19 Must-Read Books That Will Help You Bridge "The Creativity Gap

creativity & inspiration Nov 23, 2021

I’ve always believed that consuming a lot of content is a surefire way to develop the creative muscle. The more we feed our brain, the more we get this itch to create something of our own.

But there’s an issue with this. As Ira Glass so eloquently stated, we have developed taste, but there's this disconnect between the quality of the content we consume and the quality of the content we produce.

That’s why I also believe that creatives have to feed their brains with other types of content: the content that teaches one how to be creative, how to develop the proper mindset of a content creator.

That’s why today I’m sharing with you a list of must-read books if you want to become a better content creator, whether you’re an artist, a writer, a blogger, or a vlogger.

1. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”

Steven Pressfield’s guide to creative success acts as the proverbial kick in the butt. It enables you to face your fears and do the work anyway, for it is the work that gives you the opportunity to bridge the creative gap between the quality of the content you consume and the quality of the content you produce.

The more you work, the more you create, the better you become.

2. Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

“Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use — do the work you want to see done.”

At just 160-pages long, Steal Like An Artist offers advice on the power of authenticity as a creative individual.

Let’s face it: when we are starting out we rarely try to be ourselves.

We write like a bunch of other writers, we try to emulate the style of those we admire, and we forget to share our most important stories because we are trying to write about popular topics.

Austin Kleon’s book teaches us that originality is just you having the courage to be yourself, to share a part of your soul, to create something that you can call yours.

3. Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity by David Lynch

“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure.They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”

This is such a rare and beautiful book. We’re talking about a filmmaker whose career spans more than four decades of creating stunningly visual and provocative work, and being able to catch a glimpse into such a powerfully creative mind is a true privilege.

If you read just one book out of the list that I share with you, please read this one. It will blow your mind, and inspire you not just to think outside the box, but to think like there’s no box at all.

4. Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland

“This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart. After all, art is rarely made by Mozart-like people; essentially-statistically speaking-there aren’t any people like that.”

Art and Fear is one of those books that you need two copies of: one to place neatly on your bookshelf, and the other to destroy by reading it over and over again, highlighting countless passages, maybe even adding a dozen or so bookmarks.

It’s a compilation of clear and concise advice on how to best cope with the often debilitating fear and insecurities that we have to face as creatives.

I highly recommend this book if you often struggle to sit down at your desk and work because of the critic within or because you often fear what others might think or say about your creation.

5. Play by Stuart Brown

“Stepping out of a normal routine, finding novelty, being open to serendipity, enjoying the unexpected, embracing a little risk, and finding pleasure in the heightened vividness of life. These are all qualities of a state of play.”

Reading this book I often found myself thinking about one of Pablo Picasso’s quotes, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Play acts as a reminder that we must play in order to develop our creative brain.

As someone who’s a full-time creative, I often think of me doing the work as a chore. It’s soul-crushing work that I do in order to pay the rent and bills, and I forget to have fun.

Well, Sturt Brown explains in detail why playing and having fun enhances our creativity, memory, and intelligence. For these reasons, it’s a must-read for any creative individual who has forgotten about the joy and fun of being able to create something out of nothing.

6. Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley

“Like a muscle, your creative abilities will grow and strengthen with practice.”

Written by the founders of IDEO and Stanford Design school, Creative Confidence is an exploration into the most effective ways to be creative, while also sharing advice on how to fight notorious side-effects of being creative such as perfectionism and self-criticism.

7. Design as Art by Bruno Munari

“When the objects we use every day and the surroundings we live in have become in themselves a work of art, then we shall be able to say that we have achieved a balanced life.”

Bruno Munari was one of the most inspirational designers of all time, described by Picasso as ‘the new Leonardo.’

In this beautifully designed and illustrated book (obviously!), Munari teaches us one of the most underrated lessons of creativity: art is accessible to everyone.

In other words, you will come to understand that almost everything you witness in your day to day life can (and should) be considered art, and I believe that this realization can often help us teach our creative brain to constantly be on the lookout for inspiration.

8. Ignore Everybody by Hugh McLeod

“Writer’s block is just a symptom of feeling like you have nothing to say, combined with the rather weird idea that you should feel the need to say something. Why? If you have something to say, then say it. If not, enjoy the silence while it lasts. The noise will return soon enough.”

In Ignore Everybody Hugh McLeod offers us advice on how to cope with social pressure as creatives.

This is what makes it such a valuable read. Most creatives, especially when first starting out, focus an awful lot on external factors, such as the opinion of others, and this can be debilitating, to say the least.

True creativity is being 99.99% focused on doing the work, getting stuff done, and releasing it into the world. No time for doubt, insecurity, or after-thoughts.

