Three great books on creativity

How do you work with your creativity? If it stops, or dries up, or gets a little rusty, what do you do? What about if it’s going okay, but you want it to be going even better?

Chances are, there’s another artist or writer out there who’s been in a similar situation. Maybe, even, they had the same problem and solved it. Maybe, even, they solved it and wrote a book about it!

Below are three books, all of them written not by self-appointed gurus but active and successful creators, addressing the nitty-gritty of some practical creative problems. How to get past the hundred-and-one things that stop you creating? How to find the best ideas? How to get those ideas out there?

Three books, three answers:

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Two of the books in this list present a single, workable idea, a takeaway you can carry around and use for the rest of your creative life, like one of those nifty little tools you hang on your keychain and keep wondering how you got by without.

In The War of Art, Pressfield’s takeaway idea is “resistance”.

You want to write, so what stops you from sitting down and writing? What makes you stare at the blank page, unable to begin? What prevents you from finishing what you started and sending it out into the world?

It could be a thousand things, deeply personal psychological factors it would take a lifetime in therapy to identify, let alone work round or cure. So don’t. Just lump it all together as one thing, “resistance”, and treat it as nothing but that, resistance.

How do you overcome resistance? You don’t try to understand it, or reason with it, or plead with it, or bargain with it, or wait for it to go away. You treat it as the unreasoning block of nothing that it is and barge on through. It ain’t your friend, it’s your enemy. You overcome resistance by recognising that’s what it is, and all it is, and then you do the work.

A vital idea for creators. Read Pressfield’s book, and wonder how you ever got by without it.

Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch

Yes, David Lynch is strange, but this book isn’t as strange as some of his films. In fact, it’s often refreshingly direct. It’s short, and made up of a lot of short sections (one of which is only a single sentence long). Some of it is about Lynch’s own films and his individual way of working, but it does still have an excellent takeaway idea.

For Lynch, creative ideas are like fish, swimming around in the sea. If you want one, you have to catch it. Some ideas are easier to catch than others. Just reach in and feel around, and you’re bound to get an idea or two — but little ideas, ideas anyone could get, the minnows and sprats of the creative-idea sea. If you want a really big idea, a really big fish, you’ve got to go deep.

“Going deep” for Lynch means meditation, but that’s just his way. Find your own way, read Lynch’s book, and go after your own Big Fish.

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

While the other two books we’ve looked at have each had a single takeaway idea, Show Your Work! has ten. As its subtitle says, this is a book about “10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered”.

Ten ways in one book! What a bargain!

(We’ve clearly been inspired, if only by the exclamation mark in Kleon’s title.)

Although directed primarily at visual artists, and most obviously applicable to them, finding your own way of applying these ten ways to your particular area of creativity can be its own creative challenge, one that can lead you to find unique ways of getting what you do out there.

Among the ten ways are “You don’t have to be a genius” (which is a relief), and “Share something small every day” (here, have a peanut). Like the other books in this guide, Show Your Work! is short and to the point, which is just what you need when you know (“resistance”, remember) you really ought to be creating!