Reading List: Life-Changing Books on Creativity

in at May 15, 2017

Let’s face it, there are plenty of things that hinder us from being creative: practicality, financial security, equipment, an 8-hour desk job, unsupportive peers, and the list goes on. In truth, all are fairly reasonable. However, a life without creativity produces discontent. But please, before anything else, don’t limit creativity to what we call “the arts.” As long as you create anything outside of your every day, you’re creative. Now, I’ve tried running away from it – from doing, dreaming – and ended up a 20-something questioning my abilities, my worth, and my joy.

I’ve discovered that setting goals and being accountable to a partner – a trusted friend, your sister (in my case, both) – paves way to making dreams tangible. Telling the world about it is nerve-racking but I’m always encouraged when people respond to my ideas. And, most of the time, a good book is guaranteed to lift one’s spirits. Reading stories of other creatives struggling – sometimes in more dire conditions than we are now – and, eventually, succeeding gives us the courage to follow our paths – no matter where it leads.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

“The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust – and those elements are universally accessible. Which does not mean that creative living is always easy; it merely means that creative living is always possible.”

At some point in our lives, we become paralyzed by our individual realities. Fear consumes us, and it makes us believe that creativity should be put aside. We don’t bother to stray and explore because culture dictates that creative pursuits don’t merit proper rewards. Well, creative living is for everyone…but only those who make space for it yield honest work.

Eat, Pray, Love bestselling author, Elizabeth Gilbert, explores the immeasurable gift of creativity on Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Far from being a self-help manual, she beckons her readers to intentionally pursue any form of artistry – regardless of one’s expertise – for humans are inherently creators. She takes a creative’s biggest stumbling block, fear, and combats it with good faith and gratitude. From her own life experiences – working odd jobs to find stories, getting one soul-crushing rejection after another – she draws courage to heed to the call of fearless creativity. The book is for the burnt out, the exhausted, the uninspired.

Inside of us are extraordinary treasures waiting to produce sincere work. It yields all-encompassing joy, which exists in the realm of an examined life. To tread this path requires courage, devotion, and practice. With this comes the long hours of waiting, the fleeting moments of insecurity, the constant criticism – blinding proof of Big Magic. As long as you are breathing, you have time – more time than you need – to bring forth these transcendent truths within you.

Read: Big Magic: Lessons on Creativity

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

“I have spent a good many years since – too many, I think – being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”

Vivid memories as a child include a screening of a bloodied prom queen in a velvet pink slip (Carrie) and a crazed fan-nurse “caring” for a writer in a wheelchair (Misery). This was an awakening of sorts; these strange memories stay with you.

Stephen King and I have a complicated relationship. As much as I’ve wanted to read his thrillers – with really outdated cover designs – I’ve never…attempted. On Writing is the first I’ve finished from him, and it’s a memoir – a pretty brilliant one at that. But see, this isn’t exactly for those familiar with his work. It’s probably more interesting if you have an idea about any of his characters – even from film adaptations – but this was created for the struggling artist who thinks he’s already produced his best work, and that’s it.

When he produced his best-selling novel, Carrie, he was in his 30s living in a trailer truck, supporting his family with his measly salary while suffering from alcoholism. He was trying to make ends meet but still, he never gave up on his writing because his extraordinary – albeit queer – ideas needed to be nurtured and shared to the world. Now, he’s in his late 60s and has published 50 books and counting; that’s crazy fantastic. Whether you’re a writer, a photographer, a musician, you’ll find this piece invigorating.

(Bonus, there are actually v. useful tips for writers tucked within the pages e.g. the road to hell is paved with adverbs, kill your darlings. I’ve followed some of his advice for my entries, and I’m beyond grateful for his guidance.)

Read: Ten Things I Learned About Writing from Stephen King via The Guardian

Just Kids by Patti Smith

“I understood that what matters is the work: the string of words propelled by God becoming a poem, the weave of color and graphite scrawled upon the sheet that magnifies His motion. To achieve within the work a perfect balance of faith and execution. From this state of mind comes a light, life-changed.”

Now, I won’t even pretend. I picked up Just Kids out of curiosity from seeing the title on a number of cool-looking Instagram photos. I had no idea who Patti Smith was but a quick Google search and 2 pages later, I was hooked.

Just Kids is a gloriously written memoir on the eccentric relationship between punk rock legend, poet, and visual artist, Patti Smith, and avant-garde photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe, in magical New York city – during the heyday of  Andy Warhol and John and Yoko. Her writing style personally reminds me so much of Joan Didion, another favorite female author. This left me breathless.

They persevered to pursue their individual creative genius no matter the circumstances – a discipline found in all these books. Their stubborn creativity – born from their youthful passion – eventually led to the couple becoming well-known names in the art and music industries. Fully captivating, their story speaks of the wonders of having a muse. Theirs might have been romantic but being at the right place, at the right time, with the right people definitely contributed to the success of the 2, literally, starving artists.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (Illustrated)

If you’re a creative, you’re bound to do some writing: for promotional material, for blog entries, and for managing your social media platforms. You don’t need to publish a best-selling book to know the basics on how to create a well-structured sentence. Blogging for almost a decade definitely made me step up my A game as well as 4 incredible, exhausting years in Ateneo writing (piles and piles and piles) of papers until the wee hours of the morning.

The Elements of Style is a classic that every single person needs to read. It also helps that this version features humorous illustrations by legendary illustrator Maira Kalman. Grammarly isn’t enough, have this on your top shelf to faithfully, lovingly guide you with basic writing principles and styles. Write well, write smart, and you’ll surely draw more people to your work!

Any books on creativity you can recommend? Share away on the comments below! ✨

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Elisa Aquino

Elisa Aquino is a portrait photographer, life(style) writer, passion blogger, and beauty rookie from Manila, Philippines. This platform exists to document her daily musings and to showcase the life-changing power of grace to transform women from ashes to beauty.