One of the most common misconceptions I come across is the belief that once you’ve somehow “made it,” I / one / you don’t hit ruts, bumps, run into blocks, or otherwise get paralyzed by the creative work that needs doing.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I get thrown for a loop all the time.
I’ve found myself off my game at numerous times in my career, getting lost for a bit and struggling to re-capture the clarity that comes with great creative vision, intent, and very hard work. And the same is true of so many of my friends who are at the top of their creative games, respectively. We all get bit by the occasional creative funk. The difference between those of us who sink and those who swim?
So what do I do when that happens?
First, I acknowledge that my moon is waning and, as I mentioned above, I take decisive action. Sometimes it takes a week or even a month to realize the creative hole, but once I do, I know it’s time to act.
Second, I find some space. I need room for step 3. And what is step 3?
Third, I read. Yep. I pick up the books that I’ve read before but that continue to inspire me and remind me that creativity is a process, an activity, a mode of operating — and not divinity. It’s not luck. It’s not wisdom. It’s work. And it’s this headspace that helps kick me back into the spirit of reading. They create adventures in my mind that turn into adventures in making, being, doing.
So….The following is THE list of books that I turn to on the regular to escape these scary dark places when my (lying) mind takes over and tells us me I suck. Or tells me that I’m lucky to be here. Or tells me that I’m fooling everyone and that my once sunny is sinking into the abyss as we speak. The voices in my head are, I know, really just bullshit — but this list of 6 books is anything but that.
The Creative Habit; Twyla Tharp
Creativity is not a character trait, or something divined by the powers that be – it’s the combination of effort and desire. It is a process. And I promise you this is true. Tharp paints a clear-headed portrait that matches my direct experience where creativity is within everyone’s reach.
The War of Art: Break Through Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles; Steven Pressfield
One of the best books on creativity ever written. If this doesn’t get you fighting for your inner creativity…well then…you probably didn’t read it. If you’re like…damn near everyone on the planet…and feel that annoying resistance from your inner critic, this book is medicine. Hush those demons, hurdle those roadblocks. This is tough love that will help you tap into your true creative potential.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration; Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
This book is a treat that sits at the intersection of creativity and commerce. From the co-founder of Pixar, Catmull gives us unique insights into removing the blockers that harm creativity from within companies and organizations. I read this after taking over as CEO of CreativeLive, as it helps me cultivate creativity at CL – an organization of now more than 100 people. It’s an insanely practical book that challenges the “typical” work environment and teaches us to replace it with an environment that unlocks ideation and innovation. If you lead a team – in your own company or another – this book is gold.
Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (And Reward) of Artmaking; David Bales and Ted Orland
A book by artists for artists, this book gave me courage and helped my shut out those stupid voices in my head (yes – they’re in my head, too). An amazing reminder that great art is made by ordinary people like you and me. Think you don’t have a chance because you’re not Ansel Adams – think again. That’s just those trolls in your brain that have ZERO basis in reality. Beat them with ease. Win at making art.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead; Dr. Brené Brown
No single book has done more for pulling the curtains back on our culture of “never enough” and debunking myths around vulnerability. I’ve had author Brené Brown on chasejarvisLIVE before and, let me tell you, she comes correct. Creativity does not happen without vulnerability. The answers to you making better art are not “out there” in the universe, they’re “inside” you. And they need to come out. This isn’t some soft book that could be an after-school special. This book will kick your ass into putting more of you into your work and unlocking a whole new world.
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative; Austin Kleon
This is truly a manifesto for harnessing your creativity in the modern era and outlines the simple, recurring and well known position that stealing from one artist is stealing, but stealing from 1000 artists is called research or inspiration. Once you understand that truly nothing is original — that it’s all a remix of things gone by — you are freed to do what all the best artists from Picasso to Jay Z do… they cherry pick from their influences and add their twist. Austin was also a #cjLIVE guest – check it out.
Now pick up one or all of these freaking books. Personally, I like to read from the Kindle app on my iPad Mini so I can take all these books with me almost everywhere I go, but to each their own. Just DON’T do one thing: Don’t avoid this list. I promise these books will help you when things go creatively dark. Or grey. Or worse — annoyingly empty.
Break on through.