Books to help boost your creativity during dark times.
Sometimes, a month or so before the end of a long, dark winter, I start to feel my creativity wane. Everything feels a little cold. A little hidden. A little like it’s waiting for some magical thing to energize it. This year it’s taking longer than usual for that energizing force to show up. And, I’m not alone here. Even the buds on my fruit tree aren’t bursting forth yet. Maybe it’s the still too dark days, or the snow storm in the middle of April, or maybe it’s just not yet time yet. Whatever the reason, I weary of waiting, so I have been poring through my bookshelves, the internet, and the local library, looking for inspiration. Here’s a list of what I’ve found:
Fairy Tales, Folktales, and Archetypes.
The symbolism of the shoes in Cinderella. The archetype of the Dark Man in dreams. The Ugly Duckling. The Baba Yaga. I’ve dug up old stories, new to me stories, and some new ways of thinking in the following books.
Fearless Girls and Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters
Dismayed by the predominance of male protagonists in her daughters’ books, Kathleen Ragan set out to collect the stories of our forgotten heroines. Gathered from around the world, from regions as diverse as sub-Saharan Africa and Western Europe, from North and South American Indian cultures and New World settlers, from Asia and the Middle East, these 100 folktales celebrate strong female heroines.
Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters is for all women who are searching to define who they are, to redefine the world and shape their collective sensibility. It is for men who want to know more about what it means to be a woman. It is for our daughters and our sons, so that they can learn to value all kinds of courage, courage in battle and the courage of love. It is for all of us to help build a more just vision of woman.
Within every woman there is a wild and natural creature, a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. Her name is Wild Woman, but she is an endangered species. Though the gifts of wildish nature come to us at birth, society’s attempt to “civilize” us into rigid roles has plundered this treasure, and muffled the deep, life-giving messages of our own souls. Without Wild Woman, we become over-domesticated, fearful, uncreative, trapped. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., Jungian analyst and cantadora storyteller, shows how woman’s vitality can be restored through what she calls “psychic archeological digs” into the bins of the female unconscious. In Women Who Run with the Wolves, Dr. Estes uses multicultural myths, fairy tales, folk tales, and stories chosen from over twenty years of research that help women reconnect with the healthy, instinctual, visionary attributes of the Wild Woman archetype. Dr. Estes collects the bones of many stories, looking for the archetypal motifs that set a woman’s inner life into motion. “La Loba” teaches about the transformative function of the psyche. In “Bluebeard,” we learn what to do with wounds that will not heal; in “Skeleton Woman,” we glimpse the mystical power of relationship and how dead feelings can be revived; “Vasalisa the Wise” brings our lost womanly instincts to the surface again; “The Handless Maiden” recovers the Wild Woman initiation rites; and “The Little Match Girl” warns against the insidious dangers of a life spent in fantasy. In these and other stories, we focus on the many qualities of Wild Woman. We retrieve, examine, love, and understand her, and hold her against our deep psyches as one whois both magic and medicine. In Women Who Run with the Wolves, Dr. Estes has created a new lexicon for describing the female psyche. Fertile and lifegiving, it is a psychology of women in the truest sense, a knowing of the soul.
Creative Kick Starters
I picked up a couple of old favorites and some new reads for a fresh perspective, a pep talk, and a reminder to just keep going.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
A must read for anyone hoping to live a creative life… I dare you not to be inspired to be brave, to be free, and to be curious.” –PopSugar
From the worldwide bestselling author of Eat Pray Love and City of Girls the path to the vibrant, fulfilling life you’ve dreamed of.
Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.
Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad
In his previous books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work!, both New York Times bestsellers, Austin Kleon gave readers the keys to unlock their creativity and showed them how to become known. Now he offers his most inspiring work yet, with ten simple rules for how to stay creative, focused, and true to yourself–for life.
The creative life is not a linear journey to a finish line, it’s a loop–so find a daily routine, because today is the only day that matters. Disconnect from the world to connect with yourself–sometimes you just have to switch into airplane mode. Keep Going celebrates getting outdoors and taking a walk (as director Ingmar Bergman told his daughter, “The demons hate fresh air”). Pay attention, and especially pay attention to what you pay attention to. Worry less about getting things done, and more about the worth of what you’re doing. Instead of focusing on making your mark, work to leave things better than you found them.
