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It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again - How To Awaken Creativity In Later Life

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It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again - How To Awaken Creativity In Later Life

Julia Cameron reveals her recipe for getting creative after retirement
Julia Cameron
Julia Cameron More by this author
Apr 21, 2016 at 03:45 AM
Twenty-five years ago I wrote a book on creativity called The Artist’s Way. It spelled out, in a step-by-step fashion, just what a person could do to recover—and exercise—their creativity. I often called that book “The Bridge” because it allowed people to move from the shore of their constrictions and fears to the promised land of deeply fulfilling creativity. 
 
 
The Artist’s Way was used by people of all ages, but I found my just-retired students the most poignant. I sensed in them a particular problem set that came with maturity. Over the years, many of them asked me for help dealing with issues specific to transitioning out of the work force. 
 
My latest book, The Artist’s Way for Retirement, is the distillate of a quarter century’s teaching. It is my attempt to answer, “What next?” for students who are embarking on their “second act.” 
 
As a friend of mine worried recently, “All I do is work. When I stop working, will I do . . . nothing?”
 
The answer is no. You will not do “nothing.” You will do many things. You will be surprised and delighted by the well of colourful inspiration that lies within you—a well that you alone can tap. You will discover that you are not alone in your desires, and that there are creativity tools that can help you navigate the specific issues of retirement.
 
The term “senior” officially applies to those sixty-five and older. But not everyone who is called a senior feels like a senior. And not every- one who retires is sixty-five. Some retire at fifty, some at eighty. Age is a relative thing. 
 
 
Most working artists never retire. As director John Cassavetes put it, “No matter how old you get, if you can keep the desire to be creative, you’re keeping the man-child alive.” 
 
I’m told the median age in Santa Fe, where I live, is sixty. It’s true that when I go grocery shopping I note many elders pushing carts. People retire to Santa Fe. I have almost become used to the question, “Are you still writing?” The truth is, I cannot imagine not writing. I go from project to project, always frightened by the gap in between. I catch myself distrusting my own process. No matter that I have forty-plus books to my credit, I am afraid that each book will be my last, that I will finally be stymied by age.
 
Recently, I went to talk to Barbara McCandlish, a gifted therapist. “I’m sad,” I told her. “I’m afraid I’ll never write again.”
 
“I think you’re afraid of aging,” said Barbara. “I think if you write about that, you’ll find yourself writing freely again.”
 
The answer is always creativity.
 
As Picasso remarked, “Every child is born an artist. The trick is remaining one as an adult.” Passion, commitment, and most of all, the courage to be a beginner, are the qualities that it takes—and qualities that are well within our grasp.
 
Recently I had dinner with an artist friend. Now sixty-seven, he still works daily as a writer, radio personality, and teacher. The conversation wandered to my current writing and my musing on the subject of retirement.
 
“Artists don’t retire,” he said simply.
 
It’s true. Tom Meehan, at eighty-three, had two musicals on Broadway in one season. Today, at eighty-six, he has a new show in the works. Roman Totenberg, an esteemed violinist and teacher, taught - and performed - until his final days, well into his nineties. Frank Lloyd Wright passed on at ninety-one with an unfinished building standing in Oak Park, Illinois. B. B. King toured until six months before his death, at age eighty-nine. Oscar Hammerstein II lived until he was only sixty-five, but just long enough to see The Sound of Music open on Broadway. His final song, “Edelweiss,” was added to the show during rehearsal.
 
What do we all have to learn from this? 
 
Self-expression is some- thing that does not—and should not—ever stop. Each of us is creative. Each of us has something unique to bring to the world. We have both time and experience on our side. Retirement is a time to tackle projects and unlock dreams, a time to revisit the past and explore the unknown. It is a time to design our future.
 
 
Basic Principles For Creativity Recovery
 
1. Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy - pure, creative energy.
2. There is an underlying, indwelling creative force infusing all of life - including ourselves.
3. When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creator’s creativity within us and our lives.
4. We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves.
5. Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.
6. The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.
7. When we open ourselves to exploring our creativity, we open ourselves to God: good, orderly direction.
8. As we open our creative channel to the creator, many gentle but powerful changes are to be expected.
9. It is safe to open ourselves up to greater and greater creativity.
10. Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move toward our dreams, we move toward our divinity.
 
