Review: Julia Cameron’s Floor Sample

Floor Sample, by Julia Cameron. Copy courtesy of the Dublin City Library service. Background: My couch

Confession time: I have never completed The Artist’s Way. I have read it all, but I’ve never sat down and done all of the exercises. I can’t pretend I have a smart reason for this – the truth is that I do all of the exercises up to Week 3 in a single weekend and then forget about it for six months. It’s probably fair to assume that I’m never going to take over the world.

But I’ve always quite liked Cameron’s approach and her methods. The one element of The Artist’s Way that has resonated with me is morning pages – the practice of completing three pages of free writing every morning. Again, it’s not something I do consistently (blame working a full-time job with flexi time, and who I am as a person), but it has worked for me in the past.

There was a lot to like about Floor Sample – subtitled ‘A Creative Memoir’, there’s probably less salacious stuff about Martin Scorsese (Cameron’s ex-husband and the father of her daughter) than some readers might like, as the focus remains firmly on her writing with a slight detour into her history of addiction (Cameron is a long-term sober alcoholic). There is a lovely feeling of joy about Cameron’s writing – whether she’s hustling for stories for the Washington Post or shooting indie movies with her toddler and neighbour in the local park, you sense that this woman has fun with her work. In fact, against the backdrop of her alcoholism and later mental illnesses, you sense that there were times that creative work was one of the most pure sources of happiness she had.

However, it’s also quite clear that in her creative life, Julia Cameron has been astoundingly fortunate. Since graduating from college, she has never worked at anything that was not writing, or teaching writing, or filmmaking. If you are hoping for the tale of how a writing guru kept the faith while waiting tables and selling books, then I’d suggest Natalie Goldberg (or Tiffany Reisz, who sadly hasn’t written a book about her writing methods yet, but the FAQ on her website and her answers to writing questions on Goodreads have some solid advice. She wrote her first novel while working in a book shop and now writes full-time, free of student loan debt). Throughout her memoir, Cameron seems to have a network of ever-helpful friends to draw on for work, cheap rent, and crash space, but she doesn’t explicitly acknowledge – or explain how she came by – that privilege.

Which, for me, throws a somewhat different light on her earlier work on The Artist’s Way. I suspect that it’s probably quite easy to preach how great the creative life is when you’ve never had to balance it with making enough money to eat. Not that Cameron didn’t face, and overcome, other astonishing challenges – if she writes a memoir of her addiction and recovery, I’ll be first in line to read it. And I am not suggesting that The Artist’s Way lacks value because Julia Cameron never had to work a lunch shift in Eddie Rockets on South Anne Street – it’s helped millions of people (TAW, not Eddie’s).

But I am suggesting that the environment which enabled you to create your art cannot be separated from the art itself – if you position yourself as a teacher or a guide.

Interestingly, Cameron and her ex-husband Mark Bryan co-authored a book on money addiction. I may need to dig that out to see if it sheds any light on what I learned from Floor Sample.

Verdict: Check it out, watch for jealousy!