The best books for when you’re creatively stuck

Jennifer Louden Author Of Why Bother: Discover the Desire for What’s Next
By Jennifer Louden

Who am I?

I’ve been obsessed with the creative process since I was 8 and read Harriet the Spy and realized her writing saved her and after I spied on one of my parent’s cocktail parties and wondered why everybody was so dull (I was so cheeky). Still, it’s the quest that drives me: how do we be fully ourselves in this world and how does creativity help? I explore this question on my podcast Create Out Loud and in my weekly newsletter, and these books have helped me formulate, if not answers, creative and mindful practices that sustain me daily. I hope they inspire you too.

I wrote...

Why Bother: Discover the Desire for What’s Next

By Jennifer Louden,

Book cover of Why Bother: Discover the Desire for What’s Next

What is my book about?

In Why Bother? best-selling author Jennifer Louden dares you to face the question we all ask at some point: why bother? Why bother to create, to write, to love, to risk disappointment again? She shows how to prioritize what’s calling you, especially when you’ve sidelined your creative dreams to raise kids, pay the rent, or take care of aging parents. And crucially, she shows you why tapping into your desires will give you the energy to move forward—even when there seems to be no point. Why bother is not a question to be ashamed of or run from, it’s a question to embrace and let it show you what’s next.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom

Why did I love this book?

If you have an inner critic who berates you like Logan in Succession, you need this book. Learn how to work your mind and creating what you want is so much easier. Rick guides you to understand how your brain works – science is so cool! - and then how to change your brain so it works far better and that Logan guy shuts the hell up.

By Rick Hanson, Richard Mendius,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Buddha's Brain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Gandhi, and the Buddha all had brains built essentially like anyone else's, yet they were able to harness their thoughts and shape their patterns of thinking in ways that changed history.

With new breakthroughs in modern neuroscience and the wisdom of thousands of years of contemplative practice, it is possible for us to shape our own thoughts in a similar way for greater happiness, love, compassion, and wisdom.

Buddha's Brain joins the forces of modern neuroscience with ancient contemplative teachings to show readers how they can work toward greater emotional well-being, healthier relationships, more effective actions, and…

Book cover of Make Your Art No Matter What: Moving Beyond Creative Hurdles

Why did I love this book?

Most creatives struggle with maintaining a creative practice in the face of busted water heaters, draining day jobs, and pesky emotions especially anxiety and depression. Beth’s refreshingly honest handbook is built on the premise you must find a way to make your art no matter what. She’s also been a guest on my podcast Create Out Loud and I loved everything she shared.

By Beth Pickens,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Make Your Art No Matter What as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Artist's Way for the 21st century-from esteemed creative counselor Beth Pickens.

If you are an artist, you need to make your art. That's not an overstatement-it's a fact; if you stop doing your creative work, your quality of life is diminished. But what do you do when life gets in the way? In this down-to-earth handbook, experienced artist coach Beth Pickens offers practical advice for developing a lasting and meaningful artistic practice in the face of life's inevitable obstacles and distractions. This thoughtful volume suggests creative ways to address the challenges all artists must overcome-from making decisions about time,…

Book cover of Minding the Muse: A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators

Why did I love this book?

This is one of those secret gems of a book that hardly anybody has heard of but after you read it, you’ll be giving multiple copies away to every creative you know. Rich with real-life examples from working artists and writers, and Priscilla’s long history as a working creative and teacher, I have underlined an idea or suggestion on almost every page.

By Priscilla Long,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Minding the Muse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Minding the Muse is a practical handbook for the artist or writer—highly experienced, aspiring, or somewhere in between. Long draws from her extensive background as a poet, writer, and master teacher, but also gathers the insights and practices of a wide range of high-achieving artists, including mystery writer Raymond Chandler, choreographer Twyla Tharp, poet and performance artist Patti Smith, and the painter Joan Miró. Beginning with the first sparks of artistic creation—“Gathering, Hoarding, Conceptualizing”—Long moves through the various stages to “Completing Works” and “Poet as Peddler, Painter as Pusher: Marketing.” Every creative worker will find something here to take to…

Book cover of Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)

Why did I love this book?

I’m a writing mentor and coach, and this book has helped so many of my novelists understand and implement dramatic story structure. If you are trying to write fiction, screenplays, or memoir, and you haven’t read this, prepare to have your mind blown open. I have one word for you: misbelief. Go read the book and you’ll soon understand why it’s a game-changer. Note: Lisa doesn’t mention memoir but when I interviewed her on my podcast, she assured me the concepts work beautifully and have been successfully applied. 

By Lisa Cron,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Story Genius as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Following on the heels of Lisa Cron's breakout first book, Wired for Story, this writing guide reveals how to use cognitive storytelling strategies to build a scene-by-scene blueprint for a riveting story.

It’s every novelist’s greatest fear: pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into writing hundreds of pages only to realize that their story has no sense of urgency, no internal logic, and so is a page one rewrite. 

The prevailing wisdom in the writing community is that there are just two ways around this problem: pantsing (winging it) and plotting (focusing on the external plot). Story coach Lisa Cron…

Book cover of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

Why did I love this book?

if you’re stuck because you can’t make the time to write or paint or choreograph a ballet based on Schitt’s Creek, Oliver will convince you to stop trying to get everything done, stop trying to get everything under control, let your expectations crash to the ground, and finally focus on what matters. He is the only guy to date I’ve had on my podcast.

By Oliver Burkeman,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Four Thousand Weeks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


"Provocative and appealing . . . well worth your extremely limited time." ―Barbara Spindel, The Wall Street Journal

The average human lifespan is absurdly, insultingly brief. Assuming you live to be eighty, you have just over four thousand weeks.

Nobody needs telling there isn’t enough time. We’re obsessed with our lengthening to-do lists, our overfilled inboxes, work-life balance, and the ceaseless battle against distraction; and we’re deluged with advice on becoming more productive and efficient, and “life hacks” to optimize our days. But such techniques often end up making things worse. The sense of…

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