The best books about creativity can simultaneously spark new ideas in the reader while also giving them a compelling narrative to follow. Sometimes this can come from writers or artists taking a step back and recounting the ways in which their craft comes together; in other cases, it might involve a historian following the way that certain practices have evolved over time, or a journalist’s deft observations and interrogations on how insights and creative breakthroughs can happen.
Books about creativity can also encompass more than simply the creation of art. One memorable take on the subject examines principles associated with the making of creative storytelling and applies them to the way that companies and businesses can operate. Just as no two artists have the same working methods, so too might your next bolt of inspiration come from an unexpected place, be it a groundbreaking building, a compelling work of art, or a spare Oblique Strategies deck. One of these books might hold the key to your next creative breakthrough–or it might just help you better understand the world around you.
The Gift by Lewis Hyde
Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, first published in 1983, is considered a classic by some. A 2008 profile in the New York Times Magazine argues that it “tries to reconcile the value of doing creative work with the exigencies of a market economy,” a concern that only seems to become more relevant with each passing year. The range of subjects covered in this book is vast, from artistic inspiration to sociological observations to musings on the human condition–and its influence remains deeply felt today.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert is known equally for her fiction and her nonfiction, both of which fall into the realm of the critically and commercially successful. In this recent book, she examines the roots of creative pursuits and puts a definite emphasis on the importance of curiosity in one’s life. In a memorable 2015 interview, Gilbert discussed the book’s origins, and mentioned that its approach could be considered idiosyncratic: “It’s not for everybody. It’s for whoever finds that it’s helpful for them.”
About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, & Five Interviews by Samuel R. Delany
The writings of Samuel R. Delany have crossed genres, earned critical acclaim, and established their author as one of the most singular voices in American literature. In this work, Delany both offers advice (in abundance) to writers while also examining the way that the role of the writer in society has changed over the years, a question that he has also pursued through his fiction.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace
For Ed Catmull, creativity isn’t just something that arises when someone sits down in front of a blank page or bare canvas. Catmull is the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, known for a number of films that feature innovative storytelling while still resonating with massive audiences. Here, he translates his experiences working there into a book about business that offers advice for those looking to transmute that sort of creativity on an organizational level.
Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter by Nina MacLaughlin
For some, inspiration and rebirth can come from an unexpected path. Nina MacLaughlin’s Hammer Head documents her shift away from a job writing at a newspaper and her embrace of a very different sort of craft. MacLaughlin’s narrative shows the way that a different kind of pursuit can create new connections and spark a host of insights along the way.
Sometimes, one of the best ways to learn about creativity comes from hearing creative people talk about their process, their inspiration, and the way that everything comes together for them. Over the last few decades, The Paris Review has regularly published definitive interviews with some of the best writers out there. Several volumes collect highlights from the series; this first one contains talks on life and art with the likes of Jorge Luis Borges, Joan Didion, Kurt Vonnegut, and Elizabeth Bishop.
The World Beyond Your Head: On Being An Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew B. Crawford
Among the most basic questions that arise when pondering creativity is this: how does one carve out the time and the space, whether physical or mental (or both), to create? In The World Beyond Your Head, Matthew B. Crawford examines the way that we perceive the world from multiple angles, from those involved in painstaking craftsmanship to professional athletes. What he discovers about how we perceive the world provides plenty of grist for those pondering the interaction of creativity and inspiration.
Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer
Some of the best advice on creativity can come from visionary artists and writers. Jeff VanderMeer certainly falls into that category: his fiction is often set in surreal, phantasmagorical landscapes, but never loses touch with human emotions. In Wonderbook, he offers pointers on creating fantastical fiction in both written and illustrated form, along with advice from the likes of Karen Joy Fowler, George R. R. Martin, and Neil Gaiman.
33 Artists in 3 Acts by Sarah Thornton
Sarah Thornton’s examinations of the contemporary art world are fascinating in and of themselves, but their rigor and depth also offer plenty of places to pick up interesting habits, tricks, and insights into the creative mind. As the title suggests, a large number of artists are featured here, and Thornton’s narrative approach provides plenty of information on the evolution of their practices and the way that they’re able to find inspiration.
Pick Me Up: A Pep Talk For Now & Later by Adam J. Kurtz
Sometimes, creativity requires you to mark things up, jot down notes, and track your progress. Pick Me Up features a blend of writing prompts, motivational phrases and activities (“Draw your guts, then learn to trust them”), and more. It’s a stylized take on creation and grappling with anxieties, but its blend of optimism and irreverence might just the thing you need to get past something that’s been blocking you.