

In my new book I wanted to give people a path that would allow them to deepen their own understanding of themselves. One of the tools is the memoir, which is an exploration of your life as you led it. Many times people find in the memoir what I call cues and clues for art forms, or forms of creativity, they may have eschewed as they were passing through a busy life.

You write about the importance of finding support, especially when embarking on new creative projects. Why do you think many people have trouble asking for help?

We have a mythology around creativity that says artists are loners. When we turn to our creativity and have a challenge, we are often ashamed that we need help. What I try to say in my books is it’s normal to need help and there is no shame in it. I think it’s the courage to be a beginner that is the core message of all of my books. We need to explore starting from where we are.

People find themselves measuring themselves against the master works. But what they don’t realize is that the people who made the master works themselves began as beginners. Being willing to be a beginner is the place to start and this is why morning pages are so important, because with those you begin each day as a beginner.

What do you know about creativity now that you wish you knew when you were 30?

When I was 30 I didn’t have much experience with daring. Now that I’m older, I find that I am able to take more risks. I’m not so afraid of the downsides.

Do you think your creativity has changed as you’ve aged?

I think my own creativity has deepened — it’s become more of a spiritual practice. This happened when I started writing “The Artist’s Way.” I found myself moved to find inspiration from what you might want to call a “higher realm.” By using the tools, we have a spiritual awakening — we can begin to feel the world is a more benevolent place and that there’s a benevolent force which works on our behalf.

Regarding “The Artist’s Way,” why do you think it was, and still is, so popular?

I think it’s popular because it’s needed. I think all of us are profoundly creative and many of us have become discouraged. And then as we age, our discouragement turns into frustration. In “The Artist’s Way,” I was actually writing sort of a manifesto, a book that was founded in my own anger at the way artists were dealt with and perceived.

How can artists combat ageism in our society?

The best way to fight ageism is to be creative. If we are able to continue to make things as we age, we find ourselves even younger and jubilant.

What does “aging with attitude” mean to you?

I think it means being a little bit rambunctious and not allowing people to talk you out of your creativity. If you find yourself aging with attitude, you’re saying, “Yes, I can!”










2 responses to “Julia Cameron: How to Get Creative in Later Life

  1. I’m a big fan of Julia Cameron after reading her Artist’s Way over 20 years. I immediately started “morning pages” and still write them every single morning. I believe they helped me become a far better writer and finally gained the confidence to claim the title of writer as my occupation. I read her new book a couple of months ago and appreciated all the reminders. I strongly recommend the book to other “creatives.”

  2. I had read parts of “The Artist’s Way” years ago. Through the years in many conversations with my daughter, an actor, and her friends, just the concept that there IS something that unites “the artist” no matter who – the doubts, the struggle – just the idea that there is a “way” is very comforting. Thank you for this interview which makes me want to revisit “The Artist’s Way” and to read Julia Cameron’s new book. (By the way…love the look of this page)

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