top of page

5 Books on Creativity to Get You Over a Creative Block


From fiction, to self-help, to memoir: here are five recommendations to help you through that famous creative block

Illustration: Maddie Fischer

Let's begin with a little experiment, shall we? Quickly answer this question: Are you creative?

I'm going to take a wild guess here and assume that you hesitated before thinking 'Yes.' Creativity is often mistaken for talent, an idea that gets a stronger hold in today's uber-perfectionist world—and so the tendency to think of oneself as un-talented and to give up on one's innate creative nature grows.

Talent is an abstract idea, open to deliberation, opinion, judgment. As Fran Lebowitz said: "...[Talent] is randomly distributed throughout the population of the world.. You cannot buy it. You cannot learn it. You cannot inherit it. It's not even genetic". Creativity, on the other hand, is inclusive: Part of our fundamental human nature, it exists in us all, but it's not to say it is always accessible to us. Tapping into your creative self can be a hard thing, and it isn't as easy as randomly scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest for an idea, inspiration, or motivation. And when there's a worldwide pandemic that makes it impossible to attend events, visit museums, enjoy music gigs, or just travel somewhere to change the scenery, we're left to wonder: How can we ignite our creativity? My suggestion: books.

The list below includes books that touch on a creative life's ideas — from self-help to fiction with an artist for a protagonist — that spark those desired bits of inspiration. Some were discovered recently, and others are ones I keep coming back to regularly in search of a helping hand.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

There's no other book, to begin with, really. First published in 1992, "The Artist Way" is considered the bible of all creativity books. Though Cameron herself has written countless more books on the subject, this is the most famous one. The book offers an actual hands-on workshop, a "course in discovering and recovering your creative self." The 12-week program is useful if you're someone who finds it hard following advice just by reading and feel you need to actually have an experiential process. The book's premise is such that anyone can tap into their inner artist — whatever form of artistry that is — and benefit from it, living a more creative, purposeful, and meaningful life. Who's not up for that?

To make the most of the book, I recommend following the program, maybe during the summer or a semester break, as it is quite a lot to take on weekly readings and tasks. There is also a lot to take from it just by reading through it or submitting yourself to two of the main exercises Cameron offers, which you might have already heard of. The first is "Morning Pages," the ritual of sitting down every morning and writing down three pages long of whatever comes out of your head (i.e., Brain Dump). The second is "Artist Date," which is trickier to accomplish these days but still manageable: taking yourself (and only yourself!) someplace new and inspiring on a weekly date. As Cameron explains: Morning Pages are output — getting rid of unnecessary thoughts and inner chatter, making room, an Artist Date is an input — receiving new ideas and inspiration to that space you freed up. Performed regularly, you'll be surprised to discover the significant impact they have on your creative mood.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

The cheesiest book on the list has a well-deserved spot, as it serves as a great motivational read. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it was written by the same woman who gave us the international bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, in which she encouraged women worldwide to quit their job and find a lover in Bali. The book’s subtitle is “Creative Living Beyond Fear,” making Gilbert the poster girl for the notion there is no such thing as bad work. The only bad thing in her mind is work not done — the journey that we were too afraid to embark on and create. Though the book can be cringey at times, there is a lot to be said for her approach.

Living in a world where we are constantly under judgment and scrutiny, it’s easy to forget that the act of making and creating is as natural as breathing and is there to bring us joy. Gilbert passionately takes the reader through various stages of acknowledging this basic truth, encouraging us with a lot of empathy and great tips to help us embody that ourselves. If you’re having a shitty day at school, got bad feedback on your work, or having a peak ‘impostor syndrome’ moment — this is the book you need to grab right now. Gilbert’s authoritative and affirmational words will reassure you once again that you’re doing great; you just need to keep putting in the work.

Grace by Grace Coddington

The fashion world has been in love with the presence of Grace Coddington for decades. Since the release of the documentary film The September Issue, the rest of us can follow suit. The film revealed that the true hero of Vogue magazine was not Anna Wintour, but the charming, blunt and dedicated creative director, Coddington.

Her memoir, Grace, was published in 2012 following the film's success and the growing demand to get to know this extraordinary woman. The film shows her as the uncompromising creative director she is and reveals her exceptional, innate sensibility for storytelling through fashion and clothes. Reading her book is like watching the behind the scenes or the director's uncut version. You get to learn how she became who she is, personally and professionally. Her nonchalant attitude — so rare to find in the fashion industry — is refreshing and reassuring, making the reader feel a great sense of familiarity, even when the book is dotted throughout with the biggest names and events you can dream of.

Coddington, now 79 years old, was — and still is! — living a remarkable life filled with creativity. Sometimes all it takes to spark the imagination about where your creative life could bring you is to get to know someone else's journey. Coddington made her way from a Vogue model to Vogue's creative director and one of the fashion industry's biggest muses. Read this book and try to imagine where you might end up.

Writers and Lovers by Lily King

For the fiction lovers, here's my pick of a novel that focuses on a creative protagonist's conflicted life. Casey Peabody is a writer, a struggling writer. She is 31, living in a shed, waiting for a living, grieving her mother's death, and has been agonizing over writing her novel for the past 6 years. She is the heroine of Lily King's book, and she's as easy to love as she is to relate to. Even if your chosen art form to agonize over is unrelated to writing — you'll still find yourself in this novel.

As the book's title suggests, both writing and love are involved in the storyline. Her attempts at becoming a published writer are combined with her romances, as she dates two men: an older and successful writer and a writer her own age that faces similar struggles. What happens when your passion and ambition are intertwined with connection and love? How does that affect your choice? King explores this theme, especially relevant if you've ever dated someone from your own creative milieu. Casey's life situation is far from perfect: nothing is stable, not her income, health insurance, or housing. Highly relatable, especially during student years when 'adulting' feels super hard as you're trying to create something meaningful. When Casey's landlord tells her, "I just find it extraordinary that you think you have something to say," she in return thinks to herself, .. "not because I think I have something to say. I write because if I don't, everything feels even worse" — you just can't help but feel this is the simplest explanation of why you chose to take the creative path.

The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope

The last book on the list is a non-fiction journey set in the worlds of yoga and spirituality. While it doesn't directly address creativity or an artist's life, it sheds light on the concept of inspiration. Even if you've never done a Downward Facing Dog in your life, the concepts in this book are highly relatable. I suggest reading the book's subtitle, "A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling," as a journey for your true creativity - aren't they very similar in nature anyway?). If new age isn't your style, try and let go of your inner cynicism.

The author, Stephan Cope, takes us through two paths: the first is the story of Arjuna — the protagonist of the 2,000-year-old spiritual classic text Bhagavad Gita; and the second is the stories of many different well-known Western lives which embody the principles the Gita describes. Both stories are entwined in a way that simplifies the traditional, spiritual ideas and makes them clear and easy to transpire to our modern daily lives.

Coming back to the idea of that elusive, maybe unattainable 'talent' Fran Lebowitz mentions, this book takes on a different approach: forget the concepts of success or being better than others. Focus on yourself. The greatest thing you can do with your life is to listen deeply to what you want and need to do, as most probably that will also be the thing you are good at. Because… drum roll… we are all good at something! And more often than not, that something is also the thing we enjoy doing. Now go get creative!



Jul 22, 2024

Creative manifestation: 10 Tips for designing and curating your portfolio

Designer Spotlight with Inês Ayer

Illustrator Spotlight with Kaitlin Brito

bottom of page