Five books to inspire creativity

As creative people, sometimes we just get stuck. Nothing seems interesting. We’re a little bored. We don’t know where to go next, or we don’t seem to like anything we’ve made.

Or sometimes, we love what we’ve made, but we get discouraged when it doesn’t get the recognition we hoped it would, or when we don’t feel understood. We’re not sure why we keep doing what we do.

Photography, writing, painting, illustration, sculpture, composition of any kind—sometimes we just hit a wall. We need a fresh breeze to lift us out of the creative doldrums. To wake us up. To set our sails and getting back to work, telling our stories and bringing beauty to the world. If you find yourself creatively marooned, here are some books to inspire creativity.

To fill your well

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

“In filling the well, think magic. Think delight. Think fun. Do not think duty. Do not do what you should do—spiritual sit-ups like reading a dull but recommended critical text. Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you; think mystery, not mastery.” —Cameron

This book is a loose, 12-lesson program that either launches a creative life or gets it going again. Full of exercises and activities, it reminds you to see life in terms of particulars, and it teaches you how to put those particulars to work in telling a powerful story. It also addresses common creative blocks and illuminates the path through or around them.

To get comfortable as an artist

Letters to a Young Poet by Ranier Maria Rilke

“Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything!” —Rilke

This tiny little book is a priceless gem whose power reaches far beyond poetry. A series of collected letters from a master poet to an apprentice, it discusses questions and mystery, solitude and love, craft and connection. It’s a classic must-read for any creative, bringing meaning and joy to your work.

To tap new places of inspiration

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

“I think it’s good to have a lot of projects going at once so you can bounce between them. When you get sick of one project, move over to another, and when you’re sick of that one, move back to the project you left. Practice productive procrastination.” —Kleon

Written as a manifesto for creativity in the digital age, any one of the items from Austin Kleon’s list will unlock creativity. Practical, funny, down-to-earth, his directions will help you get started right where you are with what you have, and it’ll demolish your excuses.

To grow your craft

The Art of Styling Sentences by Ann Longknife Ph.D., K.D. Sullivan

This book is a quick little reference to work your writing muscles. You don’t have to be an aspiring novelist or magazine columnist to give your work a tune-up, line by line. Whether you’re writing letters, blog posts, brief introductions to print work, or lengthy tomes, trying out the different shapes for sentences can help get you moving. There are exercises to try and famous master-sentence examples to copy.  Sometimes getting the words out is like going for a run: The first step is putting on your shoes. The playing with the 20 different patterns in this book is like that. It gives you some exercise and a place to start.

When wondering why you do it

Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

“But unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint of clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.” —L’Engle

The series of 12 meditations by the renowned author of the young adult classic A Wrinkle in Time reflects on the connection between art and faith and the relationship between creativity and mystery. The making of the good and the beautiful is a holy and life-giving thing. Relentless and without apology, this book will challenge you to make excellent work and overcome self-consciousness It’ll put fire and purpose into your creative process.


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