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Five Books On Cultivating a Healthy Relationship with Creativity

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For every budding artist, there’s an established one who’s already walked a similar path. Some of them even wrote books about it. Reading their stories can offer new insight that helps make your journey easier. Here are five books to help you edge closer to your most self-realised and satisfying creative work.

Words by Urth HQ

Flow by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

“Most enjoyable activities are not natural; they demand an effort that initially one is reluctant to make. But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person’s skills, it usually begins to be intrinsically rewarding.”

The phrase ‘flow state’ was coined by Hungarian-American Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. He uses ‘flow’ to describe the state of becoming immersed in your work enough that it feels like time slows down. He describes it as “the secret to happiness.” To get into flow, the challenge-at–hand and skill level must be equal. His book Flow teaches you to maintain this state throughout your life, by balancing these two things. Challenging yourself enough that you’re stimulated, but not too much that you become frustrated with something beyond your skill level. This balance is good to keep in mind when engaging in creative work, because it can be used as a reference point to aim for, to keep your work rewarding. 

“Serious art is born from serious play.”

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

“No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity.”

“Serious art is born from serious play.” 

If you’ve heard of a journaling exercise called ‘The Morning Pages’ involving three pages of stream-of-consciousness — this is book it originated from. The Artist’s Way was written in 1992 and is still a staple reference for many creatives out there. Julia Cameron prescribes the morning pages as a gentle runway into a daily creative practice, particularly for beginners who don’t yet have established habits or the determination of a seasoned creative. Another concept she writes begins with an anecdote about Michaelangelo, who humbly stating he didn’t create David, the masterpiece found him. Developing this idea further, she describes an artist as a channel from whom an idea flows through and that the artist’s job is to water and take care of these ideas with the same care of a gardener tending to their plants.

“Writers write. Runners run. Establish your identity by doing your work.”

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.”

Touching on Julia Cameron’s idea that creativity comes from outside of us or in her words buried within like ‘hidden jewels,’ Elizabeth Gilbert adds her insights on navigating fear to the conversation. She suggests learning to coexist with fears, rather than wait for them to go away before we create something. “It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back,” she reflects in Big Magic. “If I can relax, fear relaxes, too.” Gilbert is like the encouraging cool Aunt archetype, reminding us we don’t need special permission to create. In her approachable prose, she also advocates that absolutely everyone is creative and should create. Summarising with a simple, inclusive statement for all those who’ve felt cast aside the fringes of the ‘art world’  — “if you’re alive, you’re a creative person.” For the perfectionists who are letting a fixation with originality block them, she adds “It might have been done before, but it hasn’t been done by you!”

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

“Seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage will help you feel less alone as you start making your own stuff. I hang pictures of my favourite artists in my studio. They’re like friendly ghosts. I can almost feel them pushing me forward as I’m hunched over my desk.”

“What to copy is a little bit trickier. Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.” 

Steal Like an Artist really takes you off the hook when it comes to common pressures creatives put themselves under; whether it’s to make something original, or avoid procrastinating. He makes a case for the importance of procrastination and ‘down-time,’ arguing that’s where our flashes of inspiration come from. Careful to differentiate from plagiarism, he advocates that imitation on the other hand is an essential part of developing your own unique style — and it’s in the inevitable failure to imitate the work completely, that you’ll find your own unique flare. Kleon also encourages finding liberation and even enjoying your obscurity as an artist, because this is the prime moment to imitate other artists… when nobody gives a shit whether you do or don’t. 

The Practice by Seth Godin

“Writers write. Runners run. Establish your identity by doing your work.”

“Yes, you’re an imposter. But you’re an imposter acting in service of generosity, seeking to make things better. When we embrace imposter syndrome instead of working to make it disappear, we choose the productive way forward. The imposter is proof that we’re innovating, leading, and creating.”

If Elizabeth Gilbert is the cool Aunt of creativity, Seth Godin is the cool Uncle. A world renowned thought leader with an incredible amount of creative output of a blog post a day for 7,000 days, makes him a qualified proponent of his own concept of ‘shipping’ your work before you feel ready. Talking directly to the perfectionist, he argues that we need to ‘ship’ our work at all costs “because it doesn’t count if you don’t share it.” Also making a retroactive retort to the creative who lets their emotions get the better of their work he says; “your work is too important to be left to how you feel today.”

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Ella Liascos is an Australian writer based in Byron Bay, exploring how we can regenerate our relationship to ourselves and the planet.

2022-10-20T03:59:20+00:00Categories: Creativity|Tags: , , |