Writing and creating art are most often solitary experiences – hours spent staring at blank computer screens or pieces of paper or canvas – time spent trying to find the right words or colors. Time, largely spent, in our own minds. But we don’t have to – and shouldn’t – create within a bubble! Most art is made within a community, with support from family and friends, with sage advice from mentors, with the occasional self-help book. If you’re having trouble getting started or finishing a project, here are some books that will help.
1. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
No, I don’t get paid money to endorse Elizabeth Gilbert books; she’s just that good. She’s helped me and others I know to get past the fear and just do the thing. If you’re having trouble starting a creative project, continuing one or you’re losing steam, this is a great book to get you inspired and back on track.
2. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The Artist’s Way is a quintessential book for creatives. Cameron’s “morning pages” – where the artist clears their mind with stream-of-consciousness writing to make way for inspiration – are a staple to get writers and artists in the daily habit of creation.
3. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird is Anne Lamott’s hilariously honest take on the writing process and what it means to be a writer. There are chapters on plot, character, dialogue and technique, but there are also reflections on life and spirituality. There’s not a ton of new information if you’ve read all the writing ‘how-to’ books, but Lamott’s delivery will more than make up for it.
4. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
As a prolific writer of horror pulp, King’s books might not be your cup of tea, but there’s no denying the man knows how to tell a story. This book helps writers develop their craft and gives lots of good, no-frills advice gleaned from a lifetime of writing.
5. Finishing School: The Happy Ending to that Writing Project You Can’t Seem To Get Done by Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton
I’ve long been a fan of Cary Tennis’ advice column in Salon, so I was excited to see he’d cowritten a book on writing. Finishing School helps writers reignite passion for their project and work steadily to get it done. Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton identify emotional blocks and break down how to overcome them so you can finish the project you’ve been struggling to finish.
6. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters to a Young Poet is regularly given to English majors graduating from or headed to University – and while some might be inclined to dismiss it on these grounds – this book is just that good. A beautiful, empowering book that helps poets and writers embrace their creative soul. Rilke explores themes of solitude, nature, sexuality, love and what it means to be a writer in this must-read.
7. Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith
So Wreck This Journal isn’t something you read, so much as something you do. But I find – much like the rising popularity of adult coloring books – it’s important to have an outlet for creative impulses and to connect with your inner curiosity. This book helped me to create without judgement. And to destroy without reservation. It helped me overcome perfectionist impulses that often kept me from creating anything. And it was fun!
It can be daunting trying to create something new when it feels like everything has been done. But Kleon assures us that nothing is original and all the best artists steal from one another. Steal Like an Artist suggests collecting ideas, being curious about the world and surrounding yourself a tribe of creatives. If you’re lost and struggling to find your artistic voice or just starting out, this book might be for you.
9. Screenwriting from the Soul by Richard Krevolin
The letter format of Krevolin’s book can grate after a while, but his understanding of the Three Act Structure can help act as a blueprint for aspiring screenwriters and writers. Krevolin breaks down popular movies like Ms. Doubtfire into Three Act structure in his easy to follow diagrams and helps writers organize their own plot.
10. The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces is an essential read for any writer who wants a deeper understanding of storytelling. Campbell studied myths across different cultures and found their common threads to create the idea of the Monomyth – or Hero’s Journey. He asserts that all stories are the same story and recognizing the patterns of our myths can help inform our own work and lives.
What books would you add to this list? What books wouldn’t you include? Have you read any of these?