To paraphrase Andy Warhol, while everyone is judging your work, you are busy making more stuff.

This is a crucial lesson to internalize as a creative if you want to bridge the gap… all those who have reached the highest level of mastery in any creative field, have done so because they have learned to ignore the critics, the naysayers, and the haters. They only listen to their inner instinct and their desire to constantly become better at their craft.

9. Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull

“Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”

Written by Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, this book investigates all the behind the scenes details of what it takes to a compelling and emotionally complex story.

Creativity is more than just the act of creating something out of a blank screen or canvas. It’s developing the inner fortitude to tackle failure and setbacks, to reframe predicament in a way that allows you to become fearless when it comes to telling your story the way you want to do so.

10. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, E.B. White

Perhaps the most popular guidebook for writing well, The Elements of Style provides you with a detailed framework when it comes to composition and grammar.

Technically a style guide, this little book is still just as relevant today, as we share our words within the confines of an online community, as it was a century ago .

If you want to write that perfect sentence, to make it so that no clumsiness can affect your story, this is the perfect book for you.

11. On Writing by Stephen King

“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do — not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.” - Stephen King

Part memoir, part guide for aspiring writers, The King is extremely honest in this book of his. He offers some advice on the techniques of writing, but he also underlines the importance of determination and perseverance.

The tools required to write great fiction can’t be borrowed or bought — they have to be acquired through hard work.

12. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott’s guide on writing is extremely helpful for the struggling writer — the biggest lesson she teaches in her book is that sometimes we fail to write the book we set to write, and often we fail to see the difference between what’s in our head and what’s on paper. Bird by Bird is an honest, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, account of Anne Lammott’s own career.

A must-read for any aspiring content creator.

13. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury’s legacy is far greater than just the dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451. From reading his novels and short stories I got the impression that, of all the wonderful writers in the world, he loved reading books more than anyone else on the planet. He loved writing them too, no doubt about it, but to me Fahrenheit 451 stands as the ultimate proclamation of love.

Zen in the Art of Writing is a collection of essays and articles on the art of writing from one of the most prolific and successful writers of our time.

14. Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters by John Steinbeck

I strongly believe that, as content creators, we must understand how the creative muscle works. And, in many regards, bloggers use the same parts of the brain as, let’s say, a novelist… or any other artist.

Written between January, 29 and October 31, 1951, Journal of a Novel is comprised of a series of letters written by the great novelist to his friend and editor, Pascal Covici. They offer valuable insight into the creative process of one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.

They weren’t meant for publication, and maybe that’s why this book is my favorite from this list — great artists are rarely perceived as simple men and not some machines that churn out one brilliant novel after another.

15. Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa

Novel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa dissects many of the world’s best stories in a an attempt to help young writers better understand their urge to write. It’s, in a way, the exact opposite of Stephen King’s On Writing.

It’s not as much a visceral approach on writing, as it is a sentimental one, in which writing is viewed as the almost obsessive passion that it is. It’s not a guide on writing, it’s a guide on how to understand great literature and those who write it.

16. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

On Writing Well is a clear and concise guide and a must-read for anyone who wants to learn how to write well.

With more than a million copies sold, this guide offers a plethora of resources and frameworks you can deploy, regardless of the niche you’re writing in.

17. Deep Work by Cal Newport

No matter our goals, or our skills, or even the niche we operate in, clarity of focus is a prerequisite for success.

Deep Work will surprise you with the information it shares, and it does show with quite a bit of flair.

A must-read if you’re struggling to focus and do the work that is required.

18. Atomic Habits by James Clear

This one’s a classic, but I’ve had to add it to the list, just in case you haven’t read it or need an extra push to finally give it a go.

Because, let’s be honest, we can’t reach our goals unless we develop the habits that are required, and it often feels like such an impossible journey.

If you’re struggling to develop habits around your writing, this is the right book for you.

19. Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Last but certainly not least, one of my favorite books ever on mindset and productivity.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s investigations of the so-called flow state will inspire and educate you on what it really means to be so involved in what you are doing that time seems to stop.

BONUS: 365 Days of Art: A Creative Exercise for Every Day of the Year by Lorna Scobie

Featuring an activity or art exercise for every day of the year, 365 Days of Art is an inspiring journal aimed at providing a framework that helps artists nurture their creativity.

Being creative often makes us feel like we are utterly and inconsolably alone. Most of the time, we are alone with our ideas, and we rarely find the support that we need in order to get rid of such a feeling.

But the truth is that by reading books on creativity and art, we realize that we are not alone; there are plenty of others just like us, who have had to struggle with the same failures and setbacks, and have found a way to nurture their creative sides to be as prolific and fearless as possible.

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