Mary McNeil asked:
If you think the creative life is the one for you and you’d like some practical advice as well as inspiration on the topic, just take a look at these four superb books…
1. Creating A Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd.
Billed as ‘A practical course in career design for artists, innovators, and others aspiring to a creative life’, there’s a clear message right from the start that creativity can take a vast number of different forms. Simply assigning someone the label of ‘creative’ is a serious generalisation. Your version of creativity might be making art, teaching, generating ideas, inventing objects, interpreting music… and Carol Lloyd is most helpful in encouraging you to understand your own unique brand of creativity.
The book begins with a section somewhat similar to Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way programme – a process of search and research through your childhood desires, your timeless inclinations and present needs. From there it goes considerably further into the dreaming, planning and design stages for a new way of living. And on into the development of a down-to-earth action plan for your day-to-day life.
There’s a chapter on the various kinds of day jobs which can support or undermine your long-term creative goals. Another on how to deal with indecision and competing interests. And one that asks you to analyze your current lifestyle and build a new model for your everyday creative process.
This book is an excellent tool if you want to undertake some self coaching. I have learned much from it to enhance the life/creativity coaching that I do. So if you want to redesign your life in a way that will support and inspire your creativity, this is the one for you.
2. Your Life As Art by Robert Fritz
What a great concept! To take the nuts and bolts of the creative process and apply them to creating your life. Your Life As Art takes that idea and explores just how you can make it real.
The interesting thing about this book is that it concentrates on the structural processes that make up the creation of works of art, be they paintings, musical compositions, films, novels, poetry. It’s not about ways to find inspiration – in fact it advises strongly against relying on inspiration. The theme is more about conscious creation through the application of appropriate structure, and how to achieve it in your life.
The first half of the book looks at the concept of structural tension as it applies to both creating works of art and achieving life goals. This involves having a clear and realistic sense of where you are now, combined with a vision of what you want to achieve. The structural tension is the gap between the two and it’s what pulls you towards your vision.
The second half of the book looks at the structural patterns in our lives. Some people have structural life patterns which lead them through one successful project and onwards to the next, and the next. Others have repeating life patterns which take them round in less successful circles. Fritz describes how the self concepts you hold can block your success and steer you frustratingly into a repeating pattern. He also explains (hurrah!) how to stop going round in circles and to change the structural patterns in your life.
If you want your thoughts provoked on the nature of creativity as a structural form, both in relation to art and to life itself, this will really get you thinking. It may sound complex, but it’s well written, easy to follow and well worth the read.
3. Coaching The Artist Within by Eric Maisel
Eric Maisel is described as ‘America’s foremost creativity coach’ and in this book he offers well-structured advice, illustrated with anecdotes and personal reflections on his many years of creativity coaching experience.
The book is divided into twelve sections – each one covering a skill that will help you along the path to becoming your own creativity coach. To give some examples, three of the skills he covers are: ‘Passionately making meaning’, ‘Becoming an anxiety expert’ and ‘Creating in the middle of things’.
As is the rule with all self development books, there is no quick fix here, but the advice offered is shot through with the occasional artistic twist and steeped in common sense. All the books I’ve read on the topic of the creative process are unanimous in stating that, ultimately, it’s a case of simply getting down to and getting on with the work. This book is no exception, but it includes an interesting extension to the theme by advocating positive forms of obsession. Maisel explores the fine line that divides emotional stability from instability when you’re in the midst of a creative obsession. In those moments when you produce your most inspired work, how sane are you?
I found this book to be both practical and inspiring. So if you want to try a spot of creative self-coaching why not take a look?
4. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
The full title of this book is ‘The Creative Habit. Learn it and use it for life. A practical guide’. And that’s genuinely what it is… a practical guide, setting out and exploring the habits and attitudes that sustain a fully creative life.
Twyla Tharp, the world famous choreographer, now in her sixties, details with clarity, style and authority how to keep yourself productive and motivated even when you think you’ve run completely out of enthusiasm.
She writes about the structure and organizational aspects of creative projects – ‘Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box’; scratching for inspiration in potentailly productive areas, like scratching a lottery ticket to see if you strike lucky; mastering the underlying skills of your creative domain and building your creativity on the solid foundations of those skills; getting out of ruts (stuckness) and creating grooves (productive flow).
The habits she describes are woven together with stories from her long career and anecdotes from her wide-ranging creative friendships. Unlike other books I’ve read on the topic of active creativity, she includes a chapter on what a creative life means in ‘the long run’. How the great masters continue to grow and develop their skill over many decades.
The Creative Habit is a personal account of what works by someone who’s lived a vibrantly successful creative life. Tharp’s style is crisply clever and captures a strong sense of authority and vitality.