The best books on the creative process

9 authors have picked their favorite books about the creative process and why they recommend each book.

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My Life in Middlemarch

By Rebecca Mead,

Book cover of My Life in Middlemarch: A Memoir

What do the writers you are drawn to reveal about you? Why at certain points in our lives do we become “attached” to certain authors? The process of attachment is mysterious. As we age (and change) some things remain constant. Our attachment to a particular author may have begun in our youth, but evolved as we have. To reconnect with a favorite author can put us in touch with our younger self in unexpected ways. Mead shows how much Middlemarch has “spoken” to her throughout her life. This book is perhaps more in harmony with my own than any on the list. I have come to love books that underscore how what we read can be inseparable from the person we become.


Who am I?

I taught at Yale for 33 years and I hold advanced degrees from the Sorbonne. I am interested in literature as lessons for life, but I am mostly a passionate letter writer, especially to the great authors who have marked me. They are never really dead. I carry them around with me. I selected the category of Offbeat Memoirs because I have written one. I also have an Italian alter-ego, Donatella de Poitiers, who authors a blog in which she muses about how a lifelong Francophile could have forsaken la Belle France for la dolce vita in the Umbrian countryside, where the food and fresh air are way better than the roads.


I wrote...

Letters to Men of Letters

By Diane Charney,

Book cover of Letters to Men of Letters

What is my book about?

Have you ever wanted to write a letter to an author who has been important to you? I write to the authors I admire, both living and dead, who continue to keep me company. Among these are Kafka, Proust, Nabokov, Camus, Flaubert, Balzac, Leonard Cohen, André Aciman, Christo, and my father. In my 18 letters, I reflect on what these writers have taught me about myself, but also what they can offer the reader. Each letter is part memoir, part intellectual coming-of-age, part reaction to having read, loved, studied, and taught the work of these timeless writers.

As if writing to mostly dead guys weren’t “offbeat” enough, rest assured that there’s plenty of additional evidence for my laying claim to that adjective: “Dear Jean-Paul Sartre, There have been many Jean-Pauls in my life, but you’re the only one in whose bedroom I have slept.”

Path of Least Resistance

By Robert Fritz,

Book cover of Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life

This is a classic and has been foundational to my thinking and work. Fritz explains that we all live on the path of least resistance. Our lives change when we learn to ask one question; “What result do I want to create?” We all think we ask this question, but we do not. We ask; “How do I get what I want?” The difference is critical in the impact it can have on our lives. This book is filled with practical insight and wisdom.


Who am I?

Robert Quinn is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan School of Business. His research and writing focus on purpose, leadership, culture, and change. He has published 18 books on these subjects. He is passionate about speaking and teaching and his recent talk to Google on finding your purpose was viewed by over 18 million people.


I wrote...

Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within

By Robert Quinn,

Book cover of Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within

What is my book about?

Open this book at your own risk. It contains ideas that may lead to a profound self-awakening. An introspective journey for those in the trenches of today's modern organizations, Deep Change is a survival manual for finding our own internal leadership power. By helping us learn new ways of thinking and behaving, it shows how we can transform ourselves from victims to powerful agents of change. And for anyone who yearns to be an internally driven leader, to motivate the people around them, and return to a satisfying work life, Deep Change holds the key.

Art & Fear

By Ted Orland, David Bayles,

Book cover of Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

A guide to making art for those of use who are not geniuses. Don’t worry about making a masterpiece, just make your pieces of art. If you have a hard time letting yourself make bad art, so that you can one day make great art, this is the one to start with.


Who am I?

Paulette Perhach is an author and writing coach with work in the New York Times, Elle, Vice, Marie Claire, Yoga Journal, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Her book is Welcome to the Writer's Life, which was selected as one of Poets & Writers' Best Books for Writers. She helps other writers figure out how to make a life and identity out of being a writer while making the money work (as she figures it out for herself.) She continues to write about writing craft, business skills, personal finance, and joy on her website.


