Become a Writer Today

The Ultimate Guide to the Best Books on Creativity

July 10, 2023 Bryan Collins
Become a Writer Today
The Ultimate Guide to the Best Books on Creativity
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, I consider some of the best books on creativity. Many aspiring writers and artists feel they don’t have what it takes to express themselves. I felt the same way for years. 

The funny thing is that all creatives have felt this at some point during their careers. It’s a common theme found in many of the best books about creativity. Other themes include procrastination, fear of failure, and even a fear of success!

I’ve read dozens of creativity books over the years. This guide profiles the best creativity books for modern writers and artists, so you can start writing, creating, and publishing your best works.

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If you enjoyed the show please leave a review on Apple. And if you have any questions you can find me on Twitter @BryanJCollins

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He's the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studio. In this particular book, he shows what it takes to build up a massive creative brand like Pixar and to inspire our working culture that creates great films and stories. 

Looking for the best books about creativity? Many aspiring writers and creators feel they don't have what it takes to express themselves. I know because I felt the same way for years. But the funny thing is all creatives have felt this way at some point during their careers. It's a common theme that you'll find in many of the best books about creativity. Other themes that you'll find in these books include procrastination, a fear of failure, and even a fear of success. 

Now I've read dozens of books about creativity over the years. I'm gonna profile some of the best to help you find a good one to read. 

Hi, there. My name is Brian Collins. Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast. 

Number 1, Steal Like An Artist - 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. So this book was published in 2012 by one of my favorite online writers. His name is Austin Kleon, and he describes himself as a writer who draws. He lives out in Texas in the United States, And in this particular book, Steel Like an Artist, Austin Kleon basically explores this idea. There's no such thing as an original work. Instead, the key to creativity is to take ideas from multiple different sources, combine them, and then add your own voice. And then, you can even cite your sources or call back to them if you're worried about it. This book is particularly good because Kleon is an illustrator, so you can find illustrations in the book. And he also talks about how to be creative in the digital age. Now, it's a quick read. I was able to read it over a cup of coffee one morning, and it's actually the first book in a three-part series. Perhaps one of my favorite quotes from this book "Draw the art you want to see, start the business that you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read," that was the section that appealed to me, "build the products you want to use, do the work you want to see done." While I'm at it, I'm gonna mention two more books by Austin Kleon. The first book is called Show Your Work, 10 Ways To Share Your Creativity And Get Discovered, and the second book is called Keep Going. Look, being creative is great. But if you wanna earn money from your creative work, and let's face it, many creatives do, then you need people to be able to find you and your writings or whatever it is that you're working on. And in Show Your Work, Austin gives ten practical ways, again, true mini-essays and illustrations that you can get your work out in the world and in front of your ideal reader or consumer. Now Austin wrote this book in 2014, and it explores everything from the balance you need between sharing and oversharing and getting over a fear of putting yourself out there. It's particularly valuable today because, like the last book, it's relevant to anybody who works online. Here's a great quote from this book. "Make stuff you love, and talk about stuff you love, and you'll attract people who love that kind of stuff." It's that simple. And the 3rd book in this three-part series is called Keep Going. Now I got this book as well because I love the first two so much, and it has ten different strategies that you can use to keep motivated about your creative work. These include "Every day is Groundhog Day", "Build a Bliss Station", and "Forget the noun, do the verb." 

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. This book was published in 2002. And in this book, Steven Pressfield explores how aspiring and even professional artists, creatives, and writers face demons like procrastination and self-doubt. In the book, Pressfield recounts his own creative struggles as an aspiring novelist when he was younger, and he explores how creatives can find their muse more easily. If you find it hard to get your creative ideas out into the world and onto the paper or on a canvas, if you find it hard to do the work, this book will teach you all you need to express yourself. Here's a great quote from it. "Are you paralyzed with fear? That's a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb. The more scared we are of a worker calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it." Now, Pressfield has actually written multiple books on the creative process. He has an entire book called Do The Work, which goes into some of the strategies or advice that he offers in the War of Art. But one particular favorite that appealed to me is called the Artist's Journey. They're all short reads. And in the book, Pressfield combines advice about the creative process with his own stories and anecdotes. All essential reading for creatives of all types. 

Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull. Creativity Inc was published in 2014. I got the audiobook. Now if you're not familiar with Ed, he's the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studio. In this particular book, he shows what it takes to build up a massive creative brand like Pixar and to inspire our working culture that creates great films and stories. He also explores how creative thinking works in group settings and describes a concept known as The Brain Trust, whereby people working on a film in Pixar can all give feedback in a safe place. If you're ever interested in what it takes to create a film like Toy Story and also how to release something that's, I suppose, a product or a brand or a franchise like many Pixar films are, then this is the book for you. I found it particularly appealing because it combines creativity with entrepreneurship and business. And I particularly like the sections where Ed recounts how him and his team at Pixar worked with Steve Jobs and created many of the hit films like Toy Story And Monsters Inc. It's a great insight into how Pixar works. Here's a great quote from Ed. He writes, "You are not your idea. And if you identify too closely with your ideas, you'll take offense when they're challenged." In other words, when somebody critiques something that you've put out into the world, it's not about you. It's actually about the work.

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The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron was published in 1992. Now she's a novelist and playwright. And in this book, Julia explores what makes an artist. She describes what an artist or creative life looks like, and it's a must-read for a creative person. It's not so much about working online or building a creative business like the other books I've mentioned in this video. But this book is perhaps most famous for a single concept that made a big impact on me and many other writers. That concept is called the morning pages. In the book, Julia encourages a daily early morning writing practice, whereby you get up, and then you open up your writing application, or in Julia's case, you just get a notepad, and you free write about whatever is on your mind first thing. You do this for 15 or 20 minutes or even a bit longer. And the idea is that this will help you find your muse and help you express yourself. The book is also well known because Cameron proposes the concept of 'artist dates'. That involves taking a day or an afternoon, or even a few days off, to visit a museum or a gallery or to see a show or some creative work by somebody you admire. A great quote from this book, "Leap and the net will appear." In other words, if you do the work, if you do creative work, and you ship it out into the world, that's how you'll find the answer to the problems that you have. 

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp was published in 2003. I wasn't too familiar with who Twyla was until I read this book. She's actually a famous American choreographer. And this book is one part autobiographical and another part self-help. In the book, Twyla writes about how she finds inspiration for her hit ballet shows and musicals, and she also describes the habits and routines that she and other creatives rely on. There was one section in the book where she describes an early morning routine of getting up at 5 AM to go to the gym every day and how this routine sparks her creativity and it gives her a constraint within which to work. Now the book isn't really about health and fitness. The book is more about this idea. People are not born creatives. Instead, you can develop creativity with the right education, with the right habits, and the right work ethic. And if you feel you're not creative, this book is a good primer for you. Some of it's gonna challenge your thinking, but it will show that everybody has potential for getting something out into the world. A great quote from this book "I read for grot, firmly believing that what you are today and what you will be in 5 years depends on two things, the people you meet and the books you read." I guess, in this case, the books about creativity that you're gonna read next. 

Big Magic, Creative Living, Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. For most people, fear is a big thing that holds them back from pressing publish or pressing submission. But in Big Magic, Elizabeth teaches readers how to tackle these common fears about something that you've written or recorded or that you want to publish. She shows readers how to rise above them. Gilbert believes that this is where creativity's big magic takes place. Now the book was published in 2015, and it became a huge New York Times bestseller. One particular great quote from this book "The universe buries strange jewels, deep within all of us, and then stands back to see if we can find them." 

Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Now this book, and I hope I haven't mangled his last name too much, was published in 1990. Now, sadly, Mihaly recently passed away. But in this creativity classic, the Father of Flow explores this psychological concept. If you're not familiar with it, it basically describes when you're writing or working on a creative project and you get so immersed in it that all sense of time and effort fades away. And he provides multiple examples of artists and creatives who use a state of flow to work on their most important creative projects. And he also explains the triggers and circumstances that you need to get into this state. Now I use this book to develop my own triggers to create a writing routine and to get into a state of creative flow much faster. Usually, it involves wearing a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and listening to ambient rainfall on repeat. Every type of creative has their own particular triggers, for getting into a state of creative flow. A particular great quote from this book "Control of consciousness determines the quality of life." 

