Getting inspired to live a more creative life is one thing—but then how do you actually dive in?
Seek guidance from experts.
There are a gazillion books out there that will teach you how to unlock your creativity. These are the 5 that were instrumental in starting me on my path.
The War of Art : Steven Pressfield
Originally assigned to me in a creative writing class, this book was subsequently recommended or given to me by at least 3 other people. Here’s why it’s so great: it’s chock full of brilliant, funny, wise little snippets that speak to our creative hearts. We all battle resistance to pursuing our creative passions, and Pressfield gives us the ammo here to help defeat the enemy.
We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny…Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.
These are simple, straightforward instructions on how to invoke the muse, combat resistance every day, and above all, DO THE WORK.
Bird by Bird: Anne Lamott
My copy of this is so dog-eared and tagged with stickies that it doesn’t really fit in its place on my shelf anymore.
Bird by Bird is essential reading for any and all writers; the practical tips and tongue-in-cheek asides are priceless and worth coming back to again and again.
The core, ethical concepts in which you most passionately believe are the language in which you are writing.
Lamott is a fan of writing the drafts; getting it out there, putting it down in words, no matter how crappy it is. She details the mind games she plays with herself in order to make this happen, which is completely relatable and charming.
There are also great tips on plot, dialogue, and what to do when you’re completely stuck—or when you don’t even know how to begin.
Steal Like An Artist: Austin Kleon
The fitting subtitle for this book is “10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.” And it’s true. Author Austin Kleon has a unique way of boiling down the essentials of being a creative into simple, smack-yourself-on-the-forehead, aha-moment tips, like “Validation is for Parking,” and “Art that only comes from the head isn’t any good.”
Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
Peppered with great inspiring quotes and quirky illustrations, Steal provides both permission and validation for us creative types to get on and stay on the creative path.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Brené Brown
Back when quitting my job was just a sparkle in my eye, I picked up this book and could not put it down. It quite literally changed my life.
Based on her extensive research, Brown details how and why it’s so important to release the idea of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace your imperfections through vulnerability.
Broken down into 10 Guideposts, Brown covers all aspects of beginning to live a more wholehearted life, from cultivating gratitude and joy, to letting go of comparison and living anxiety as a lifestyle.
Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared.
These brilliant insights come from a professor who didn’t use to consider herself a “creative,” until she did the extensive research and realized how vital creativity is in all of our lives, regardless of our vocations.
Big Magic: Elizabeth Gilbert
Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust and Divinity: these are what make up the Big Magic of creativity, according to Gilbert.
Her honest, conversational style makes these revelations reasonable, as if she’s explaining them to you, her best friend, over tea, with kindness and patience.
But these wise words are not to be taken lightly; these insightful musings on the magic and serendipity of creativity are easy and entertaining to read, and completely quotable.
There is no time or space where inspiration comes from—and also no competition, no ego, no limitations. There is only the stubbornness of the idea itself, refusing to stop searching until it has found an equally stubborn collaborator.
My favorite stuff in this book is all about Curiosity and Fear; I’m fascinated by the dance between the two. In a promotional podcast Gilbert did before the release of this book, she helped struggling creatives with a few specific issues, and for one woman, the advice she doled out was more like an exercise. The woman was thinking of shifting careers, but was stuck in the middle, unsure which was the right direction.
Gilbert counseled her to write a letter to herself from her Curiosity, remembering that your Curiosity has no limits; it wants you to jump out of every plane, to climb every mountain, to eat every cake. And then next to write another letter to herself from her Fear, remembering your Fear doesn’t want you to do anything—everything outside your door, and possibly lots of things within your comfort zone, are likely to kill you. Finally, she was to write a letter from herself to both Fear and Curiosity, and explain what compromises she was willing to make to each.
I did this exercise myself, and it was wildly revealing. Boy, that letter from Fear was pretty dark for me. And the letter from Curiosity was incredibly freeing. And then in my letter to the two of them, I was able to really spell out my boundaries for each.
I highly recommend the exercise—and the book. It just may kick you up to the next level of spontaneous, creative joy.
So read one, read all—and if these don’t do it for you, there are so many other guides out there to help you. Here’s hoping you get inspired and get creative.