I wrote...

Welcome to the Writer's Life: How to Design Your Writing Craft, Writing Business, Writing Practice, and Reading Practice

By Paulette Perhach,

Book cover of Welcome to the Writer's Life: How to Design Your Writing Craft, Writing Business, Writing Practice, and Reading Practice

What is my book about?

With warmth and humor, Paulette Perhach welcomes you into the writer's life as someone who has once been on the outside looking in. Like a freshman orientation for writers, this book includes an in-depth exploration of all the elements of being a writer--from your writing practice to your reading practice, from your writing craft to the all-important and often-overlooked business of writing.

In Welcome to the Writer's Life, you will learn how to tap into the powers of crowdsourcing and social media to grow your writing career. Perhach also unpacks the latest research on success, gamification, and lifestyle design, demonstrating how you can use these findings to further improve your writing projects. Complete with exercises, tools, checklists, infographics, and behind-the-scenes tips from working writers of all types, this book offers everything you need to jump-start a successful writing life.

On Creativity

By David Bohm,

Book cover of On Creativity

David Bohm is celebrated for creating a completely different theory of quantum mechanics, equally adept and accounting for experiments but conceptually irreconcilable from those of Schrödinger and Heisenberg. Put that together with his broad and deep understanding of culture, and you have a uniquely sensitive and original take on creativity. I particularly like his sharp critique of superficial ‘creativity’ which he claims is mostly reflex. Bohm helps his readers to see that ‘discovery’ and ‘creation’ cannot easily be disentangled.


Who am I?

I have worked in scientific research and teaching for over 30 years, and maintained a love of art and music as well, but am saddened when I hear statements, especially from high-school pupils, that ‘there is no room for creativity or imagination in science.’ Like all working scientists, I know that imagination is the most important faculty for a scientist. The Poetry and Music of Science is my project to tease out the creative threads in the scientific process, and also to find the buried pathways that link science with the arts and humanities. The journey of discovery has been full of surprises and delights for me.


I wrote...

The Poetry and Music of Science: Comparing Creativity in Science and Art

By Tom McLeish,

Book cover of The Poetry and Music of Science: Comparing Creativity in Science and Art

What is my book about?

What human qualities make scientific discoveries, and which great art? Many would point to 'imagination' and 'creativity' in the second case but not the first. This book challenges the assumption that doing science is in any sense less creative than art, music, or fictional writing and poetry, and treads a historical and contemporary path to their shared creative process. Personal stories of scientists and artists reveal their common desires for a creative goal, experiences of failure, periods of incubation, moments of sudden insight, and the experience of the beautiful or sublime. Themes weaving through both science and art emerge.

A new paperback edition of The Poetry and Music of Science is being published on Feb 13th, completely revised and with a new chapter on Poetry and Theoretical Science.

Catching the Big Fish

By David Lynch,

Book cover of Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity

Lynch describes how meditation and the creative process can go hand in hand and offers an interesting insight into his art. 

Lynch's contribution to creativity lies not only in his own artistic output but also notably in the establishment of the David Lynch Foundation that can arguably be said to equal the towering importance of his films and paintings. 


Who am I?

Having graduated as a teacher before undertaking an art degree has made me think that art is not just the kind of stuff we encounter in galleries, but it is about creativity in a much broader sense. Two decades in art education and galleries across London have taught me that as creatives and teachers, we do not only teach others, but we all teach each other on our journeys through life. Creativity is intricately woven into the fabric of our lives and the list of books here are some of my favourite books on the subject.


I wrote...

The First Book I Wish I'd Had at Art College

By Ib Vindbjerg,

Book cover of The First Book I Wish I'd Had at Art College

What is my book about?

When The First Book I Wish I'd Had at Art College was published, it was written for my younger self when I started my BA at Camberwell College of Arts in 1997.

