Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.
Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are.
The Creative Habit
Your mind, body and soul form the machine that creates your latest masterpiece. Find out ways to fine-tune the process and you’ll be fine-tuning everything that comes out.
(Simon & Schuster, 2003)
Twyla Tharp is one of the USA’s most prominent choreographers and in The Creative Habit she lays down her principles that anyone can use to become more creative. She breaks tons myths about creativity apart – that people are born naturally gifted, that creative success is more about inspiration than hard work and persistence – in the perfect balance between encouragement and tough love. Whether you’re interested in becoming more creative in dance, music, graphic design, fashion or just in your daily life, this book is a must read.
It’s rare to find books which cram as much inspiration and wisdom as this one does into such a tiny package. Austin Kleon covers ten important principles that can help anyone lead a more creative life: among them ‘Steal like an Artist’, ‘Don’t wait until you know who you are before you get started’ and ‘Write the book you want to read’. Delivered in his unique style, with quotations, doodles and diagrams, Kleon’s book is that rare must-read you’ll be able to devour in an hour max.
If you want to create interesting work, you have to be an interesting person. If you want to be an interesting person, you have to lead an interesting life. While Austin Kleon’s focus is the work you create and how you put it into the world, in How to be Interesting Jessica Hagy’s topic is ways you can live, be and act like an artist. Whether you want to be one or not. With inspiring ideas, mind-altering illustrations and more than a few jokes, she’ll help you ask yourself the questions that can help you lead a more fulfilling life.
Ed Catmull: Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
(Random House, 2014)
Ed Catmull is President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, two studios that probably don’t need an introduction. But if they did, those introductions would include the phrases ‘multiple blockbuster movies’ and ‘redefining what is possible time after time after mother-effing time’. Creativity, Inc. is about what goes on inside Pixar: how the studio they’ve built works to create their unique and ground-breaking movies. It’s a study of how the disparate worlds of creativity and business can collide and produce something uniquely successful. While songwriters don’t work in teams the size and complexity of movie studios, the lessons in collaboration, constructive feedback and embracing innovation contained in this book will be useful for anyone looking to unlock more of their creative potential.
(Houghton Mifflin, 2012)
Imagine caused something of a scandal when it emerged that its author, then a journalist for magazines including WIRED and The New Yorker, fabricated some of the quotations attributed to Bob Dylan. If that doesn’t put you off, you’ll find a lot of wisdom in this book. Lehrer’s focus is how creativity relates to neuroscience, and in his exploration he reveals countless insights into how we can prime our brains to keep them at their most innovative. Because of the controversy, Lehrer’s publishers withdrew the book and it remains out of print. Maybe there’s something intriguing about the book being forbidden, but — fabrications or no — it’s a fascinating read and well worth consulting. That is, if you can get hold of a copy.
The hardest thing about being an artist is how long it takes to find your feet. The second hardest thing is trusting that if you only persevere, you’ll get there soon enough. Letters to a Young Artist is about coping with the journey. While Deavere Smith can’t help you avoid the uncertainty and self-doubt all young artists face sooner or later, her writing is full of the exact sort of warmth, compassion and hope that’ll urge you to trust that somehow it’s all going to be OK. Along the way are the sort of tips, tricks and anecdotes that aren’t often put down in print, and exactly the sort that can help you become the person and artist you’re trying to be.
Seth Godin, entrepreneur extraordinaire, offers a simple proposition: driving through the countryside, you might see brown cows, gray cows, off-white cows and not think much of it; catch a glimpse of a purple cow, however, and you’re not likely to forget it. The same applies to songwriting: if you’re producing work that’s tried-and-tested and unremarkable, you’re less likely to get people’s attention. Godin explores the philosophy of being remarkable, the importance of failing until you succeed and the many reasons that playing it safe is the riskiest possible thing you can do. His blue-sky, purple-cow thinking is valuable for anyone looking to leave their mark on the world.
Nicolas Slonimsky: Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time
(W. W. Norton, 2000)
Next time you want some light relief from writing, or just want to put an unkind review or snarky YouTube comment into perspective, Nicolas Slonimsky’s Lexicon of Musical Invective is always a good laugh. He compiled the most’biased, unfair, ill-tempered, and singularly unprophetic judgements’ ever directed at some of history’s greatest musicians. It’s great to have on your shelf as a reminder of one of the most important creative principles: just because there are people who don’t like or understand your work doesn’t mean it’s time to stop creating it.