9 Books To Help Live A Creative Life

Someone recently asked me, how did I find the courage to quit my job as a real estate agent and start living the life of an artist. They asked if there were books I could recommend reading (as if a book gave me the courage to quit a job I hated?) Finding the courage to be yourself is not a simple thing to do in today’s world. You don’t just wake up one day and say, “F*** it! I’m being me and doing what I want to do.” There are obstacles to overcome, walls to tear down, and preconceived notions to burn. It’s a journey of finding who you are and who you want to be, not who you think you should be or what others tell you to be. Although we are all born uniquely different, society demands that we mold ourselves to other people’s standards. Sometimes it takes a lifetime for us to figure out who we are, and some never do. I read and listened to a few books that inspired me to follow MY dream and to keep striving for it no matter what other people told me.

Here are my Top 9 suggested readings for living a creative life. On the 10th one, I’m going to leave for you to decide what it should be.

Truth Bomb by Abigail Crompton

This book is not just full of a vast array of artwork to inspire and explore, it encompasses the work of 22 female artists who express their thoughts about the human experience. It’s a book that I pick up now and then to look at while sipping on a chai latte. It always gives me that nudge I need when the negative Nellies of the world invade my head.

Legendary Artists and the Clothes They Wore by Terry Newman

I’m a woman who loves clothes and the psychological aspects of clothing. There’s a saying, “Clothes make the man.” I believe they make the artists too.

“Art and life are the same things to me, and fashion is part of life. I am happy with beautiful clothes, wonderful jewelry. I am constantly creating-why should I stop with myself?” Louise Nevelson, Vogue, June 1976.

This book examines some of the famous artists in the world and their personal fashion choices. They were secure in who they were and knew their style, and were not afraid of expressing it to the world. For me, clothes have always been a type of armor and an outward expression of who I am or what I am feeling on that day. If it’s my paint-splattered sweatpants, then you know I am in the creative zone and it’s best not to disturb me or I’m having a terrible day and my paint-covered sweats are my security blanket. Wearing a pair of stilettos that help me reach the sky gives me that extra few inches needed to stand tall in intimidating circumstances. Reading about the style and fashion of other artists helped encourage me to express myself. Not everyone is going to like my fashion choices and they will judge me for it, but they don’t have to wear it. And if it really bothers them, they can buy my artwork, so I can buy another pair of shoes.

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

Our heads get stuck in a negative loop to talk us out of doing the things that we most desire to do. We convince ourselves that our needs are frivolous and worthy of attention.

“We strive to be good, to be nice, to be helpful, to be unselfish. We want to be generous, of service to the world. But what we really want is to be left alone. When we can’t get others to leave us alone, we eventually abandon ourselves. To others, we may look like we’re there. We may act like we’re there. But our true self has gone to ground.” Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, page 98.

This book gives a cold hard look in the mirror and a smack in the head screaming, “SNAP OUT OF IT!!” I bought this book back in 2008 when I picked up the paintbrush and began creating again. It sat on my bookshelf, collecting dust for a good 10 years before I picked it up and really began reading it. It has become one of those books that all I have to do is open it and any page that falls open has a message that I need to read. Much like the above quote from page 98.

The Painter’s Keys: A Seminar with Robert Genn by Robert Genn

A dear friend loaned this book to me last year, because of the pandemic I have yet to return it. (Seems like a plausible excuse, anyway). Robert Genn was a Canadian landscape artist who sent out twice weekly newsletters to inspire others to the creative life. The book is written in an interview-style format that creates the feeling of sitting in the back of his studio and eavesdropping on a conversation with a fellow artist.

Death To The Starving Artist: Art Marketing Strategies For A Killer Creative Career by Nikolas Allen

A how-to book on not starving as an artist, which is pretty essential for this line of work.

“There is a popular belief that making a living as an artist is not feasible, or that people can be good at EITHER art OR business, but not both. Often these ideas and beliefs come from the outside sources, but sometimes these roadblocks exist even in the artist’s own mind.” – Nikolas Allen, Prologue 3rd paragraph

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

A must-read. Fear is the one thing that stops most people from doing anything. The fear of failing is one of the biggest, and what you replace that fear with is the fear of never even trying. The real failure comes from not even trying, so if you simply try, then you have succeeded.

Art and Fear takes a hard look at what an artist’s face when sitting in front of a blank canvas or walking into an art gallery to face the judgment that ensues and doing it, anyway.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any book by Steven Pressfield. He is the consummate go-to guy for getting that kick in the ass we all need to pursue our dreams.

“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be but to find out who we already are and become it.” Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

You Don’t Look Fat; You Look Crazy by Ashley Longshore

This book made me do a 180 in my thinking. Ashley Longshore is an artist who is vivid and bold and makes no excuses for it. Take her as she is or get out of the F*cking way. Going your own way in life takes guts, and it’s not always glorious, but it is powerful and it’s all You. No apologies given.

“… hard work becomes a lot easier when you love what you do.” Ashley Longshore, page 108.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

I have the audio version of this book to play in my car whenever I need that not-so-subtle reminder that life is about what you make and not what you are given. No one comes into this world with a road map and instructions. It is up to us to figure out where we are going and how we are going to get there. You can either walk around in circles and stay where you are or break free from the path and forge your own way.

“If you’re stuck on a problem, don’t sit there and think about it; just start working on it. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, the simple act of working on it will eventually cause the right ideas to show up in your head.” Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Deciding to live the life you want is a leap of faith. There is no guarantee that everything will be hunky-dory sunshine and rainbows, but you will discover a multitude of things about yourself. You will find out more about who you are and not what you are. There is a sense of freedom in being the person you always wanted to be, and it’s not too late to begin. The first step is the scariest, then it turns into baby steps and your stride becomes more confident the farther you walk. The next thing you know, you’re strutting down the road and dancing to your own beat.


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Melissa Whitaker

Artist | Illustrator | Photographer Currently Looking for her lost shaker of salt. 🍈

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