It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be by Paul Arden. You could grab this book if you believe that creativity is a set state and something that you're born with. Because like in Big Magic, Arden explains or believes that everyone has the potential to become more creative and better at their work. In the book, it's quite practical. He explores multiple different problem-solving strategies that can help you achieve greater things with whatever it is that you're writing or recording, or working on. Now it's an easy read, and it's fun and short. A bit like Austin Kleon's books, and you'll find it's really good for giving practical takeaways for your creative work. Here's one great quote from this book. "If you can't solve a problem, it's because you're playing by the rules." 

Lateral Thinking, Creativity Step by Step. This book was written by creativity expert Edward de Bono. Now, sadly Edward passed away a few years ago. But this book is considered one of his best works even though it was first published in 1967. It's also considered a classic in the field of creativity. According to Edward, there are two types of thinking. And this is something that he writes about in subsequent books. He wrote a lot of books during his career. There's vertical thinking, and there's lateral thinking. Vertical thinking is the type of thinking that we engage in every day. But lateral thinking involves looking outside of your field or your discipline to connect ideas in different ways. Kinda like what Austin Kleon says in Steel Like An Artist. Now if that seems a little bit complex, in the book, Edward describes different prompts and techniques that you can use to engage in lateral thinking. And it's appealed to writers, creatives, entrepreneurs, and people of all types in all disciplines over the years. One great quote from this book "Problem is simply the difference between what one has and what one wants." 

Seeing is Forgetting The Name of the Thing That One Sees is another good book about creativity. The book is a series of conversations with the American artist Robert Irwin. The book was published over 25 years ago, and it's been updated several times since then. It basically involves a series of interviews with Robert about his creative output. Now if you're not familiar with his work, that's because he's not a well-known musician or a well-known artist or writer. Instead, he tended to work on physical installations and galleries and so on that will be set up for a predetermined period and take then taken down. In the book, Robert describes what it's like to work on a project for years and for it not to come to fruition, and also to work on a project for years that's only meant to exist for a predetermined period. The book has inspired a lot of people to pursue artistic endeavors and artistic careers. It's a bit of a dense read, but I guarantee you'll be able to find something that you can take from it and apply to your own work. 

A couple of years ago, I took a course in transcendental meditation. It basically involves meditating every morning and evening for 20 minutes using a mantra. The book that inspired me to take up this practice is called Catching the Big Fish, by the film director and writer David Lynch. That's the man behind films like Mulholland Drive. In the book, David Lynch describes how a daily meditation practice, specifically transcendental meditation helps him catch the big fish that is ideas that he can use in his films and in his creative projects. Now it's quite a short read, and there's a couple of illustrations to go along with it inside of the book. But it's been a hugely impactful book on how I think about the link between meditation and mindset and the creative process. 

The Creative Act, A Way of Being by Rick Rubin is a new book that was published in 2023. Ruben differs from most other music producers who had a trend-based sound. Instead, he creates a supportive environment whereby artists can express their true selves and unleash their potential. And he's worked with everyone from U2 to Johnny Cash to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In the book, Ruben recounts how being an artist or a creative is not solely about your output or about how much you ship, but rather, it's about a deep connection with the world. And he believes creativity is a vital aspect of life that can be nurtured and enjoyed by everyone. It's an enlightening, accessible read. One great quote from this book "If you have an idea that you're excited about and don't bring it to life, it's not uncommon for the idea to find its voice through another maker. This isn't because the other artist stole your idea but because the ideas time has come." Again, a similar theme that you'll find in some of the other books that I've mentioned. 

And finally, I'm such a big fan of books about creativity that I actually wrote my own 3 part series about creative work. I wrote the book about 5 or 6 years ago. It's called The Power of Creativity, and it's a three-part series for writers, for artists, for musicians, and for anybody who's in search of a great idea. In the book, I combined research about the creative process with insights from my own work. If you're interested in reading this book, you can actually get the first part of it for free on Amazon or by visiting my site. Those are some of the best books about creativity. There are many more I haven't had time to include in this roundup.

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