The Creative Spark: 4 Books to Help You Find It and Use It!

During this unprecedented time of social distancing and embracing your inner homebody (I refuse to call it “isolation”), a lot of people are finding outlets for their energy. Through exercise, cooking, meditation, reading, writing, and crafting, people are exploring different facets of their personalities.

It goes without saying that this is a perfect time to explore your creativity—and put it to good use! 

Just like your biceps or hamstrings, your creative muscles needs to be exercised…and frequently. But what if you never really used it? Or can’t find it? Or think you have lost it like a sock in the dryer? Luckily, there are some terrific books and creative guides to help you along the way.

From full on narratives about the creative process to journals that push you to jump out of your comfort zone, there are books for every type of creative. You don’t have to be writing the next great American novel, or painting your way to Van Gogh-esque fame to be creative. You may just want to play with watercolors, pen a poem, or learn some new photography tricks. Or maybe you want to discover what creativity means to you and how you can incorporate it into your everyday life! 

No matter where you are on your creative journey, the following four books are exceedingly helpful in getting those juices flowing. Whenever I have needed a nudge (or a cattle prodding!), they have certainly done the trick! 


The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity—Julia Cameron. Let’s start with what I consider one of the gold standards when it comes to unblocking creativity. Julia Cameron’s workbook/guide has been recommended by many creative individuals, and for good reason—it is a tough, no holds-barred look at creative blocks and how to remove them. Through a series of weekly exercises and reflections, Cameron walks you down, through, over, and under the path to removing obstacles to your creativity. Be warned that this book is a marathon (it is a 12 week program) and not a sprint, so be sure you have some time devoted to really doing the work. It’s like a cheaper version of psychoanalysis!

Also, don’t be put off by the word “spiritual.” Cameron is sensitive to peoples’ beliefs and encourages you just to get in touch with whatever or whoever your spiritual guide happens to be. My biggest takeaway from the exercises, something that I do everyday, are the morning pages. Less focused than journaling, morning pages are essentially a three page brain dump. You just write whatever you are thinking about without judgement, and without editing. They clear your mind of clutter and position you for more creative thinking. And they work! 


Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear—Elizabeth Gilbert. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love memoir has been an inspiration for those searching for more meaning and purpose in their lives. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear focuses on the creative side of purpose, how to work with your ideas, and dealing with the fear that just may be paralyzing you. Loaded with lots of personal anecdotes and advice, this book works for anyone who is venturing onto a new creative path, trying to rekindle an old project, or cultivate a new idea.

Particularly inspiring is Gilbert’s letter to fear, where she explains that it is allowed to tag along, but with the caveat that she and creativity are the ones driving the car! One important takeaway is not to sit too long on that good idea. It will not stick around forever, and may present itself to someone else who will take action upon it. Sound like rubbish? Ok, but how many times have you said, “I thought of that first!”?


The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion—Elle Luna. Discover the difference between a job, a career, and a calling with Elle Luna’s The Crossroads of Should and Must. Digging deep to help you discover what you really want, Luna’s book is part narrative, and part memoir, with some exercises thrown in.

The book is particularly useful in identifying obstacles and addressing them (those pesky fears again!). Those who feel a creative calling but aren’t sure how to define or act on it will find this book particularly inspiring. The actual physical book is a joy to read as it resembles a board book with thick cover, numerous illustrations, and varied formatting.


The Steal Like an Artist Journal: A Notebook for Creative Kleptomaniacs—Austin Kleon. For journal fans, The Steal Like an Artist Journal takes the concept of writing prompts a few steps further. Created by “writer who draws” Austin Kleon, you can expect suggestions like “make a mixtape for someone who doesn’t know you.” Steal Like an Artist is part journal, part sketchbook, and always interesting. Kleon encourages you to take your creativity outside your space to complete some of the entries. It is a very literal version of “stepping outside your circle.”

For example, one entry has you choose a color, visit a bookstore and write down the first ten titles you see with that color. Kleon’s twist on the traditional prompted journal forces you to use your creativity in different ways. For those looking for something other than a blank journal page, this may be the right fit.


