I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for new ways to spark my creativity. I’ve started doing improv again. It’s always scary, and it’s always worthwhile. Above all, improv is a reminder of why it’s so important to keep our creative selves alive, regardless of our age. After I come out of an improv class, I always feel a bit lighter on my feet, a bit more open to the world, and—dare I say it?—a bit more in the moment. Here are five books that will help you be more creative in work and in life:
On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.
My sister texted me the other day. “Help! I’m in the middle of ‘Reading Deprivation Week!'” she wrote.
I knew instantly what she meant. She’s making her way through Julia Cameron’s brilliant book The Artist’s Way. Her text reminded me of how useful that book was back when I took a year off and was drafting a book manuscript.
Here are five books to help spark your creativity:
a. The Artist’s Way. I really can’t say enough about this book. As I’ve written before in these pages, it changed my life in many ways. Because of Cameron, the first thing I do when I wake up every day is tackle my morning pages—several pages of longhand notes in which I download everything I’ve got in my head. This book also inspired me to start creating an image file. Through Cameron, I also discovered the power of affirmations. When people tell me that they’d like get more in touch with their creative self, this is the very first book that I recommend.
b. The Book of Doing and Being. Another book I found inordinately useful during that same period of unemployment and creative growth was Barnet Bain’s The Book of Doing and Being: Rediscovering Creativity in Life, Love, and Work. Like The Artist’s Way, this book is loaded with exercises to help you get to the very essence of what you’re all about, what’s missing in your life, and how to begin to cultivate your creativity. Bain defines creativity in a way that enables you to apply the exercises to *any* sort of creative process, including launching your own business (which is how I used it.) I use a version of his exercise “One Page, One Paragraph, One Sentence, One Word” when counselling others on career change.
3. Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives. I absolutely adore Tim Harford. He is, among other things, a Senior Columnist at The Financial Times, the host of a fantastic podcast on BBC Radio 4 called More or Less, and a prolific author. The basic thrust of his book Messy is that creativity is not fostered by carefully organizing our time and ideas, but by allowing disorder to interrupt our routines. The book is thrilled with all sorts of examples of “useful messiness,” from the design of an office building at MIT to Martin Luther King’s speechwriting techniques. When I teach creativity workshops, I draw on his idea of introducing random stimuli to trigger new ways of thinking.
4. Yes, And. I’m a huge fan of improvisation. It loosens you up, teaches you tolerance, and can even serve as a form of therapy. And as a big believer in icebreakers in workshops, one of the books I come back to again and again is Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton’s Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses ‘No, but’ Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration. This book is chock full of exercises you can use to build trust, foster listening skills and encourage teamwork. Leonard and Yorton— Senior Leaders at the famous The Second City improv school in Chicago—designed this book to be used by people who aren’t actors. So if you think improv isn’t for you, you might want to think again.
5. Stylish Academic Writing. At first glance, Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing might seem like an odd book for this list. But as someone who teaches academic writing for a living, I can’t tell you how relieved I was to stumble across this book. One of the main messages I try to impart to my students is that academic writing doesn’t have to be dull. Indeed, once you master some of the basics around structure and tone, there are all sorts of ways you can alter your writing to make it inviting and engaging for the reader. So if you’re trying to write a book, article or essay—it doesn’t have to be academic !—and are feeling confined, try out some of Sword’s suggestions. They’re guaranteed to loosen up your prose. You’ll also have fun!