5 Books to Kick a Creative Rut
Since leaving my job to re-up on some quality me time, I’ve been doing a hefty amount of reading. Going to the library with my mom as a child was one of my most favorite activities, but I had gotten out of the habit of reading regularly as an adult. I’ve swapped my “too busy to add anything else into my schedule” mindset with a conscious effort to slow down, feel comfortable instead of anxious when I have time to think, and sometimes literally stop and smell the roses instead of rushing somewhere fast. Have you seen the Golden Gate Park and Morcom Rose Gardens lately? Let’s just call it a party for the senses.
I attribute a big part of my recent growth to books that helped me see myself and my creative potential in a new light. Many of these authors approach the same topics in different ways, which encouraged me to mix and match the pieces of wisdom that resonated with me and combine those into my own personal perspective on creativity and artistic growth. Topics like building creative confidence, finding spirituality in a creative practice, embracing failure and understanding the meaning of originality are common threads.
Getting back in touch with my creative side was—and still is—a big goal for me. I’ve come a long way in how I think about myself and my creative abilities, but there’s still plenty of work to keep me busy for a few decades. I’m pretty sure I’ll be re-reading these books and many more in the coming years.
The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
A classic that most creatives will recognize, The Artist’s Way helped me change my perspective on the value of creativity and get back in touch with parts of myself that had laid dormant for a while. It’s set up as a course book that takes 12 weeks to complete. Julia’s morning pages exercise is a practice many people have adopted, and her view on creative capacity as pulling from a reservoir of experiences—a reservoir that will run dry if not continually filled and replenished—is something that has helped me appreciate and make time for things I would have classified as superfluous before.
Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Liz’s writing feels so real and passionate to me, like talking with a good friend. In this book, she opens up about her creative process and the many, many bumps in the road on her way to success (and what success even means). I love how she describes the process of coming up with an idea. How the receiver of the idea has to jump on the opportunity and make the most of the idea, or else that idea will find someone else who’s willing the do the work to bring it to life.
Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon
I found this book when I was struggling with the idea of originality in my work. It felt so unattainable to come up with something truly original, and the pressure I was putting on myself to do so was completely squashing my ability to do anything at all. In thinking of originality as a new combination of existing ideas and influences, Austin inspired me to dive deeper into anything and everything that inspires me. To know more, collect more inspiration, and actively bring that into my work as an honor and tribute to artists who came before me.
The Wisdom of the Enneagram, by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
For anyone who yearns to understand themselves and their motivations, I’ve found the Enneagram to be surprisingly helpful. This approach segments personalities into nine general types and explains the healthy (evolved/mature/stable) manifestations of their personality in contrast with their unhealthy states. While it was tough to read, it was also really eye opening. After a week-long mini meltdown (I’m not kidding), I came out the other side feeling more aware of myself and in control of my actions with clear guidance on what I could do to be a better version of me.
Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
A big part of my creative self is entwined very closely with my experience as a woman. So for me to make progress on the creative stuff meant digging into my female self as well. This book is formatted as parables dense with life lessons and while the stories themselves are quite short, the author is able to peel back layer upon layer of meaning to reveal truths about the female experience that feel at once singular and reassuringly collective. I cried on a plane reading this one, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
What’s funny is that while I was telling myself I didn’t have time to read full books, I’d easily spend two or three hours browsing Instagram or reading articles like “45 cute puppies on beaches” and other important worldly news. I still struggle with prioritizing the truly beneficial and productive things in life over trivial time wasters...and with giving myself a little room to relax and waste time every now and then, too. Being more aware of how I spend my time has helped a lot in that regard.
There are quite a few more books I’d like to read, and that list is constantly growing, but I hope this handful of favorites will help you connect with your creativity a little bit more deeply.