books on creativity for the creative person
March 18, 2011 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend great books on creativity that have inspired you greatly in your work?

I am looking for books that have been extremely helpful in getting you out of a creative rut and back into making things again. I am partial to books about writing (and the writing life), ideas for new creative projects, journaling, design.

I am also interested in reading about other creative people's work process and thoughts: what it means to be creative/a writer/an artist, art vs. commerce, how to deal with the realities of having a creative life vs. other practicalities that you have deal with, etc.

Some books I have that I enjoyed and keep coming back to:
- Portfolio of Inspirations
- How to Make A Journal of Your Life by Dan Price
- 52 Projects by Jeffrey Yamaguchi
- Living Out Loud by Keri Smith
- Daybook by Anne Truitt
- Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood
- Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far by Stefan Sagmeister
- Dialogue by Shaun Cole

I know I could just browse Amazon, but the thing is, there are too many choices and I get overwhelmed. Some books are marketed better than others but they turn out to be crap. There are some suggestions here but I'm looking for something more.

Snowflake detail: my current situation does not give allowance for too much creativity and I find that it sucks out a little of my soul every day. I'm hoping to find comfort in these books, aside from getting inspiration, so reading about artist/writer struggles and how they dealt with it would be a big help, too. Nothing too spiritual or religious, please (I struggled when I read Julia Cameron's The Artist Way), and thanks.
posted by pleasebekind to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The War of Art

Great book.
posted by sharkfu at 10:35 AM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Lynda Barry is phenomenal. Her books will appeal to the writer and the artist in you. She is of translating personal experience into amazing output... and she's never ever boring. ONE!HUNDRED!DEMONS!and What It Is are books, and she has a workshop I've wanted to attend called Writing the Unthinkable that she does from time to time.
posted by kimdog at 10:41 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Twyla Tharp's "The Creative Habit" is a very good book on creativity from the perspective of someone who's job is to regularly be creative, that I would highly recommend.
posted by james.nvc at 10:46 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure it's exactly what you're looking for, but I really enjoyed Clapton's Guitar, about a somewhat eccentric luthier named Wayne Henderson. In a world of stressed-out people always acquiring the latest technology, here's a guy that takes his time building some of the most sought-after instruments in the world with little more than basic hand tools.

It really made me want to create something right then and there, and I've slowly been building up the courage to tackle a guitar.
posted by bondcliff at 10:56 AM on March 18, 2011

I have found the single best book to be "Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide To Better Ideas" by James L Adams. He is/was a prof at Stanford and taught creativity. I learned an enormous amount from this book. (I also like his "Care and Feeding of Ideas"). Most people have no idea that there are different categories of problem solving. I especially liked his description of a problem that could be easily solved with a mental picture. It could also be done with math but was very hard. He also explores barriers to creativity: would you believe cultural taboos? So I would liken this to learning how to deliberately shift mental gears, since we all tend to have a default mode of problem solving. He lists many different techniques for problems solving.

Some of my original notions about how the brain works, why it gets into ruts and how to get out of them came from Edward de Bono. You have to pick and choose with his books (I found some were meatier than others) but he has the best explanation for ruts and why we get into them that I have ever encountered.
posted by PickeringPete at 11:25 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like poemcrazy.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:26 AM on March 18, 2011

Best answer: The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde

(“The best book I know of for talented but unacknowledged creators.” —Margaret Atwood

“No one who is invested in any kind of art can read The Gift and remain unchanged.” —David Foster Wallace)
posted by mattbucher at 11:39 AM on March 18, 2011

The Gift by Lewis Hyde will blow your mind in this really slow and enlightenment inducing way.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:39 AM on March 18, 2011

I first read parts of The creative habit by Twyla Tharp for a creativity seminar as a freshman in undergrad and occasionally read it again for some creative inspiration.