It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again is a twelve-week course in The Artist's Way for Retirement for anyone who wishes to expand his or her creativity. It is not meant only for “declared” artists. It is aimed at those transitioning into the second act of life—leaving one life behind, and heading into one yet to be created. 
 
For some, this may mean retiring from the formal work world, for others this may mean facing an empty nest once the children have grown up and left home, for still others this may simply mean rejuvenating the creative spirit when suddenly branded “senior citizen.”
 
Each week, you will read the week’s chapter and complete the tasks within. You will work with four basic tools: the daily tool of Morning Pages, the once-weekly Artist Date, and twice-weekly solo Walks. 
 
The Memoir will unfurl over the entire twelve weeks, as you revisit your unique story one manageable section at a time.
 
Twelve weeks—three months—may seem like a long time, but think of it as a few-hours-weekly investment in the next phase of your life.
 
Basic Tools
 
MORNING PAGES Three daily pages of longhand, stream-of- consciousness writing done first thing in the morning, “for your eyes only”
 
MEMOIR A weekly, guided process of triggering memories and revisiting your life in several-year increments
 
ARTIST DATES A once-weekly, solo expedition to explore something fun
 
WALKING A twenty-minute solo walk, twice weekly, without a dog, friend, or cell phone 
 
Morning Pages
 
The bedrock tool of a creative recovery is something I call Morning Pages: three pages of longhand morning writing about absolutely anything. They are to be written first thing in the morning and shown to no one. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages. I like to think of them as windshield wipers, swiping away anything that stands between you and a clear view of your day.
 
The pages may seem petty and trivial—“I forgot to buy birdseed. I’m not impressed with the new dishwashing liquid. I need to renew my AAA membership. I’m out of printer paper. I need to call my brother back.” - but they forge the trail for further adventures in creativity.
 
 
The pages notify both us and the universe precisely where we’re at. I often think of them as a form of active meditation. Another way to think of them is as a tiny whisk broom that dislodges dust from every corner of our life. Many times, people resist Morning Pages, claiming lack of time, only to find them increasingly doable as empty time looms on the horizon.
 
Make no mistake: Morning Pages are ideal for retirees.
 
“Julia, I have no time” gives way to “Julia, I have plenty time - and I know how I want to use it.” I explain that the pages are like a spiritual radio kit. As we write out our resentments, fears, joys, delights, dreams and wishes, we are notifying the universe who we really are. 
 
As we write freely, we find ourselves freer in our lives, seeing choice points in our day that we may not have noticed before. We begin to hear the universe responding back to us. We have hunches and intuitions that tell us what our next steps should be. We are led carefully and well. Often, Morning Pages are a tough-love friend. If we are avoiding action on an important issue, the pages will nag us until we comply with their suggestions.
 
For the first-time practitioner of Morning Pages, the impact of many previously avoided emotions may be overwhelming. We are accustomed to being vague. But this no longer serves us. We are accustomed to saying, “I feel okay about that,” when actually we may feel something quite different. 
 
The pages dare us to be specific. Instead of saying, “I feel okay,” we may find ourselves saying, “I feel angry, annoyed, threatened” - any of a number of things - none of them “okay.” 
 
As we learn to name - and claim - our feelings, those feelings become less overwhelming. As we admit our negative emotions, we begin to stop thinking of them as bad. “I’m threatened,” we may find ourselves writing, or “I’m jealous,” or “I’m mad.” 
 
Feeling our previously ignored emotions gives us a leg up in dealing with them. We are no longer ambushed. As we use our Morning Pages to explore and express our difficult feelings, we are teaching ourselves the valuable art of authenticity. First on the page, and then in life, we draw new boundaries. We no longer people-please with white lies. We show up for ourselves on the page, and soon see that we are standing up for ourselves in the world.
 
Writing Morning Pages, we are pointed toward our own “true north.” We clarify our own values. We become more honest, first with ourselves, and then with others. 
 
Once fearful that our honesty might push others away, we find that the opposite is actually true: relationships heal and grow as we heal and grow. Morning Pages are written by hand. Why? Every time I teach, a student will point out that they are much faster on the computer. Wouldn’t it be more efficient if . . . ?
 
