Isn’t it wonderful how a book can change your life!
Today I have written about the books that have had the most influence on enabling me to live a creative life. Some are specifically about writing and others are about creativity in general.
The common thread that runs through all of them is to do your art step by step, practice your craft and do it in a way that is unique to you.
The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write – Julia Cameron
OK, so these are two books but they employ the same method. Julia Cameron is about healing creative wounds so you can go forward and create once more.
I started my writing journey back in 1999 by working through the exercises in The Right to Write. By the end of the book I had been introduced to Cameron’s stock tools – morning pages and an artist date. Morning pages are three pages of longhand journaling that you do first thing in the morning. The artist date is a concept where once a week you go off alone and do something fun that fills up your creative well.
By the time I had finished The Write to Right I had already written a couple of short stories and had ideas for other writing projects.
However, it was working through The Artist’s Way that blew my life open. It was the most exciting thing to happen to me since I had started practising Buddhism and it had the same effect – it made possible what hadn’t seemed possible before.
The Artist’s Way is not a book that you read, it is a book that you do. It is divided into a twelve week programme with some reading for each week and then some exercises on which you embark. I started it in January 2000 and the twelve weeks took me through to March.
It allowed me to see that even though I was a fledgling writer, I was an artist. The book is about healing creative scars and it allowed me to examine negative experiences I had had years earlier as a music student and put them to good use.
By the end of the twelve weeks I had bought my dream car which in turn I wrote about as a character in a short story – this became the ground work for my first novel. But most importantly of all, I considered myself to be an artist and I recognised that I was creative and the way that I chose to display my creativity was completely acceptable.
The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
I was introduced to this book a couple of years after I started to write. This book explains why we procrastinate on stuff which is dear to our heart. It does in such a way that it is the best kick up the proverbial that you will ever get. You can’t fail but get back on with your creative work after reading this. If you don’t get busy with your project after reading this then it probably wasn’t worth doing anyway.
I think this book is a creativity self-help classic and you can return to as many times as you need. It is a quick read, you will recognise yourself in it immediately and you will take action.
Beware, do not read this book if you don’t want to be shocked into taking action towards your dreams and goals.
Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
This book was only published in September 2015 but for me, along with The Artist’s Way and The War of Art it forms part of the ‘big 3’ – a must for anyone embarking on their creative journey. Elizabeth Gilbert lifts the curtain on her own creative process and gives the background as to all the legwork it took to go from a determined teenage writer to selling over ten million copies of Eat, Pray, Love. Even if you are not a fan of EPL this is still a must read for creatives. Like The War of Art she tackles the mental side of creative blocks. In understanding this you can’t help but take action on your own projects.
The most poignant thing for me was the concept of the shit sandwich. This is about the amount of shit you are prepared to take in order to achieve your goals and dreams. Every endeavour involves a shit sandwich and if you are not prepared to accept that then you probably won’t achieve very much. She talks about writers who were more talented than herself but eventually gave up writing because they couldn’t handle the shit sandwich of rejection, self doubt and not catching a break.
As they abandoned their shit sandwich her reaction was “are you leaving that because I’ll eat it.” The rest, they say, is history.
It doesn’t come down to just talent, it is about how hard and how long you are prepared to work. Those with lesser talent can triumph by sticking at the task for long enough.
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott
This is a fantastic manual on how to write whether you are new to the game or have been doing it for a while. The title comes from a family anecdote where Lamott’s brother had left it until the last minute to complete a school assignment about birds that he had seen in the garden over the holidays. He was panicked, overwhelmed and unable to write a thing. Her father calmly said to him, “Let’s just take it bird by bird.”
This book is very much about the writing process rather than how to get published and be a famous author. Such questions from her students are always deflected by Lamott encouraging them to write more and keep writing.
The two key tools/advice she employs through out the book are write a shitty first draft and write through a one inch picture frame. The first is obvious. The second again comes back to a method to deal with overwhelm – you don’t have to write everything or be able to write it all. Just imagine you are looking at your writing subject through a one inch picture frame. Now describe what you see.
The Courage To Be Creative – Doreen Virtue
I found this book to be a bit more woo-woo as Doreen Virtue comes from a healing and spiritual background. However I loved that she knew that being a creative person means that you often feel a bit weird in a sea of seemingly normal people. It was nice to be recognised as such and to be told that such a way of being is OK. You are like that because you’re creative.
Virtue gently leads you through the creative journey by gently encouraging you to start on a project. Then she gives guidance on how to tune into your unique creative spirit as well as giving practical advice with dealing with the business side of being an artist. She also shares details of her own story and work ethic.
On Writing – Stephen King
I read this book around three years into my writing journey and I returned to it and read it again three months ago. Much like in Big Magic, King documents the autobiographical details of his own writing career and then gives specific writing advice.
The first time I read it I was eager to learn and drank up everything he had to say. The best piece of advice I remember was never to use adverbs and that the word “said” was more than sufficient in dialogue passages. You don’t need phrases such as “he shouted” or “she exclaimed.”
When I read it recently I found it daunting and was scared that I would never be able to live up to the great man’s advice. Life was so much easier when I was a young innocent writer who didn’t know what I didn’t know!
Scratch. Writer, Money and the Art of Making a Living – Manjula Martin
This book has just been published and it is a fascinating read into how writers have dealt with the business side of writing. It is a book of essays and interviews with writers such as Cheryl Strayed, Jonathan Franzen and Austin Kleon that talk9 about money. Each subject discusses their family background and attitudes to money, how their big break arrived and the state of their finances before and after such a momentous achievement. They also talk about the downside of success, their writing habits and whether it is worth doing a MFA programme.
I hope that there is something new for you to read here. I’d love to hear about your favourite books on creativity. Please leave a comment and tell us what else we can read and study.
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Every month I also share the ups and downs of my own creative journey – but only email subscribers get that insider view.