The book aimed to help participants in contextual studies and group crits to better understand each other's often different values and vantage points. Yet after writing it, the book turned out to be helpful in establishing good communication with anyone I discussed art with. It helped map out a starting point for talking, which I found enormously helpful.

Essential Art Therapy Exercises

By Leah Guzman,

Book cover of Essential Art Therapy Exercises: Effective Techniques to Manage Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD

I really like how Essential Art Therapy Exercises focuses on creativity through art, photography, and writing, helping people work through their traumas, anxieties, or concerns. The creative projects in this book are so entertaining that it’s easy to forget there is more to therapy than just sharing the artwork. I enjoyed doing some of the paintings and drawings, and also trying one of the collage projects.


Who am I?

I have a B.S. degree in Medical Technology and connect my stories with science. The more I began researching problematic issues in our society for the subject matter of my trilogy, the more I began to empathize with the different kinds of suffering that people endure. I’ve incorporated traumas in all of my Euphoria trilogy stories, from illicit drugs, illnesses, loss, burns, skin regeneration, and human trafficking. Societal awareness is my passion; presenting issues to people who don’t realize these problems are as widespread as they actually are. 


I wrote...

Saving Euphoria

By C. Becker,

Book cover of Saving Euphoria

What is my book about?

Mark Langley risked everything to protect his family. He was assaulted and burnt as his assailants tried to force information from him. Now his family believes he’s dead. As Mark recovers from his burns and PTSD, he must stay in the shadows and wait for the man behind the assault to return to the U.S.—even at the risk of losing his wife to another man.

Hailey Langley cannot accept her husband Mark is dead, but her children are grieving and she must bury her own needs to focus on maintaining some semblance of normalcy for her son and daughter.

Light the Dark

By Joe Fassler,

Book cover of Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process

Sometimes we just want to know how it feels to be someone else living the writer’s life. In this collection, forty-six writers ranging from Roxane Gay and Billy Collins to Edwidge Danticat and Amy Tan answer one single question: What inspires you? My favorite response comes from Marilynne Robinson, who writes “I’m drawn to that movement toward essentials, away from all secondary definitions, all extraneous props, and ornaments.” What about you? What inspires you? Why are you writing in the first place? You’ll ponder that question while you read these short pieces by writers who shine a light in dark places.


Who am I?

The first memoir I ever read—Road Song by Natalie Kusz—pierced me in ways I did not know were possible. Kusz had written, in this elegantly crafted book, of an Alaskan childhood, a life-changing accident, early motherhood, and family love. She had written, I mean to say, of transcending truths. I have spent much of my life ever since deconstructing the ways in which true stories get told, and writing them myself. I’ve taught memoir to five-year-olds, Ivy League students, master’s level writers, and retirees. I co-founded Juncture Workshops, write a monthly newsletter on the form, and today create blank books into which other writers might begin to tell their stories.


I wrote...

We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class

By Beth Kephart,

Book cover of We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class

What is my book about?

In a range of provocative and personal essays, nationally renowned memoir writer and teacher Beth Kephart explores new ideas on the craft of memoir and offers an arrangement of question cascades and exercises designed to carry readers into and through their own true stories. How do we remember to remember? What is the art of the moment? Can your story be your obsession vessel? How do you manage time in memoir? What is the art of the suppose? These questions, among many others, stand at the heart of a book that is now becoming a staple in classrooms and workshops. Finally, with more than 100 memoirs cited throughout, this book is designed to expand your memoir library.

Upstream

By Mary Oliver,

Book cover of Upstream: Selected Essays

Mary Oliver, as a poet and an essayist, writes with a lyric sword. Upstream is a collection of essays that reflect her willingness to lose herself in the mysteries and intricacies of the natural world. In this work, Oliver contemplates the joy of her work, her passionate eye for observation, her ability and responsibility to write and think about the flora and fauna, the flowers, the grass, the water, the sky, and how they connect us to the natural world, to each other, and to ourselves.

