Now, I must admit I have long had a Bridget Jonesian level of fascination for self-help books. I read them like other people devour thrillers or romances – for a dose of pure escapism. It doesn’t matter if they are not remotely relevant to my life, and sometimes, the more bonkers they are, they more I enjoy them (I have, despite being long-term single, read both The Surrendered Wife – which is every bit as Handmaid’s Tale as the title suggests – and The Rules for Married Woman, which has a frankly insane level of suggestions, down to how many coats of mascara a married woman should wear!)
There’s a lot to be sceptical of in the self-help section. Many books offer an unedifying mix of American syrupiness, over-fondness of religion and infuriating Western smugness that can drive you nuts (for instance, best to avoid any of these books when they try to explain the existence of poverty, illness and equality in the world, since even the best of them tend to spout guff about ‘soul choices’ instead of, I dunno, recognising the results of decades of political and economic exploitation, or even just bad luck.)
But not all self-help books are terrible, and through years and years of searching (you’re welcome!) I have found some that I think are genuinely useful – for writers and other artists, or just for living well. I’ve also included some other resources at the bottom – most of them free. So what are you waiting for? Dive in!
Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
I was super sceptical about Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear as I previously had an aversion to Gilbert, admittedly based less on having read any of her books (which I hadn’t) but mostly on the aforementioned Western smugness that seemed inherent in the very idea of Eat, Pray, Love. But I read a few extracts of Big Magic online, and something just clicked with me, so I bought it – and I’m glad I did. I’ve read it several times now, and passed on my copies to friends with eager hands. It’s not going to give you any advice on the structure and process of storytelling or how to write a bestseller, but it’s excellent on getting out of your own way, and creating an internal atmosphere where creativity can flourish – and why you don’t need that expensive writing course.
Art and Soul, Reloaded – Pam Grout
Grout is another one of those authors I find engaging and annoying in equal measure. Her focus on the positive to the exclusion of all else can seem at best complacent, at worst appeasement (in her previous book, Thank and Grow Rich, she raves about Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s focus on positivity rather than on problems – a blinkers-on focus which has, of course, allowed Twitter to become the haven for bots and Nazis that it is today – and in one of her blog posts, she suggests that no one should go on protests anymore, which is fine if you are a straight, wealthy white American woman whose rights aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, not so good for anyone else.). But if you can ignore that side of her, she’s actually a very likable writer. The lengthily titled Art & Soul, Reloaded: A Yearlong Apprenticeship for Summoning the Muses and Reclaiming Your Bold, Audacious Creative Side, while occasionally a little silly in its suggestions (I won’t be going out in fancy dress or hugging a stranger anytime soon), is very good at identifying the ways we sabotage our own creative potential, and how to get around them.
The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
Probably the grandmother of all books on creativity – and with a slew of other related titles, if you are interested – The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self is a course of weekly lessons focused on unleashing your inner artist. I have done this several times, and though I find some of the lessons not to my taste (I struggle with the morning pages, since I am not a morning person, and found the ‘no reading’ week simply impossible) but there’s a lot to be gleaned even if you don’t manage the whole thing.
You are a Badass and You are a Badass at Making Money – Jen Sincero
I adore Jen Sincero – sweary, no-nonsense and not in the mood for your excuses, her books are tough love compared to many of the other ‘think good thoughts and wait to be rich’ alternatives out there, but that’s why they are more useful. She talks a lot about sorting out your mindset and getting out of your own way, true, but she is also pleasingly blunt about the fact that you’ll still need to work your arse off to achieve what you want. These are books I regularly return to when I feel my resolve flagging, and they always give me a boost. Buy them here: You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life and You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth
Other resources – for free!
There’s a wealth of online resources aimed at giving your creativity a boost, most of which are free. And signing up to a mailing list or subscribing to a blog can actually be more productive than reading a book, putting it aside and forgetting about it, since they offer regular reminders of your intention, and encouragement to keep going.
The above-mentioned Pam Grout has a blog that is full of inspiring stories (which some, admittedly, might find sickly sweet, but I always enjoy.) I find a lot of author Mike Dooley’s most recent books unreadable – full of the kind of metaphysical hokum that makes me want to cringe – but his Notes from the Universe daily emails always bring a smile to my face and, like Sincero, he offers an ongoing reminder that positive thinking is all well and good, but you have to actually do something about it.
And even if you can’t currently afford a lifestyle coach or mentor, many coaches have blogs or mailing lists that offer up bite-sized bits of inspiration or advice at no cost – for example, I follow my friend Steve’s coaching blog at Shibuya Coaching, which offers a mix of inspirational personal stories (including how Steve himself transformed his life – proof that he walks the walk!) and advice and encouragement.
So, whatever your budget, however tight your time – there are resources out there to help you. What are you waiting for?
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