20 GREAT BOOKS ON WRITING AND CREATIVITY

My typewriter did not look like this beauty!

Unfortunately my typewriter did not look anything like this old beauty!

I came to writing relatively late in life. I was in my twenties before I even dared articulate to myself that was what my dream was. I sat on my bed looking at a clapped out old electric typewriter on the other side of the room and feeling this huge space between me and it. It seemed impossible. The only thing occupying the space at that time was my longing to be a writer.

But how to begin?

In the end I did three things:

1.  I did a writing course taught by Sahera Chohan* and Nigel Watts;

2. I did The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron with my friend, Francesca Howard*;

3. I began to read books on writing and creativity in general.

 * See my blog roll for their inspiring blogs.

Books on writing

Books on writing…

The first book I read was Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Still one of my favourites. It was Francesca who suggested doing The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She wanted to become a painter and I wanted to become a writer and she suggested we do the course together and talk on the phone weekly about how we’d got on. Without those weekly telephone calls I’m not sure I would have finished it. As I remember it, I was appalled at Week Four, the reading deprivation week, and extremely stroppy when it came to collages (which I loved doing when I got down to it) but at the end of it the seeds of hope and possibility were planted in me.

More books on writing

More books on writing…

I have read many other books over the years and I’ll give a list at the end of my favourites but one which I’m reading now and absolutely love is by Anne Bogart: A Director Prepares. Seven Essays on Art and Theatre. These are her chapter headings: Memory; Violence; Eroticism; Terror; Stereotype; Embarrassment; Resistance. It’s a brilliant inspiring book and I can’t recommend it highly enough. She uses examples from the world of theatre, painting, dance and literature.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

‘The saving grace in one’s work is love, trust and a sense of humour.’

‘Every creative act involves a leap into the void.’

Here she is on resistance:

Laziness and impatience are constant internal resistances and they are very personal. We are all lazy. We are all impatient. Neither are evil qualities; rather they are issues that we learn to handle properly…. Attitude is key. Naming something a problem engenders the wrong relationship to it… Try not to think of anything as a problem. Start with a forgiving attitude to laziness and impatience and cultivate a sense of humour about them both. And then trick them.’

To find out how to trick them buy the book!

And some more books on writing...

And some more books on writing…

When I look back, books played a crucial role in leading me across that room towards the typewriter, towards the moment when I put my hands on the keyboard and began to write. They play a crucial role in keeping me there. I continue to buy these books (71 and counting!) and I continue to explore the whole subject of creativity. I find it endlessly fascinating.

The questions I’m looking to have answered are how do other people do it – create? How do dancers dance, painters paint, actors act, writers write, singers sing, directors direct. How do they persist? How do they deal with setbacks? What can I learn from them?

Here, in no particular order, are twenty of my favourite books on writing and creativity.

1.Negotiating with the Dead – Margaret Atwood

2.Teach yourself Writing a Novel – Nigel Watts

3.The Courage to Write –  Ralph Keyes

4.The Writer’s Book of Hope – Ralph Keyes

5.Writing Down the Bones – Natalie Goldberg

6.Wild Mind – Natalie Goldberg

7.The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron

8.The Right to Write – Julia Cameron

9.On Writing – Stephen King

10.Becoming a Writer – Dorothea Brande

11.Writing for your Life – Deena Metzger

12. The Poetics of Space – Gaston Bachelard

13. The Paris Review Interviews – all volumes

14. The Master and his Emissary – Ian McGilchrist

15. The Gift – Lewis Hyde

16. Which Lie Did I Tell? – William Goldman

17. One Continuous Mistake – Gail Sher

18. Walking With Alligators – Susan Shaughnessy

19. If You Want To Write – Brenda Ueland

20. A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre – Anne Bogart

There’s also a book coming out in February 2015 called The Art of Creative Thinking written by Rod Judkins, a lecturer at St Martin’s School of Art, which looks very interesting.

Do you have a book which had a big effect on your creative process? Are there any books you would recommend? What do you think of my list?

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9 thoughts on “20 GREAT BOOKS ON WRITING AND CREATIVITY

  1. Interesting to see Gaston Bachelard in that list – the need to dream so important. I tended to avoid these kinds of books although I found The Artist’s Way helpful (thanks to your friend and mine) with the process of creativity. A friend of mine was given the best advice by Iris Murdoch: “Just write,” she said. Oh, okay…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love Bachelard although it took me a long time to read. Read a sentence… stare into the middle distance. Read another sentence… stare… Oh, an hour’s gone past and I’ve read two sentences. It’s a book that has a weird sort of hypnotic effect on me!

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  2. Well, Dear Artist in Arms, ‘The Artist’s Way’ remains my No1 book for creativity. I will never forget our journey through it together: our reluctance to go on ‘Artist’s Dates’, our Sunday debriefs and, absolutely, your complete fury at the reading deprivation week. As I was not a great reader it was no problem for me, but it was then I knew you were going to be a writer.

    I continue to lend the ‘The Artist’s Way’ and provided people are forewarned not to be put off by the American flavour, they continue to get something from it. Cameron and her ‘Shadow Artists’, ‘Poisonous Playmates’, ‘Money Madness’ and best of all ‘Crazymakers'(!) continue to inform not only my art, but my life in general.

    The Bogart quotes sound wonderful and gentle – vital in this mad world of art of which we have decided to be a part. My only quibble would be that I don’t believe anyone is lazy. There is always a valid reason behind the procrastination. It is normally a part of our process. I always encourage other artists to firstly, know and secondly, accept their process. It’s not easy this art thing – otherwise everyone would be doing it …

    Liked by 1 person

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