The sheer power of her writing and command of language has always drawn me in, what pushes me as a person, a farmer, and a writer to give into the “stream” of our consciousness, to stop and observe, but to also keep moving forward with the power of words and my experience of the world around me.


Who am I?

I am a winegrower, farmer, writer, photographer, and pop-upeuse. I fell in love with food and wine while living and working in Italy, then returned stateside to create an homage to the people and place that embraced us and taught us so much. That endeavor--the restaurant osteria pane e salute opened with my chef husband Caleb Barber—was where I curated the wine program and became passionate about wines farmed artfully. I began working as a winegrower in 2007, a personal landscape experiment that led me down the rabbit hole of growing and making wine from hybrid varieties focused on regenerative viticulture and low intervention winemaking.


I wrote...

An Unlikely Vineyard: The Education of a Farmer and Her Quest for Terroir

By Deirdre Heekin,

Book cover of An Unlikely Vineyard: The Education of a Farmer and Her Quest for Terroir

What is my book about?

Against all odds, I planted vines on my hillside farm in Vermont believing that what I was embarking on was a small experimental and personal project about growing natural wine in the fringe wine region of Vermont. What happened instead was the blossoming of a vineyard that has become one of the most creative projects in American wine. An Unlikely Vineyard tells the story of our farm and winery, our kitchen and table, from overgrown fields to a fertile, productive, and beautiful landscape that melds with its natural environment.

We wanted to create, or rediscover, a true sense of place using the philosophy and techniques gleaned from organic gardening, permaculture, and regenerative farming. Written as a joyful and inspiring narrative that celebrates wine, food, farms, and connecting with the landscape.

How to Avoid Making Art (or Anything Else You Enjoy)

By Julia Cameron,

Book cover of How to Avoid Making Art (or Anything Else You Enjoy)

This wise and wonderful little book humorously holds up a mirror to the self-sabotaging techniques that can snap a fledgling idea right off the vine. (Procrastination, anyone?) Each page features “advice,” along with hilarious illustrations, on how not to be creative, and has me ROTFLMAO with recognition. Here are some faves: “Smoke a lot of dope for inspiration. Forget why it’s called dope. Forget your inspirations.” “Compare your work to the masterworks of the great masters.” “The minute you have an idea, ask yourself: How much cold, hard cash is it worth?” “Take seriously every negative thing anyone says.” (To wit, “That ain’t art, sister.”) With a wink and the perfect amount of reverse psychology, this whimsical book skillfully catapults me out of a creative funk!  


Who am I?

I strive to inspire others through my writing, yoga card decks, and workshops; therefore, I’m passionate about finding inspiration and passing it on to others. For me discovering a dose of wise counsel or learning how someone else endured and overcame challenging times is a lifeline…especially when I feel hopelessly stuck. These 5 books are a balm for the soul, quieting the negative self-talk long enough to clear a path to joy, optimism, and creativity. I hope these recommendations bring the same sense of inspiration for you…just when you need it most! 


I wrote...

Essential Yoga: An Illustrated Guide to Over 100 Yoga Poses and Meditations

By Olivia H. Miller, Nicole Kauffman (illustrator),

Book cover of Essential Yoga: An Illustrated Guide to Over 100 Yoga Poses and Meditations

What is my book about?

Have you ever opened a yoga book intending to do yoga only to end up reading about yoga instead of actually practicing? That’s where Essential Yoga comes in. Designed to get you on the mat, this reference guide features over 100 hatha yoga poses, breathing exercises, and meditations. Detailed illustrations accompany concise, bulleted instructions and descriptions of the many physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of a regular yoga practice. The interactive book, featuring a lay-flat binding for ease of use, also includes 6 classic yoga routines, 10 yoga sessions, and 48 mini-sequences geared to supporting specific activities and/or alleviating various health conditions. Whether new to yoga or a long-time practitioner, Essential Yoga helps users prevent injury and keep their practice interesting and alive!

Minding the Muse

By Priscilla Long,

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

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.


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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