Now go forth, find and use your creativity!

Book Review

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Thriller, Bildungsroman
Pages: 784
Format: Paperback
Buy Local
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

The Goldfinch follows thirteen-year-old Theo Decker, the son of a loving mother and reckless father. The young New-Yorker’s life is forever changed when he miraculously survives a terrible accident that kills his mother. Theo unwittingly steals a masterpiece from the museum where the tragedy occurred, and the captivating little painting provides a source of hope and comfort, as it reminds him of his mother. Theo is soon taken in by a wealthy friend, but he lives tormented by longing for the life he once had.

In adulthood, Theo’s stolen painting propels him deep into the art underworld, and he finds himself leading a double life as an antique dealer and as a con. He soon becomes entwined in a dangerous web of deceit, one that leaves him alienated and at risk of losing everything. Theo’s story is one of self-discovery, legacy, and the ways in which a single event can forever alter the course of our lives.

Thoughts

It goes without saying that Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is a real page-turner—as the title suggests, the story largely revolves around an (accidental) art theft. The plot is brilliantly weaved together, and the reader is plagued with the same anxieties as the protagonist when it comes to the stolen masterpiece. Theo is a thoroughly interesting character to follow, in that his life is tinged with loss and continual sorrows, and the reader witnesses first-hand how these trials change him from a hopeful boy to a cynical adult. Theo also meets a host of interesting characters throughout the novel—from Pippa, an impish musician who was also present during the bombing, to Hobie, a kindly antique store-owner turned father-figure, the book is certainly not lacking in personality.

The only fault I found in this book comes from the way it tended to drag on in places. Some plot points (such as the time Theo spends with Boris, his bedraggled, drug-addicted friend) felt unnecessarily drawn out and did little to advance the plot. The only purpose I could see this serving would be to make sudden plot advances all the more jarring for the reader—you are lulled into a false sense of security, only to have the rug immediately pulled out from under you as the plot thickens.

One of the things I found most memorable about The Goldfinch comes from the fact that the message of the story doesn’t become apparent until the end of the book. Throughout the novel, I found myself (worriedly) wondering if the plot was building towards any meaningful revelations, and was delighted to find that Tartt did an excellent job of tying the events of the novel to universally contemplated aspects of the human experience (you know, for those of us who can’t personally relate to Theo’s dabbling in art theft). Of the many themes expressed, there is a beautiful message about our loving art because of the ways that loved objects take on a life of their own, as well as serving to connect us to some greater beauty. The novel also tackles ideas such as whether or not to follow a heart that can’t be trusted, the times when bad actions can still lead to good outcomes, and challenging the notion of free will. In short, Tartt poses some of the great questions that we as humans should be contemplating without necessarily giving us the answers. Instead, she plants seeds of thought and leaves you as the reader to ponder the subject yourself and arrive at your own conclusions.

Overall, this book is a vastly entertaining story about a young boy placed in increasingly despairing circumstances. Beyond this, however, The Goldfinch will be especially loved by those looking for a revelatory piece dealing with topics such as legacy, love, fate, and beauty.

Literary Event: Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems

The Kennedy Center Artist-In-Residence, Mo Willems, welcomes readers, writers, artists, and creative people everywhere to join him for Lunch Doodles. This fun series is being hosted online by The Kennedy Center daily at 1:00 pm Eastern Time. In these sessions, Willems uses his doodles to teach artists of all levels how to get creative with written and visual art. Each day, Willems is providing new inspiration and fun ideas to keep our creative sides busy while we keep our bodies healthy.

Don’t worry if you can’t be there for the 1:00 pm live stream, each session is recorded and can be found on The Kennedy Center website or on YouTube for free streaming! Go join Willems on his journey to spread the joy of art in its simplest form: doodling.

For more information about this series, click here.


Location: Hosted Online by The Kennedy Center 

Time: 1:00 pm ET *Sessions are recorded and can be found for free on The Kennedy Center website or YouTube