Keep Going and its timeless, practical, and ethical principles are for anyone trying to sustain a meaningful and productive life.
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
A succinct, engaging, and practical guide for succeeding in any creative sphere, The War of Art is nothing less than Sun-Tzu for the soul.
What keeps so many of us from doing what we long to do? Why is there a naysayer within? How can we avoid the roadblocks of any creative endeavor-be it starting up a dream business venture, writing a novel, or painting a masterpiece?
Bestselling novelist Steven Pressfield identifies the enemy that every one of us must face, outlines a battle plan to conquer this internal foe, then pinpoints just how to achieve the greatest success. The War of Art emphasizes the resolve needed to recognize and overcome the obstacles of ambition and then effectively shows how to reach the highest level of creative discipline. Think of it as tough love . . . for yourself.Whether an artist, writer or business person, this simple, personal, and no-nonsense book will inspire you to seize the potential of your life.
Write for Life: Creative Tools for Every Writer
Julia Cameron has been teaching the world about creativity since her seminal book, The Artist’s Way, first broke open the conversation around art. Now, in Write for Life, she turns to one of the subjects closest to her heart: the art and practice of writing.
Over the course of six weeks, Cameron carefully guides readers step by step through the creative process. This latest guide in the Artist’s Way Series:
– Introduces a new tool and expands on powerful tried and true methods.
– Gently guides readers through many common creative issues — from procrastinating and getting started, to dealing with doubt, deadlines, and “crazymakers.”
– Will help you reach your goals, whether your project is a novel, poetry, screenplay, standup, or songwriting.
With the learned experience of a lifetime of writing, Cameron gives readers practical tools to start, pursue, and finish their writing project. Write for Life is an essential read for writers who have completed The Artist’s Way and are looking to continue their creative journey or new writers who are just putting pen to paper.
The Creative Fire: Myths and Stories on the Cycles of Creativity
In Search of La Chispa: The Elemental Source of Your Creativity
An expanded edition of the classic on creativity by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, this spoken-word masterpiece guides you through the dark labyrinths of the psyche in search of la chispa–the ember that is the elemental source of all creative work.
Dr. Estés teaches about the hidden aspects of creativity, including the negative complexes that prey upon creative energy. The Creative Fire includes many special insights for people who create for a living: artists, writers, teachers, and others who must depend on their creative instincts every day.
I treated myself to some books that were just fun. Playful books. Silly books. Joy for joy’s sake books.
An absolute delight of a madcap story for the young (and young-at-heart) by New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman, with equal parts pirates and piranhas, adventure and aliens, oddity and love.
“I bought the milk,” said my father. “I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: t h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road.”
“Hullo,” I said to myself. “That’s not something you see every day. And then something odd happened.”
Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal, expertly told by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young.
Get to know the only kid on the FBI Director’s speed dial and several international criminals’ most wanted lists all because of his Theory of All Small Things in this hilarious start to a brand-new middle grade mystery series.
So you’re only halfway through your homework and the Director of the FBI keeps texting you for help…What do you do? Save your grade? Or save the country?
If you’re Florian Bates, you figure out a way to do both.
Florian is twelve years old and has just moved to Washington. He’s learning his way around using TOAST, which stands for the Theory of All Small Things. It’s a technique he invented to solve life’s little mysteries such as: where to sit on the on the first day of school, or which Chinese restaurant has the best eggrolls.
But when he teaches it to his new friend Margaret, they uncover a mystery that isn’t little. In fact, it’s HUGE, and it involves the National Gallery, the FBI, and a notorious crime syndicate known as EEL.
Can Florian decipher the clues and finish his homework in time to help the FBI solve the case?
I’m still trekking through the woods, but I’m starting to see the beginnings of a pathway out of the creative darkness. The breadcrumbs left by these books helped me. How about you? What are your go-to reads during tough creative times? I’d love it if you’d share in the comments.