How’s your lockdown going? I admit I envisioned putting all this time to magnificent use – I’d get that book finished, revamp all my websites, write some short stories, finally learn how to pitch an article. And… um, I haven’t done any of those things. I have drank an Oddbins’ worth of wine and eaten my own weight in cut-price Easter Eggs, but I’m disinclined to think that’s an achievement. So as much in the hope of giving myself a kick up the arse as in inspiring anyone else, here’s some of the books that help me out of a funk.
Help! I’m a self-help addict!
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!) (The picture below is me reading said book on my friend’s hen weekend – someone bought her it as a joke gift!) (Yes, this is precisely how much fun I am on a hen night.)
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 (hey, you do you, but I personally find all this god stuff offputting) 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 / centuries of political and economic exploitation, or even just bad luck.) There’s also a tendency in books about writing by men to assume it’s viable for everyone to devote themselves to their ‘craft’, mostly because they have a wife in the background handling the laundry.
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!
Embrace Your Weird – Felicia Day
I’m a big fan of Day through her TV appearances, and this book trades heavily on her geeky / nerdy persona, so her fanbase will love it. But it also has a wider appeal. Through a series of light-hearted exercises she guides you through the barriers to embracing your difference, being creative and working past the fears that hold you back. Best read in hard copy because it encourages you to write, draw and doodle in the book, creating your own personal creativity journal.
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 work, 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.
The Gifts of Imperfection – Brene Brown
Full disclosure: I am a little obsessed with this book. I talked about it in my previous post about fear and failure and it resonates with me every time I read it. If you are finding your creativity stalled by imposter syndrome, perfectionism or procrastination, this is a great book for you.
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. (She also does a range of related merch, such as planners and calendars aimed at keeping you on track).
The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer
Another book I’ve talked about before, I found this book – part biography, part manifesto – an incredibly useful resource when it came to all the weird feelings so many of us have around our art, especially in relation to money. It’s searingly honest, and even if you don’t agree with what she says (I know her ‘crowdfunding’ approach to funding things and paying people ruffles some feathers) it’s a thought-provoking read.
Other resources – for free!
There’s a wealth of online resources aimed at giving your creativity a boost, many of which are free. And signing up to a mailing list or subscribing to a blog can actually be more productive than just 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 – and she’s very heavy on A Course In Miracles, which won’t be to everyone’s taste – but I always enjoy.) I’m not a massive fan of Mike Dooley’s books, 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. (Even though I am not planning to get married any time ever, I enjoy following Rock n Roll Bride (@rocknrollbride) on Instagram for her sunny, positive posts).
The coronavirus crisis has also spurred lots of people to create resources, from ideas to help keep your kids busy to support groups to virtual networking sessions: find one that suits your interests and get involved, and allow other people to kickstart your creativity even when you feel in a slump – and do the same for them.
Times are tough at the moment, and time, money and concentration may all be in short supply. But there are a bunch of resources out there that can help you – why not give some of them a try?
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