Resource List: 5 books for a creative boost by Barbara Kowalski Provisional RGD
Each book gives practical advice in small, digestible chunks along with personal insights from the authors and deeper musings on creativity that will refresh your take on design work.
Every creative professional recognizes those moments of doubt and uncertainty that come with our designer territory. We all have different ways of dealing with them. For me, there is no better relief than opening up a book to get insight from other artists who understand the creative process and the struggles that come with it. That’s why I’ve developed this list of go-to books to fight a creative block.
Here are my recommendations for a guaranteed boost.
Set aside your feelings about her smash hit Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert has great insights on creativity. Big Magic is her love letter to the creative process, a process she considers almost otherworldly. For her, creativity is a vocation and this book is a testament to her deep respect for the craft of writing, drawing many parallels for anyone pursuing a creative career. She commits to writing as if it was a relationship, staying loyal by working regularly, even when she doesn’t feel like it, which allows her to withstand failures and go on after huge successes. A highlight for me: her guide to working alongside and, not against, fear. She suggests treating fear as a passenger in your car: it can come along for the ride but has to sit in the backseat and can never take hold of the wheel. The book is like a warm letter from a friend reminding you of the beauty of choosing a creative vocation.
Austin Kleon, the self-proclaimed 'writer who draws’ (and past speaker at RGD’s DesignThinkers 2015 and 2019!), developed his first book out of the slides from a community college talk that went viral. Steal Like an Artist is a list of 10 things Austin wished he knew when he was starting out in art. Through short essays, accentuated by his signature Sharpie handwriting, Austin explores pushing through the intimidation of being a beginner, making work by remixing ideas from your favourite artists and his tips for fostering creativity, such as productive procrastination and keeping a logbook of your daily life. This short and straightforward manifesto on creativity is rich in ideas that apply whether you are a beginner or well into a creative career.
Austin's second book is also a personal go-to for a more in-depth take on what a lot of us struggle with: showing and promoting your work. Similar to his first book in its short and direct format, Austin packs the pages with reasons to share your work with the world and tips on how to do it. From showing snippets of the ‘behind the scenes’ of your process, to making your website a corner of the Internet that you own and sharing what interests you even if you think no one else will agree, Austin's advice comes well-tested from experience. If you find it difficult to promote yourself or to figure out what to share and how often, this is a manual for marketing in a way that doesn’t feel forced and lets you remain true to yourself.
Author Steven Pressfield spent 17 years writing before successfully selling any of his work. In War of Art, he presents a deeply personal manifesto on the forces that block creativity: doubt and procrastination, which he labels ‘Resistance’. He explores the many ways you can resist a creative calling, the destruction that avoidance can cause and the ways you can fight Resistance. A key insight: his belief that if an idea paralyzes you with fear, it’s a sign that you are going in the right direction. Written in short, one or two-page articles, the book is part practical advice, part personal story and part meditation on the origins of creativity, focusing on the difficult but rewarding benefits of fighting the Resistance and taking action on your ideas.
Creative Calling is the most recent of the books on this list and the most comprehensive. Written by Chase Jarvis, photographer and founder of one of the first major online learning platforms, CreativeLive, it touches on many of the same ideas as the ones above but in a deeper, long-form format. Jarvis provides a detailed blueprint for structuring your life to boost your creative work: from blocking your time, to avoiding creative drains like social media and unregulated email checking and encouraging creative boosts through exercise and play breaks. There are simple but powerful ideas like “creating before consuming,” a call to starting your workday with your own projects before picking up your phone to find out what everyone else is doing. His suggestions for observing how you learn and following your own intuition as a business tactic are helpful for creatives finding their way through their crafts.