No, I don’t think so.
 
For Morning Pages, writing by hand is essential. When we write by hand, we go slowly enough to record our thoughts with accuracy. On a computer, we whiz along, dashing our thoughts to the page. Writing by hand, it is as if we are driving our car at thirty-five miles per hour. “Ah,” we say, “here comes my exit. And look - there’s a convenience store.”
 
Typing on a computer, it is as if we are driving at seventy-five miles per hour. “Oh dear - was that my exit?” we wonder. “Was that a convenience store or a gas station?” Our perceptions are fleeting. We’re not quite sure what we see or feel. We miss important signposts and details. 
 
Writing by hand, we know precisely what we encounter. Writing by hand yields a handmade life. Many of us feel we can write faster by computer, but fast is not what we are after. We write by hand to connect ourselves precisely with what it is we are thinking and feeling. Writing by computer, we speed along, telling ourselves that we feel “okay” about the events of our life. But what does “okay” really mean?
 
That is what is answered when we write by hand.
 
The Morning Pages tutor us in patience as we work through difficult relationships. They tutor us through our resistance as we embark on new goals and projects.
 
TASK
 
Morning Pages
 
Every morning, as close to waking as possible, write three pages about absolutely anything. 
 
These single-sided pages are handwritten, and for your eyes only. I suggest using 8.5-by-11-inch paper—smaller, and you will crimp your thoughts. Please do write by hand—it is not the same when we write on a device, even though we may feel we can go “faster.” 
 
I am often asked whether these must be done before coffee. As a coffee lover myself, I would never get between someone and their morning pick-me-up. I would say, though, do not spend forty-five minutes brewing the perfect cup. Get to the page as quickly as possible. The faster you begin writing, the greater the effect of the pages will be.
 
 
Do not show these pages to loved ones or well-meaning friends. These pages are private, completely free, and strictly stream-of-consciousness. They perform a type of spiritual chiropractic; they clear us for the day ahead. 
 
They are not meant to be “writing” or even journaling, where we are more likely to explore a single topic in a structured fashion. Morning Pages clear the psychic debris standing between us and the day ahead. Done consistently, they will alter the trajectory of our lives.
 
Artist Dates
 
The second major tool of a creative recovery is something I call an Artist Date. It is a once-a-week, solo expedition on which you explore something that interests or entrances you. 
 
Expect to meet resistance when you propose to yourself doing something fun. Morning Pages are work, and we undertake the work willingly. We seem to understand the notion of “working” on our creativity.
 
Artist Dates, by contrast, are assigned play. And even though we give lip service to the phrase “the play of ideas,” we don’t always truly understand how fun can help us. Those who undertake Artist Dates report insights, hunches, and breakthroughs. They report a heightened sense of well-being. Some go so far as to say that Artist Dates give them a conscious contact with a power greater than themselves. So it is worth our while to resist our resistance.
 
Plan an Artist Date ahead of time—that’s the “date” part of Artist Date. Then watch how your inner killjoy swings into action. Suddenly, there are a million things that should be done instead. Our significant other begs to join us. But no. Artist Dates are to be undertaken by ourselves, alone. When we stick to our guns, we are rewarded by a heightened sense of autonomy.
 
An Artist Date need not be expensive or exotic. It can be something as simple as stopping into a pet store. A favourite Artist Date of mine is a visit to a children’s bookstore. After all, our artist may be seen as an inner child. I find that a children’s bookstore offers “just enough” in- formation to scratch the surface of a topic I find interesting, and the playful nature of the store encourages me to play—exploring many different topics, dipping my toe in here or there.
 
The point of the Artist Date is that it is something that feels fresh and exciting to you.
 
TASK
 
Artist date
 
Make a list of ten possible adventures. Once a week, take yourself on one. It may be something from this list or something that occurs to you during the week. 
 
 
The Artist Date is for you alone to explore what might delight you alone. Plan to spend about an hour once a week—more if you like—and schedule your Artist Date as you would a meeting with someone important. Resist cancelling the plans or inviting others along. This is your date with your inner artist. 
 
