Want a hit of inspiration that will help you unleash your creative beast? These 13 books that will help you do just that.
1. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Oh, Elizabeth Gilbert, let's run away together! You've loved her since she wrote Eat, Pray, Love and you'll love her even more after reading this book. Gilbert says, "Creativity is a crushing chore and a glorious mystery. The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you." I love that. This book is both inspiring and pragmatic, with advice on habit-forming and getting started. If you dig it, check out her Magic Lessons podcast, too. It's one of my faves.
2. Let the Elephants Run: Unlock Your Creativity and Change Everything
David Usher was my very first rock star crush, and he's still killin' it, creatively. This book is all about process, blending philosophical musings and some practical exercises to experiment with. Usher likes to think of creativity at something that is repeatable and transferable. He says, "You are the Costco of creativity." Forget about quality. You need to fill the aisles with stuff. I like that. First, make. Second, edit.
3. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
You know that feeling when you just have to devour a book in big hungry gulps? You want to take your time and savor it, but you can't because it's just too good, so you end up mainlining it? Yeah. THAT. All kinds of that. Tharp says creativity is about developing good habits. Not sexy, but true. She offers up 32 exercises to get your creative juices flowing. And dammit if the writing isn't mind-blowingly beautiful to boot.
4. The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity
This is such a classic. And for good reason. Written more than 20 years ago, it's still incredibly relevant. The Artist's Way is a 12-week self-study course to inspire your creativity and help you become your truest creative self. Cameron takes a more spiritual approach than most, and every chapter includes homework and a "check-in" with questions for reflection. If you want structure and self-reflection, this is your book.
5. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
You could easily read this book all in one sitting, but I bet you'll be interrupted by an overwhelming urge to make something while reading it. It is short, punchy, brilliant, beautiful and will absolutely get you thinking differently about creativity. Some of Kleon's advice: don't wait until you know who you are to get started; side projects and hobbies are important; use your hands; and write the book you want to read. Pure gold.
6. Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered
This is the follow-up to Steal Like an Artist. It's a rally cry for promoting your own work instead of waiting to be discovered -- "getting found by being findable". Kleon urges creatives to share something every day, make your own work, tell good stories, be okay with being amateur, sell out (in a good way), share your trade secrets and get over the starving artist thing.
7. Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity
Oh, how I love this book! MacLeod is a truth-telling rule-breaker who wants you to get out of your comfort zone. He says what needs to be said to push you juuuuust the right amount. Bite-sized chapters are pithy, thoughtful, irreverent and come with a clever/funny/wise/ cartoon or two. MacLeod is first and foremost a cartoonist, but his writing will grab you and inspire you to shake things up.
8. The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help
This is a memoir about one woman's creative journey. And, WOW, what a journey. Palmer does not hold back. She lays her guts out for all to see, and it's a thing of beauty. She shares stories from her days performing as a living statue in a wedding dress, stories about her life as a rock star, stories about her relationships and everything in between. The thread that runs through this book is the importance of asking for help -- and the vulnerability and strength it takes to do so.
9. The Usborne Book of Drawing, Doodling and Colouring
Fiona Watt - Designed and Illustrated by Erica Harrison and Katie Lovell
I'm not a visual artist and I don't pretend to be, but I LOVE doodling and colouring. I kind of zone out when it's just me and my doodle books, which is awesome for creativity. I'll be scribbling away at a picture of robots or bumblebees and then, BOOM, a great business idea hits me from out of left field. Who knew?! Usborne has a whole line of doodle and colouring books, but this one is my fav.
10. Wreck this Journal
This is such a wonderfully wacky, one-of-a-kind book. To spark your creativity, Smith invites you to use the pages of her book to paste leaves, do pencil rubbings, scribble recklessly, crumple pages, poke holes in the paper, collect fruit stickers, make art with office supplies, sew pages, paste newspaper clippings, make prints from cut vegetables, trace your hands, write four-letter words and much, MUCH more. You'll absolutely destroy this book by the time you're done with it, but that's the point. Want to see one woman's epic journey with this book? Watch this.
11. Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways to Be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are
Ever daydream about drawing or painting, but then your inner critic says, "Who the hell do you think you are? You're not an artist. Plus, you don't have time for that!" If so, this is your book. Gregory wants to encourage you to play. His book is full of cool, easy exercises for true beginners, lots of ideas for what to draw and advice on choosing simple materials to work with.
12. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
This book is about resistance -- that paralyzing stopper of dreams that never get started in the first place. Pressfield says we tend to resist the things we want the most because the stakes are so damn high. That sure rings true to me. Pressfield manages to make a book about fear and creative self-sabotage funny and inspiring -- not an easy task. I mainlined this book all in one sitting. I bet you will, too.
13. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Anne Lamott is my new imaginary BFF. Her writing is hilarious and she discusses the neuroses of writers with precision. On more than one occasion I found myself thinking, get out of my head, woman! Her book offers advice on process, writing routines, revision and more, but the biggest gem in this book is an early chapter titled "Shitty First Drafts." Lamott underscores the importance of moving beyond paralysis by just getting something, anything down on the page, even if it sucks at first. I'll drink to that!
Published at Careergasm.
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When your own imagination isn’t firing on all cylinders, get inspired by the imagination of others. Celebrated filmmaker Jim Jarmusch suggests, “Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. "Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.”
A teenager on her mobile to a friend, a tender moment between a father and child, a couple in the midst of a heated argument... Everyday life can be a rich source of drama, poetry and inspiration. So ditch your iPod, forget your manners and get eavesdropping. On the bus, in the queue at the supermarket checkout, walking down the street - find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Just don't forget your notepad!
For centuries, great writers have been turning to exercise to fuel creativity. Ian McEwan pulls on his walking boots when seeking inspiration as he finds “the rhythm of walking is very amenable to the rhythm of thinking.” Meanwhile, prolific American author, Joyce Carol Oates and best-selling Japanese writer, Haruki Murukami, see running as an integral part of the creative process. In his 2009 book, 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running', Murukami says, “When I'm in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation… Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”
There’s nothing like a good dream to bring out your inner David Lynch. The wild ideas our subconscious throws out while we’re asleep are usually way beyond anything we could invent while poised at the computer. Keith Richards famously composed the riff to ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ while asleep. When we sleep, our pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain that suppresses imagination and deals with analysis, decision making and self-control – is ‘switched’ off, liberating the mind. To tap into this period of creative freedom, try keeping a dream diary.
We’ve already established that a notebook is useful for logging all those eavesdropped conversations on the bus. But it’s also essential for capturing the ‘lightbulb’ moments, and flashes of creative genius, that have an annoying habit of hitting you when it’s least convenient – like in the middle of a boring meeting, or in the middle of the night. Keep your notebook to hand at all times and scribble down your ideas in the moment, while the thought is still fresh.
To think laterally, or as one of Lord Sugar's candidates would say, to "think outside the box", is to use your imagination to solve a creative problem by thinking about it from an unconventional perspective. Breaking free from the expected, the norm, the traditional, and banishing preconceptions, opens the mind up to a whole new world of possibilities. Brush up on your lateral thinking skills by learning from Edward de Bono, the man who coined the phrase, and reading his book, 'Lateral Thinking: A Textbook Of Creativity'.
If you’re suffering from creative block, find a like-minded sparring partner to bounce your ideas off. There's a good reason why advertising creatives are recruited in pairs and why the world’s greatest comedy writers worked as a team (Monty Python, Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes, Galton and Simpson…). Because when it comes to imaginative thinking, two (or three, or four…) heads are usually better than one.
With all those books, films, cultural excursions and conversations with other creatives, your imagination should be well and truly stimulated. But Mark McGuinness, a trainer and consultant for creative professionals, warns of the danger of over-stimulation. He explains that there are other skills necessary for creativity, such as “focus, calmness, clarity and insight” which can be lost “amid the bustle of daily life and the chatter of social media.” He recommends daily meditation: “Every morning, before I start work, I spend 20 minutes sitting on a mat, focusing on the sensation of breathing, doing my best to be present and aware, and trying not to get tangled up in my thoughts. It makes all the difference for the rest of the day. And I’m convinced it makes me a better writer.”
Many of today's most revered writers eschew laptops, tablets and smartphones and insist on recording their thoughts on post-it notes or scrawled on scruffy notepads before committing to Word documents. Staring at a screen for hours on end can limit your imaginative scope, so try scrawling your ideas on large sheets of paper with big fat marker pens. Still can’t find the right words? Try sketching your thoughts for instant expression and a fresh perspective… or rip out inspiring words and pictures from magazines and newspapers.
It has become a cliché in corporate brainstorm meetings but the phrase “there’s no such thing as a bad idea” is not as stupid as it sounds. Of course, there is such a thing as a bad idea (the proverbial chocolate teapot, Alan Partridge’s ‘Monkey Tennis’…). But any idea is better than no ideas, and can kick-start the creative process, ultimately leading you to that eureka moment. So next time you’re having a brainstorm, ditch your inner critic, and write EVERYTHING down, however silly it might sound.
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