My bedside table currently holds seven books and two notebooks. I usually like to read one book straight through before I start another but, having had some time off recently where I read three books by Zadie Smith, I figured it would be a while before I was able to find any prose that was as rich and consuming and elegant as Smith’s so I decided to try “dipping” – dipping in and out of a number of books and seeing how that felt.
It’s a very different experience indeed and although I’ve tried, I simply can’t do it with fiction, so all seven books on my bedside table are non-fiction. They range from books I’m studying for various courses I’m taking, books by other writers I’ve enjoyed, or books that have been recommended to me – I guess, loosely, you could say they’re all around the field of self-development.
There are three books I’m obsessed with though and I really, really want to tell everyone about them.
I discovered Austin Kleon during my week off. I had set myself the challenge of going to the National Gallery to practice slowness – the art of looking at a picture for half-an-hour or more. I had really wanted to do this in front of my favourite picture there, one I’ve been visiting for thirty odd years, Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières, but I was disappointed to find that particular gallery was closed for maintenance. My experiment in slowness wasn’t entirely a success – I need to work on that a bit more, but on leaving the gallery I stopped in (as you do) to the gift shop – mainly so I could buy a postcard and prove I had actually been!
That’s where I came across Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist. Initially I thought it was a book for ‘artists’ – you know, proper painters and draw-ers, but I soon realised it was a book for creatives – all creatives. I bought three of his books there and then – Steal Like An Artist, Show Your Work and the Steal Like An Artist Journal (I actually bought two of those, one for my husband). Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work are both short reads, but what they lack in length, they more than make up for in inspiration. I read, and re-read sections of them every day and they help me feel less like a worthless fraud and more like a “creative” – they’re inspiring, funny, and full of game-changing advice.
The Steal Like An Artist Journal is a workbook full of easy, fun exercises – I carry it around and when I find myself bored on a tube or waiting for a friend, instead of getting my phone out and mindlessly scrolling through my social media feed, I do one of the quick exercises. Having ‘done’ The Artists Way and tried You Will Be Able To Draw By The End of This Book in an effort to ignite a creative drive and confidence I’d lost over the years, I worried that this might be a bit worthy or a bit soul-destroying (you should see the dreadful sketches I’m producing as a result of ‘You Will Be Able To Draw’ – totally humiliating!) but it’s not, it’s actually really fun to work through and because each exercise is so enjoyable I’m finding they’re teaching me so much more about myself and what I think creativity is – they’re changing the way I look at my own creative output and these three books together are, I think, helping to rewire my brain to realise that not only do my creative efforts matter, I matter.
Which brings me on to the other writer I’m currently obsessing over – Eric Maisel. Maisel is a Creativity Coach and expert on creativity and I’ve been reading, chapter by chapter, Mastering Creative Anxiety which is a bit more academic in its approach and looks at the main stumbling blocks and barriers we place in our way that prevent us from realising our creative potential – the most basic of which is, I guess, that somewhere along the way, we decided that we don’t matter. Not just that our work, our creative output, doesn’t matter, is boring, is predictable, is pointless, but that right at the core of it, we have come to believe that we don’t matter. Maisel looks at the main causes of this anxiety and teaches tools to overcome them. I’ve already covered the pages in notes and highlighter and am incorporating his teaching into both my coaching practice and my personal endeavours. A really fantastic, in-depth look at the creative mind.