You may sense great resistance to doing this task, but the rewards will undoubtedly surprise and in- spire you.
 
Walking
 
One of the most valuable creativity tools is also the simplest. I am talking about walking. When I wrote The Artist’s Way, I put exercise in Week 12. I knew it was important, but I hadn’t yet realized how important. Now, twenty-five years later, I assign two weekly walks whenever I teach. I have learned that walking quells anxiety and allows creativity to bubble to the surface.
 
“But, Julia, I don’t have time to walk,” students sometimes protest. They do so because they don’t realize the importance of the activity. Very often, those students who protest the hardest become walking’s biggest fans. As one explained to me, “It’s as though I have communicated with the universe and the universe uses walking as the chance to communicate back.”
 
Walking is an exercise in receptivity. As we walk, we fill the creative well. We notice new images and make new connections. From the cat seated in the window box to the dog tugging at the owner’s leash, we register our connection with all creatures. 
 
 
“Solvitur ambulando,” Saint Augustine remarked. In plain English, “It is solved by walking.” The “it” can be almost anything. For many of us, walking solves the problems of daily living. Not only does it bring structure - it brings answers, too. We may walk out with a problem, but the odds are excellent that we will walk back in with a solution.
 
A habit of daily walks becomes a habit of daily health. Twenty minutes is long enough, although many people find themselves walking longer.
 
Katie, a high-powered literary agent, believes in walking. She goes on what she calls “urban hikes” through the city, often logging ten or more miles in a day. 
“Walking brings me peace and clarity,” she says. “The fresh air is exhilarating, and I find insights and intuitions often come to me as I walk.”
 
TASK
 
Walk
 
Twice a week, take yourself on a twenty-minute solo walk. Allow yourself to walk without a dog, spouse, friend, or cell phone. This is time for you to move—and move into clarity. Walking alone creates the open space in your mind for insights to land. I often like to listen for “ahas” on my walks. Listening, I always find them.
 
Memoir
 
One especially heartbreaking sentence I have heard over and over from my newly retired students is, “Oh, my life wasn’t that interesting.”
 
The truth is that every life is fascinating. And when we are willing to look at, and thus honor, the life we have led, we inevitably bring ourselves to a place of both power and self-appreciation.
 
If it sounds like magic, it is.
 
The Memoir is a weekly exercise that builds upon itself. You will divide your life into sections; as a rule of thumb, divide your age by twelve, and this is the number of years you will cover each week. 
 
By answering a “jot list” of questions each week, you will trigger vivid memories, discover lost dreams, and find unexpected healing and clarity. Don’t worry - you aren’t required to write a magnum opus of your life, unless of course you want to. 
 
Everyone’s Memoir will be different - you may choose simply to answer the questions and list the memories they evoke in standard prose form; alternately, you may sometimes find your answers coming out as poems, drawings, or songs. 
 
 
Along the way, you will find dreams you wish to return to, ideas you are ready to discard, wounds you are ready to heal, and most of all, an appreciation for the life you have led. There will be topics you wish to dig into more deeply. 
 
I have had students quilt periods of their lives, write songs about lost loves, send letters of gratitude to people whose influence they now appreciate, write short stories based on people they have known or essays on experiences they have had.
 
As you become open to revisiting your life, your life will become open to revisiting you. I have had students worry that they “don’t remember anything” -but this has never turned out to be true. Each week, at the end of the first essay, there will be questions for you to answer. 
 
This guided process to gently revisit your life to date – with a good dose of fun and adventure - brings powerful insight. By revisiting - and reigniting - the many deep, complex, creative parts of yourself and your story, you will arrive at a place of clarity and purpose - a jumping-off place for the rest of your life.
 
It is with great excitement that I present to you these tools. Using them, your life will be transformed. I hope you will find yourself in the stories in these pages. It is my belief that what I call the second act of life can be the most exciting and fulfilling time of all.
 
Editor's Note: Go deeper into Julia's process of reawakening creativity in her new book The Artist's Way for Retirement:
 
About Author
Julia Cameron
Julia Cameron has been teaching creativity workshops for a decade-and-a-half. Julia is an award-winning writer/director with extensive credits in TV, film, theater, and journalism. Continue reading