My best creativity books of 2018 (and why you might want them on your gift list)

Best creativity books 2018

Messy: How to be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World by Tim Harford

Feeling pressurised to be more organised? This book is for you, and all of us who understand instinctively that creative work needs the unpredictable, the surprising and the offbeat. Tim Harford offers up stories and research into just why too much structure kills creativity, why being risk-averse puts us in greater danger, and how diversity trumps homogeneity. Many of his examples are from economics (his main area of expertise), sport and business, but there’s plenty about daily life and culture, including what was clearly an extensive interview with Brian Eno.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

I consider myself to be an extrovert, so I was puzzled by how much I recognised myself in this bestseller by Susan Cain about introverts. Introverts are, she says, quieter, more sensitive and serious than their brasher extrovert cousins, but the world is missing out by not knowing how to listen to them. The mystery was partly solved for me by Elaine Aron, the author of The Highly Sensitive Person, who takes the view that Cain is really writing about the ‘sensitive’ section of the population. That makes sense to me: this feels to be a book about people who observe, process and reflect deeply, which (as I experience it) isn’t the same as being drained rather than energised by being around other people. That includes a lot of creative people, since by our nature, creative work is done inside our heads. 

Creativity: Flow and The Psychology of Discovery and Invention, by Mihaly Csiksezentmihalyi

Csiksezentmihalyi’s more recent book Flow is better known, but Creativity is, I suspect, where many of his ideas came from. It’s based on in-depth conversations with dozens of highly achieving creative people, Nobel-winning writers and scientists, composers and artists among them. One of the most fascinating areas was about how creative people simply don’t conform to the way we normally categorise ourselves. Instead of being introvert or extrovert, Csikszentmihalyi finds them both, simultaneously (which is not the same as being somehow in the middle – creative people don’t ever seem to inhabit that middle ground). Likewise, they can be traditional and ground-breaking; firmly grounded in reality and simultaneously open to the wildest imaginative journeys. That’s certainly something that makes sense to me, and that section is something I’ve recommended to clients struggling with why they don’t seem to fit other people’s boxes. His message isn’t as obvious as ‘be yourself!’ but that what it comes down to. If we don’t match the ways other people use to categorise us, that’s their problem, not ours.

The Creative Habit: Learn it And Use it For Life by Twyla Tharp

I admit it: this is a classic that’s taken me a long time to get to. Twyla Tharp shows the extraordinary dedication and focus that has supported to her own distinguished career as a choreographer, and leaves you no room to wriggle while asking why you’re not doing the same. She argues that creativity is made up of many habits, from practical routines to professional skills, self-questioning to creative structure. It’s a compelling read, with terrific practical exercises to get your thinking into a new pattern. I find myself coming back to this to look for a quote or an idea, and then get lost yet again in its wisdom and provocation. I’m keeping this close by for 2019. 

Grit: Why Passion and Resilience are the Secrets to Success, by Angela Duckworth

On one level, this is yet another book on how to achieve things that focuses on the Big Three of business books: sport, business and education. But psychologist Angela Duckworth still has a lot to say to creative people about how we perceive and get through adversity. In fact, creative disciplines turn out to be well suited to foster passion, interest and practice, all of which she identifies as factors in why and how we keep going when we feel we’re walking through emotional or practical treacle. A good one for when you’re wondering why it’s all such hard work, but an insightful read at any time. 

Odette, by Jessica Duchen

I haven’t read many novels this year, but here’s a late entry to the list from a friend and Creative Life Show guest, novelist, blogger and librettist Jessica Duchen. A contemporary version of Swan Lake, Odette is a rather magical fairy story that’s rooted in a very real world of homelessness, exclusion and the search for purpose. There’s plenty of music, theatre and writing going on, and the twist seems to take the most seasoned plot-guessers by surprise. 

Paper or screen? 

I do use a Kindle, and I’d like to have less paper around me, but I realise I’ve read all these as paper books. Do books on paper make more impact on me, or have I chosen to buy paper copies of the ones that look most interesting? I’m honestly not sure. One for me to ponder. What do you get most from? 

Two questions for you! 

Would you like a more regular ‘books’ slot on my email next year? Let me know, or any other ideas or suggestions for how I can help you be more imaginative, productive and be heard. 

And what books have been your highlights for 2018? I’d love to have your recommendations to read and share. 

PS wanting to drop the hint to someone else about what you’d like to find in your stocking? Share this with them now…

 

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