It doesn’t take much to get stuck in a rut as a human, much less as an artist. These are the books that took me from Slump City to actually making art.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Driving home from work several years ago, I listened to an interview with Jenna Fischer in which she said that the Artist’s Way helped things finally click for her and her artistic journey. The interviewer asked, “You actually finished the artist’s way?” She said it took her three tries to get through the 12 weeks. As soon I got home, I got out my copy of Artist’s Way and started again. I, too, had started and stopped before, but this time I forced myself to see it through to the end. Was it 12 consecutive weeks? Nope. But I wouldn’t beat myself up if I took a week off. Fear of failure has always been a major roadblock for me, and this book helped me get ideas out of my head and onto paper. The Artist’s Way is a workbook, designed to be completed over the course of 12 weeks (or as I’ve said, a chapter a week, not necessarily 12 weeks in a row). Each chapter dares you to see yourself as an artist, and challenges you to be creative in new ways. It is a powerful process and it changed the way I think about myself and about creativity. You’ll pick up several tools for your artistic toolbox along the way.
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
I read this book at least every other year, but often once a year. Randy Pausch was raised by the Baby Boomer generation and he gleaned all of the good parts of his upbringing, tough love and the courage to follow your dreams, and packs a punch with this inspirational lecture on how to live your life, treat other humans, and achieve your dreams. The background of the book is what made this book famous: Randy wrote and gave a version of this lecture at Carnegie-Mellon as his literal last lecture before he died of cancer. I fell in love with this book when I graduated from college, but it became a lifelong staple for me when I became a parent. My husband isn’t a big reader, so I’ve shown him the lecture on YouTube but there really isn’t a substitute for the extra goodies you get out of the book.
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp is living the performance artist dream, and this book is the promise of that premise. If as a child you imagined yourself running from rehearsal space to rehearsal space, this book is for you. Twyla Tharp has had an incredible career, and her book teaches us the importance of balancing the pragmatic with the artistic. I’m a lifelong procrastinating, night owl, creative type, and “The Creative Habit” taught me to infuse my process with the habit and structure so I can actually meet deadlines. As Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
My goodness. First of all, who doesn’t love Shonda Rhimes? She’s one of the most powerful names in television, currently and over the last 15+ years. (side note: holy crap, Grey’s Anatomy has been on forever). I always love reading about how people balance, or attempt to balance, their personal lives with their careers, and Shonda Rhimes delivers. This is an honest look at how she handles being a woman, a producer, a writer, a mom, and all of the other hats she wears. As the title implies, this book is about Ms. Rhimes challenging herself to say “yes” more. If you’re a person who already says “yes” to everything and you might be working on saying “no” more, this might not be the book for you (although she does have a chapter about saying no). But really, this is probably the book I recommend the most, after…
Like Brothers by The Duplass Brothers
Seriously. I know, I know. I’ve already recommended this book. Welcome to the club of people I talk to regularly who are also tired of hearing about it. If you haven’t already, seriously check it out. I read Like Brothers after I made a “ten year plan” that was very drawn out and impractical. A lot of the things I wanted to do depended on someone else. While “get cast an ensemble tv show” is great for manifesting, it’s not actionable. Like Brothers is kind of a no-excuses method for making your art. Also, maybe I didn’t mention this before, but I cried reading the book. It’s partially a memoir, about the sweet relationship between these two brothers, and it made me see my own relationships differently. A book that teaches you how to jumpstart your creative journey, and also doles out real, useful relationship advice? Why isn’t everyone reading this book?!
My Thrift Books Rant
I would be remiss to write a book post and not mention Thrift Books. I am a big time library-patron but for children’s books and books that I re-read often, I like to shop at Thrift Books, a huge online thrift store for books, DVDs, and games. These books are available for less than $10, some of them are less than $5. When you spend a certain amount of money, you earn points and can cash in for free books. It’s nothing out of reach, either. I’ve earned three free books since December. Now, do I spend too much money on books? I mean maybe. But still. Here’s the breakdown of their rewards programs:
Tell me in the comments what book revs your creative engine!