A creative cluster is one of the most important creative tools I’ve ever used. I first discovered the concept in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (of which I’ve since become an evangelist). After having worked through a 12-week artistic recovery program with two friends, I now understand why the concept is so critical, and why blocked (or limited) artists often don’t have one.
What is a creative cluster?
A creative cluster is a small group of artists who work through The Artist’s Way together. You don’t need to be peers. You don’t even need to know each other. Hell, you don’t even have to be in the same place.
A cluster works on the principle that a rising tide lifts all boats. The rules are simple: You must be willing to be honest and vulnerable; to listen; to be supportive and celebratory. That’s all. As a participant in a cluster, you’re there to witness, not to give advice.
Artists often require creative recovery because they haven’t been celebrated enough. Your cluster is a group of people who can ask you questions, help you see things you maybe missed or haven’t seen, and who celebrate everything with you. My own cluster has seen me come to the absolute nadir of relationship experience, has supported me and celebrated my art. And it has inspired me in ways I could not have even imagined.
What my cluster has taught me
My first cluster has taught me so many things that I don’t even know where to begin. So here is a random list, in no particular order:
- An illustrator taught me to trust my left (non-dominant) hand, to write and draw with her. I discovered that what my left hand says is really different from what my right hand says! It’s like having two people to talk to. Their perspectives are very different.
- I learned that my left hand likes big, open, smooshy colours with pastels and fingerpainting; my right hand likes precise pencils and pens.
- I discovered that writing at 3 A.M. is some kind of normal.
- I’ve learned that synchrony is individual and communal: We will often find synchronies with each other when we’re focused on similar things in a week, even if we’re on opposite sides of the world.
- I’ve learned that what blocks me may also block others, and vice versa.
- I’ve learned that the process of recovery looks extremely similar for other artists, regardless of their form of art.
- I’ve learned to trust strangers, and, in so doing, trust myself.
These are huge learnings for any person, let alone any artist.
I never thought I needed other artists
The great lie I told myself about my creative practise was that I didn’t need a community of artists alongside me. I had told myself this robust lie since I was 19 years old, a fresh face at university. I found the community at uni to be green, home-dwelling little critters with no life experience. They were all safe, socialist, compliant little things. They went to all the literary events, and wanked about. It made me sick, honestly; and as a result I never went to a single Writers’ Festival event despite it being a requirement of my degree (and I still won awards and gained a very high GPA).
And I never formed any bonds with any other artists. I told myself I didn’t need them. That somehow I was different, more focused, more…
More isolated, is what I was. I was also in the depths of a codependency that, by the end of my degree, had robbed me of my creativity. It turns out that losing yourself can take your artistry from you, too.
In any case, I then lived my life without doing much of any creative writing of any kind. I fell into music journalism and pretended to myself that that was enough. I then worked in service of other writers, and eventually just ignored the path I’d begun to take when I started.
Therefore, when I first did The Artist’s Way, I did it solo.
That solo journey was powerful. It unlocked possibilities in me I didn’t know existed. I went back to my first love, poetry. And as much as I told myself that it was ridiculous, I also got my first commercial book deal through that 12 weeks.
By the end of that time, I’d gathered a few likeminded souls around me. So I pulled them together in a Telegram group. And a few months later, we embarked on this recovery process together.
The first time around, the program was life-changing. The second time around, it melted me into a puddle and re-made me.
Working through the program with other people gave it an energy that I can’t even begin to describe. It was a measure of accountability, and focus, and insight that I’d never encountered before. It was like group therapy for problems we didn’t know we had. We unearthed workaholism; moments that we didn’t realise had crushed us; revived old memories of when we were most strongly at our creative best, and realised why we’d let them go. We discovered people who had taken our power away, life situations that sapped us of our strength. We rediscovered ourselves, the We that had come to Earth with an artistic destiny.
And by the end of that 12 weeks, we were different people.
One person, an illustrator, unblocked a project he’d been working on for nearly 20 years!
One person recovered his inner author, and began writing a novel – a few pages a day!
I moved from poetry into literature, and realised that literature is where I’m headed.
Along the way, life shifted for all of us. I changed my office into a studio, realised that my wardrobe doesn’t suit or fit me at all any more, and began to get rid of things out of my life that no longer worked.
All of us realised that morning pages are necessary spiritual tools. We strive to do them every single day, and we are kind to ourselves if we can’t.
The upshot is that I’ve realised that working with other artists is about the most empowering thing I can do. We have recovered so much of our own artistry in a group that I’m invigorated and looking to rescue as many other artists now as I can.
I’ve found that each time you work through the program, you go deeper. You unlock more limits, discover new things about yourself. As your life changes, you can see it. It speeds up, as if the compounding effect takes over. Suddenly, boom! You’re a new person, with new eyes and new ways of thinking about the world. And alongside you are these other beings who shine with a new light.
This is why I’m facilitating a new group in March 2023
The new group brings in new people. I brought in two; the others brought in one or two each. We are going to work through The Artist’s Way again, from Day 1, for 12 weeks.
I’m kicking off a third creative cluster in April 2023
The third cluster is one in which I will not participate.
Instead, I’m going to act purely as a facilitator. I have one person interested already, and there are only five places. That means that there are four places left. Do you want one of them?
Here’s the deal:
- You buy The Artist’s Way. You don’t have to read it until we start.
- You pay a nominal facilitation fee for the program. That fee is $150.
- You throw yourself into the creative cluster, heart and soul.
The program is 12 weeks long, you are to do one check-in per week. And that’s all. You’ll be guided through everything else.
So, given you’ve read this far, would you like to join us? If you’re interested, either leave a comment below, or send me a message. I’ll be opening more clusters as the months roll on. 🙂
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