10 books for creativity and inspiration to write

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My last decade has been about discovering things: myself, the world, and my creativity.

Back in 2015, I made a series of very uncharacteristic decisions. I had always been shy and scared of the world, with social and generalised anxiety disorders, trauma and, at the root of all of that, autism.

So everyone who knew me was surprised when I broke up with my boyfriend of five years, went travelling solo around Scandinavia a few months later, and then moved to Switzerland. This was not what I usually did.

I first moved to Interlaken, a town of just 5,000 residents but overrun with hoards of tourists, and knew it wasn’t the place for me. So eight months later, I moved thirty miles away to live alone next to the mountains, with the birds and not much else for company.

The three years that followed were some of the most precious of my life so far, with days spent hiking, watching the birds, and noticing the light change on the mountains.

I knew I wanted to write about it, and while I was living there (and working) I jotted down notes and observations that layered upon each other to make the first draft of a book I’m going to publish in the next couple of months. It’s called Mountain Song, and I’m so excited to share more about it with you soon.

Along the way, of course, I’ve been reading a lot. Here are some of the books that have been nurturing my creativity and inspiring me to write.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

I’ve just finished reading Atomic Habits, and it backs up so many of my favourite thoughts about building consistent habits and making time for what’s important.

Rather than focusing on an outcome-based goal such as writing a book, James Clear suggests first thinking about who you want to become – a writer, in this example – and adopt that identity. You can then act as if you are already a writer, with the systems in place to thrive every day. This could be sitting at your desk first thing and committing to writing for one hour every day, no matter what.

“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity. This is one reason why meaningful change does not require radical change. Small habits can make a meaningful difference by providing evidence of a new identity.”

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

The Creative Habit is one of my very favourite books on creativity. It’s also an ode to discipline. Every morning, Twyla Tharp, now seventy-nine, wakes up at 5:30 A.M, hails a cab, and tell the driver to take her to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st street and First Avenue, where she works out for two hours.

Twyla Tharp also published Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life in late 2019, a wonderful guidebook for harnessing vitality as you age while expanding your possibilities and sense of purpose.

“Reading, conversation, environment, culture, heroes, mentors, nature – all are lottery tickets for creativity. Scratch away at them and you’ll find out how big a prize you’ve won.”

You might also like: How to sustain creative thinking and projects when you have a 9 to 5 job

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

When you imitate your role models or create your cover of someone else’s work, you reveal your own perspective.

There’s a great quote by Derek Sivers in his new book Hell Yeah or No that goes:

“You know that song you love that you wish you’d written? Copy it.

You know that existing business that you wish you had thought of? Copy it.

Why? Because we’re imperfect mirrors.”

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver is the book I wish I wrote. What’s your equivalent?

Light is the New Black: A Guide to Answering Your Soul’s Callings and Working Your Light by Rebecca Campbell

This one comes with a woo-woo warning, which I couldn’t handle a few years ago but now it seems like my tolerance has changed. Light is the New Black is about shining the light that only you can and following the callings for your time here on earth. If you can cope with talking about the Universe with a capital letter, you’ll probably love it.

“The more you lean into yourself and spend your time being rather than doing in order to be, the sooner you can be supported beyond your wildest dreams. And you will be supported.”

Creative Calling: Establish a Daily Practice, Infuse Your World with Meaning, and Succeed in Work + Life by Chase Jarvis

Creative Calling is Chase Jarvis’s invitation to your most creative way of living, starting with an environment and daily practice where your creativity can soar. Read it for a reminder that life is about the journey and the act of creation, not the end product.

“Turning an idea in your head into a tangible reality is one of life’s great satisfactions, whether the end result is a story, a photograph, a meal, or a business.”

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

If you’ve got bored of me and everyone else singing the praises of this book in the last few years, I’m sorry to reinforce that – but I do think Big Magic deserves it.

Just make the damn thing, for no other reason than wanting to make it.

“Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants to lead you. Keep in mind that for most of history people just made things, and they didn’t make such a big freaking deal out of it.”

You might also like: Finding the courage to start afresh with Murakami in Killing Commendatore

Devotions by Mary Oliver

Where would I be without Mary Oliver’s poetry? Devotions is a selection of her best work, including “I Go Down to the Shore” which rarely fails to shakes me out of low and hopeless moods, and “The Summer Day” for a reminder of the gift of life (“Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”)

“If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.”

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I often write about Brave Enough, Cheryl Strayed’s selection of quotes that has so many of my favourite messages on writing and creativity. But while writing my own book about my favourite wild places, I’ve also revisited Wild lately: her “journey from lost to find” that is both product and reflection of those lessons.

“It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”

Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon

Austin Kleon’s books are refreshing simple: you can grab the little paperbacks that are fantastic to flick through when you need a creative boost, or the Kindle edition that’s concise enough to read in a few hours. Keep Going was released in 2019 and is even more relevant this year.

“We have so little control over our lives. The only thing we can really control is what we spend our days on.”

Love for Imperfect Things: How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection by Haemin Sunim

All of my favourite writing is vulnerable. And that takes guts. To write and be vulnerable, you need to know that you are enough just as you are. That your voice is worth sharing.

Haemin Sunim offers a heartfelt reminder of this in Love for Imperfect Things, a lovely follow-up to The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down.

“If you think and worry too much before doing something, ‘your boat goes to the mountain instead of the ocean.'”


Enjoy more from me

It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.

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