As her career in dance and choreography, she discusses experiences in a rut, exercises to get out of it. Found it great for creativity even though I'm not in that area of creativity. What I learned most from it was to do whatever you're creatively doing, every single day in a routine. It improves your craft [over a long time], forces you to spit out whatever is inside you , and it's ok to have many unfinished projects.
posted by fizzix at 11:40 AM on March 18, 2011

Orbiting the Giant Hairball is my comfort blanket of creativity.
posted by Gucky at 11:54 AM on March 18, 2011

Best answer: Bird by Bird and just about anything else by Annie Lamott. I highly recommend her fierce but vulnerable style.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 12:17 PM on March 18, 2011

The Artist's Way by Julie Cameron is considered the bible on getting yourself out of a creative rut. I work in a creative field and have lost count of how many times it has been recommended to me. I've just bought it and will be making a start on the exercises soon.
posted by Jubey at 3:34 PM on March 18, 2011

Best answer: Along with Bird by Bird recommended above, I like Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. It's full of essays that I can digest over time. It's a tad religious, but I jump over that.
posted by dragonplayer at 5:11 PM on March 18, 2011

I've spent many an inspired writing moment with Writing on Both Sides of the Brain and What If.
Also seconding Writing Down the Bones and Bird by Bird.
posted by Paris Elk at 12:04 AM on March 19, 2011

Creativity, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the best I have read. Proven & practical & factual.

(That is the best book on creativity I have read, not Csikszentmihalyi's best book, which would be Flow.)
posted by bukvich at 5:50 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

An oldie, but still a goodie: A Whack on the Side of the Head

First creativity book I ever read, and still one of the best, imo.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:29 AM on March 19, 2011

Nthing both Lynda Barry and Twyla Tharp.
posted by safetyfork at 9:51 AM on March 19, 2011

Path of Least Resistance Robert Fritz
posted by dpcoffin at 10:49 AM on March 19, 2011

Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity - especially Drunk and In Charge of a Bicycle.
posted by jardinier at 11:22 AM on March 19, 2011

Response by poster: Hi all. Thank you so much for these! I will start with titles that have multiple recommendations then work my way through.

Also, someone sent me a compilation of all your suggestions + a few more via memail, so I thought I'd share it with you guys:

On Diaries/Journals
- Portfolio of Inspirations
- How to Make A Journal of Your Life by Dan Price
- An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers by Danny Gregory

On Creative Ideas/Projects
- 52 Projects by Jeffrey Yamaguchi
- Living Out Loud by Keri Smith

On Writing
- Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood
- What It Is by Lynda Barry
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott
- Poemcrazy by Susan Wooldridge
- Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
- What If by Anne Bernays
- Writing on Both Sides of the Brain by Henriette Anne Klauser
- Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

On Design
- Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far by Stefan Sagmeister
- Dialogue by Shaun Cole
- How to be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy

On Music
- Clapton's Guitar by Allen St. John
- The Tao of Music by John Ortiz
- This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

On nurturing the creative life
- Daybook by Anne Truitt
- The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
- One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry
- The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
- The Care and Feeding of Ideas by James Adams
- The Gift by Lewis Hyde

On theories and the creative process
- Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz
- Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein

On stumbling blocks, getting your groove back, and jumpstarting your creativity
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
- Conceptual Blockbusting by James Adams
- Creativity Workout by Edward de Bono
- Oblique Strategies by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt
- A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech
- Kick-Ass Creativity: An Energy Makeover by Mary Beth Maziarz

On creativity in the corporate setting
- Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie
- Disciplined Dreaming by Josh Linkner


Will come back to this thread often, so please feel free to suggest more titles. Thanks again and yay for creativity!
posted by pleasebekind at 8:50 PM on March 19, 2011 [11 favorites]

Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland, has been incredibly rewarding as a source of motivation and thoughts on the creative process. Highly recommended.
posted by goateebird at 5:32 AM on March 20, 2011

Ten Steps Ahead: What Separates Successful Business Visionaries From the Rest of Us by Erik Calonius
posted by PickeringPete at 9:29 AM on March 21, 2011

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