I love to read, and one of my favorite things to read are books that give me creative ideas about how to live my life and be more creative. There are three books that stand out to me on this subject: Poem Crazy by Susan Wooldridge, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
These are books that have made a big difference to me—they’ve made me laugh (perhaps even cry), and they’ve given me actual practices, exercises, and new ways of thinking that have helped me live a more joyfully creative life. If books could be friends, these would be my three best, accompanying me through life and often wind up next to my bed.
I know I have mentioned all three here before, but I don’t believe I’ve ever done an actual review of them. So, I would like to share with you why I love these books, with the hope that anyone who needs a creative lift will be able to find a companion here too.
Poemcrazy by Susan Wooldridge is one of the first books I ever picked up on the subject of creativity. I was in high school at the time, and I was crazy about poems (that’s probably how I discovered the book). I found a bit of myself in these pages, with Wooldridge’s stories of her young awkward self and how she found a whole new life when she began writing, “In my journal I began to feel free. I had round, wobbly script and sometimes I made stick and dot drawings in the margins. I survived school by developing a secret life in my journal. And I began to write poems in its pages. What made me feel like an outsider and an observer, different from others, could be poured into poems.”
Wooldridge tells honest and funny stories about life as a writer and creative person, often bringing in anecdotes and poems from her years doing poetry workshops with kids, her own motherhood, daily walks in nature, and all sorts of other pieces of day to day life. She shares great joy for words and brings in creative exercises that allow the reader to create some of the magic that she is living in the stories—exercises that give readers a jumping off point for word exploration and poetry.
While this book is geared towards the written word, there’s so much joy and creativity in it that it would be a fun read for anyone who enjoys finding new ways to be creative and think outside of the box.
As you can see from the cover of this book (a National Bestseller), Anne Lamott and her insightful, often hilarious personal “Instructions on Writing and Life,” Bird by Bird is no secret. If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class, you have probably heard reference to this book, and for good reason—Lamott gives the reader a straight-talking, humorous look at what it’s like to be in the battle field of being an artist.
With chapters titled things like, “Shitty First Drafts” and “Perfectionism,” Lamott makes any creative person dealing with day to day resistance and the general stream of black thoughts (which she calls “Radio Station KFKD” or K-Fucked) feel less alone—she makes you realize that everyone goes through this, “The best way to get quiet, other than the combination of extensive therapy, Prozac, and a lobotomy, is first to notice that the station is on. KFKD is on every single morning when I sit down at my desk. So I sit for a moment and then say a small prayer—please help me get out of the way so I can write what wants to be written.”
Again, while this book is also geared towards writing, so many of the themes apply to all art that it’s really inspiring and fun to read if you’re an artist, writer, or really anyone who has ever experienced resistance to doing what you really want to do. Also, Lamott is just plainly a great and entertaining writer.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is another very well-known book on creativity, perhaps one of the best-known books in the self-help genre of creativity. I know I have mentioned it here before, perhaps quite copiously, but this book was so influential for getting me to where I am today with my creativity and art, that I don’t feel I can mention it enough.
This book is the ultimate read if you feel stuck or frustrated creatively. If you feel like you used to be creative and have lost it, or have just consistently been putting creativity on the back burner and you really need something to jump-start your creative life, this is the book for you.
Cameron outlines a 12 week program that helps readers to face and explore creative blocks and start being creative every day, little by little. The best thing about this book is that it’s action oriented—it gives you concrete exercises and steps all the way through—things to do every single week. I promise, if you follow this book and do the exercises (including writing a journal every day to get all of the junk out of your brain), your life can’t help but be changed.
Granted, following the program does take a bit of a commitment, but the whole book is about priorities and restructuring your life to make room for creativity and giving you the confidence to let yourself do whatever creative practice brings you joy. So many people have been helped by this book, and are now leading more richly creative lives (myself included)—I dare you to go to your public library, and at least give it a look!