If you are struggling to create regularly I highly recommend diving into some of these books – I have found them to be very helpful in boosting my creativity because of both the habits I’ve formed to make/prioritize time and the mindset shifts I’ve needed.
I’ll take you through the books, some of the takeaways that stuck with me and how I apply that in my creative practice – I work in both digital (illustration & motion design) and traditional mediums (watercolour art!)
1. Atomic Habits by James Clear
This book changed my life, not just my creative habits but other areas of my life. We all know the benefits of health habits, but James breaks down HOW to form habits, how to break bad habits and how to do it sustainably in the long run (*this is always key for me).
He gives an example of wanting to exercise more. Often it’s the first step that is the hardest but once you are in motion the rest comes. Putting on his running shoes was the first step to getting out the door to the gym. Putting on his running shoes was the habit that needed to be formed, everything else followed.
Another thing that sticks out from this book is pairing a habit with another habit that has already formed. I’m a watercolour artist and I have a ritual where I set up my workstation, put my phone on do not disturb, light a candle and set an intention (which usually consists of “my creativity is worth investing in”, or “I will create good work today”, etc. – more on that in another post). I find when I do these things together it puts me in a positive creative space, and my body knows it’s time to create. I don’t rely on creativity to “strike” (which is a myth, more on that later). For me the habit is lighting the candle – everything else had to happen in order for the candle to be lit.
I have a different habit for my digital creative work – I set a timer LOL. The habit is clicking the timer. I find working under the gun forces me to not overthink things, and skip the perfectionism, it’s using reverse psychology on myself hahahaha!
2. The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
The first time I read this book I thought it was a bit harsh! But the second time round I saw how much humour I had missed the first time. It’s genius. Stephen Pressfield gives character to the things that prevent us from making art in a clever and tangible way, a master of words.
It’s also very easy reading and a thin book so you can blast through it little bit at a time and be done in no time.
The first chapter is called Resistance: Defining the enemy.
This addresses procrastination of creating artwork head on – gives it a name, a persona, allows you to identify it and how it shows up. It allowed me to see the different ways I avoided creating art, so that I knuckled down and showed up for myself by just starting the damn piece. Brilliant read, you just have to experience it yourself.
3. Steal like an artist by Austin Kleon
Also very easy reading in a nice little package, can read a chapter a night and in 10 nights you are done the book. Addresses the elephant in the room that nothing is original – and all artists get their ideas from somewhere.
Chapter 2: Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started – love that he pointed this out. Start before you know the answer, you’re only going to find out by doing. So go do it.
I love that he suggests carrying a notebook everywhere you go to jot down ideas as they come to you (I use ClickUp as my brain dump and constantly add ideas when I’m out of the house to it then I have a solid list to work from when I sit down and make time to create)
The sheer volume of great quality quotes in this book are amazing, especially this one because it’s so dang true.
“We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice. And that’s how you begin. And then one day, someone will steal from you”~Francis Ford Coppola
I remember early is my design career I tried copying other peoples work to reverse engineer how they made it. And it would never look how the original looked, and it frustrated the hell out of me. Turns out I was creating in my voice, and I didn’t realize it until later what my voice was. (*I recommend copying for the sole purpose of learning, giving credit where credit is due if you post that copy, otherwise just keep it in your private files as a learning exercise*)
4. Feck Perfuction by James Victore
James is all about embracing your weirdness, what makes you unique, what makes you stand out. There is a common fear about standing out for not being accepted for who we are, and James busts that myth out of the water in his no BS, comical, straight forward, easy reading way of addressing perfectionism and embracing your authenticity – weird and all. Gotta read it!!
I am a recovering perfectionist, and if you are reading this, chances are you have a bit of that in you too. In the The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield says resistance shows up as perfectionism. I have to have it all figured out before I can start. #myth. Make work that isn’t perfect. Post work that isn’t perfect.
Brene Brown says perfectionism at first glance appears as tho you are striving for excellence when the opposite is actually true.
“Perfectionism is not about striving for excellence or healthy striving. Perfectionism protects us from being hurt. If I look perfect, do it perfect and live perfect I can avoid or minimize shame, blame or judgement.”Brene Brown
5. Keep Going by Austin Kleon
He’s published a whole series of books I recommend you check out, all have the same format and are easy to digest but still just as impactful. Keep going is about 10 ways to stay creative in good times and bad. His foreword says “I wrote this book because I needed to read it” – I’m writing this blog post because I needed to read it!! Ha!
“No artist can work simple for results; he must also like the work of getting them.“Robert Farrar Capon
Chapter 9 – Demons hate fresh air. To Exercise is to Exorcise.
I’m sure this is not a new concept, but it is a tried tested & true method. Combine this with James Clear’s Atomic habits and you’ll have a great foundation to keep yourself in a health creative space. Or at least a way to pivot when you come up against the wall – which we all do from time to time.
“I walked myself into my best thoughts.”Soren Kierkegaard
6. Grit by Angela Duckworth
We’ve all heard “oh they have so much talent” or perhaps you’ve been told you have “talent” or that you don’t have talent. Ouch.
This is bullshit. 100% BULLSHIT.
Angela Duckworth, professor of psychology, backs this up with her studies of a US Army program called Beast to see if they could predict who would be successful and who would drop out.
The success common denominator was not talent, or aptitude. It was – Grit.
Grit is defined as firmness of mind or spirit : unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger. It is a special blend of passion and persistence. And if you are willing to keep going in no matter how many times you’ve have already failed, how crappy it might feel, you develop resilience. Resilience increases your ability to endure hardship – this is also why athletes make great artists & entrepreneurs, they have high levels of resilience.
Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite anotherAngela Duckworth
This is a great read for anyone wanting to find resilience in themselves, and shift their mindset to get out of their own way to rise up to their creative potential.
7. The Practice: shipping creative work by Seth Godin
Do you trust yourself enough to ship creative work?Seth Godin
I found this book a little harder to get into, but there are so many nuggets of gold in there. I think this quote sums it up – and this is something I have a constant inner battle going on with my creative work. Do I trust myself?? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I find this one is an inner demon for me, something I am constantly aware of, and something I have to talk myself through almost EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
“Learning to trust – yourself, your audience and your work – is the core component of the practice. Whether your creative work takes the form of a painting, a song or a company, there is no formula for success.”
Great reminders, harsh lessons but if it were easy everyone would do it. Am I right? I also like the reminder to take the emotional out of the creative process – tho sometimes hard to do – if we treat it like a locksmith does trying to find the right key, if it doesn’t fit you move on to the next one. And the next one. And the next one. There is a process, and Godin is great at giving these type of small scenarios to help us see it in many different ways.
Let me know if the comments which one of these books helped you, and please drop more suggestions for the community to share.