In 2008, I graduated from college with a fresh degree in creative writing, a dream of becoming the youngest American novelist, and a pile of student loan debt. But because it was the heart of the recession in metro Detroit, work was scarce, especially for a budding novelist like me.
So, I took a job as a marketing assistant in pharmaceutical distribution. I punched in, did my work for eight to sometimes 10 hours, and punched out. I’d come home too tired to do much else, and soon forgot about my novel. I stopped thinking in lines of prose and poetry, and focused all my efforts on paying down my loans.
I was overworked, uninspired, and ignoring my creative instincts. In favor of being acknowledged at work in hopes of a promotion, a raise, or a pat on the back, my creativity became a stifled, inhibited part of myself.
In an effort to find my way back to a creative life, I found books — books by people who understood what it felt like to lose inspiration and what it felt like to find it again.
If you’re feeling like you’ve always wanted to create something but don’t know where to start, or, perhaps you identify with being an artistic person but have lost your way, here are a few books that will help wake the creative beast hibernating inside you.
“The Creativity Cure: How to Build Happiness with Your Own Two Hands”
“The Creativity Cure” was one of the first books I discovered that helped turn my lack of inspiration and motivation into tiny steps I could take to re-incorporate creative practice into my everyday. The book is a step-by-step guide to tapping into your creativity if you feel you’ve lost inspiration, through making time for silence, play, exercise, and creating something with your hands.
Wife-and-husband Doctors Carrie and Alton Barron, a psychiatrist and a hand surgeon, respectively, explore the relationship between using your hands to create something, like painting, cooking, folding origami, or writing by hand (as opposed to using technology) and its effects on general wellness and happiness.
The Barrons suggest allowing time each day to journal your thoughts as well as emphasizing a “creative hour,” which is a daily hour dedicated to doing something with your hands.
“The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity”
“The Artist’s Way” is about awakening your sleeping inner artist and listening to it daily. Author Julia Cameron prescribes two remedies for doing this, what she calls “morning pages” and “the artist’s date.”
“Morning pages” are just that – three pages you write in the morning. Writing with the intention to fill all three pages, the idea is to release any negative thoughts or feelings that have accumulated from the day before, or perhaps some you haven’t yet dealt with, onto the page. It could beas simple as “I’m tired. I didn’t want to get up this morning.” According to Cameron, when you do this, your consciousness is more receptive to letting creativity flow more freely.
“The artist’s date” is blocked off time on your agenda to be alone and reconnect with your artist-self. You could go to a museum, take a walk, or sit in the park people watching. This book reminded me how I couldn’t simply wait for inspiration to arrive like some miracle. I needed to seek it out.
“The Art of Nonconformity”
“The Art of Nonconformity” takes creativity and applies it to practical goals: self-educating through intentional reading, hacking travel point programs to collect miles and book free flights, or even starting a business with just $100. But Guillebeau also stresses using creativity for something he calls “legacy work” — work you feel good about leaving behind and that will “outlast you.”
Guillebeau advocates, too, for routine and carving out time for creative work. If you’ve ever wanted to run a creative business, travel the world, and perhaps do both at the same time, he provides immediate bullet point items to accomplish goals like these.
“The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life”
Written by dancer and choreographer Twlya Tharp, “The Creative Habit” feels like reading a very well-connected blogger who’s been around the creative block. Tharp’s clear and direct recommendations for taking creative action make it hard not to live creatively.
Like the title implies, “The Creative Habit” encourages dedicated time for creativity. Each chapter is filled with calls-to-action, tasks and tricks to keep you regularly prepared to participate in creative acts. She suggests always having a “pencil” on you, an object that helps you better connect creatively (a recorder for composers, for example, or a camera for photographers).
From her decades-long career in the performing arts, Tharp offers up her personal methods for collecting inspiration and ideas (what she calls “scratching”) from the world around us and how to make this process, something that’s already natural to us, an intentional habit.
There is one message consistent in all of these books: If you want to live a creative life and make things you’re proud of, you have to make time for it every day. Creativity isn’t something that just hits you on the head one day. It’s cultivated through work. And when you connect with it and put time and effort into it, it’s nurtured. And like anything that’s nurtured and nurtured well, it grows.
Originally published on November 11, 2017.