Become an Expert: The Creative Life

nonfiction november 2014

Want to be more creative? Don’t write that story/paint that picture/sew that quilt/knit that scarf yet. Read a book about writing/painting/sewing/knitting! Better yet, read 12! Read 25! Read a whole bookshelf!

I believe that we learn by doing. But my first step on the path to doing has always been to read a book (or twelve) to prepare. My November creativity challenge is pretty simple: do something creative each day. Knowing that I’ll feel most comfortable and productive if I complement time spent creating with time spent reading about creating, I’ve put together a list of books to explore for this week’s Nonfiction November Be/Become/Ask the Expert link-up.


Cartoonist and writer Lynda Barry’s Syllabus collects some of the materials she uses in her courses on creativity at the University of Wisconsin. Barry is especially interested in why we stop creating as children and what it means to say a piece of art is good or bad. Lots of food for thought here, and plenty of doodly exercises to keep me busy.

what it is

Lynda Barry’s What It Is explores how we can retrieve memories and work with images in our writing. Pretty much every page of this book makes me want to write or doodle.

creative habit

In The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, choreographer Twyla Tharp argues that the best creative work comes from a disciplined life of habit and routine. There are exercises and suggestions as well as many examples from Tharp’s career as well as a wide-ranging look at artists and creators in many different fields.

creative license

Danny Gregory’s The Creative License compares being creative to driving a car–a metaphor that at first doesn’t seem very promising. But Gregory finds many ways to extend the metaphor to make it clear that creating is about practice and commitment.

steal like an artist

I constantly tell my Freshman Comp students to steal ideas from each other, so I have a feeling I will like Austin Kleon’s message in Steal Like an Artist.

manage your day to day

Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind is more productivity-focused than the other books on my list, but if I find myself struggling to make/find time to be creative, I’ll dip into it for some tips.

What book on creativity would you recommend to me this month?






9 responses to “Become an Expert: The Creative Life”

  1. taylorlapp Avatar

    Books are absolutely WONDERFUL! You can basically find a book for anything; like you mentioned writing, sewing, and even the most complex things such as how to prepare for a baby. I can’t wait to look into some of these books, especially Manage Your Day-To-Day. I make lists and have two or three different planners I love to be organized — or attempting to be!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I couldn’t agree more, Taylor! I figure out everything from reading, LOL, including how to parent! I don’t know what I’d do without my collection of parenting books… I have pretty much given up on being organized. I purchase beautiful planners and then don’t use them. There’s lots of good advice in Manage Your Day-to-Day though.

  2. Vasilly Avatar

    I love your list! I thought about writing a similar post for this week. The Creative Habit is a fantastic book and I love peeking into the mind of Danny Gregory. I would also recommend 344 Questions, which is basically a book of interesting questions to answer. As an art journaler, you can’t go wrong with Journal It! by Jenny Doh, Life is a Verb by Patti Digh, and Artist’s Journal Workshop by Cathy Johnson.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m really excited about your recommendations–especially because I already have two of them on my shelves but haven’t looked at them yet! I just peeked at 344 Questions online and can think of a lot of uses for it in a couple of my classes. Thanks!! I find art journaling really challenging and frustrating. It’s hard enough to find the WORD I want to use–but to try to sketch some kind of image that comes close to expressing what I want?! That seems impossible sometimes.

  3. ipushbooks Avatar

    I sigh a little bit when I, too, have to schedule in cross-stitching and knitting, two of my creative outlets. But sometime that’s the only way to do it. Just looking at Syllabus, I find it in intriguing. If you would like to be inspired by a short and meaningful book, check out Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman. It was adapted from a speech to graduates but is good advice for everyone.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’ll definitely check out the Neil Gaiman book! Thanks for the recommendation. I’m realizing that the only way I’m going to do anything creative is to schedule time for it. The daily routine seems key.

  4. Jackie S. Avatar
    Jackie S.

    Hi! I love Free Play by Nachmanovitch, an improvisational violinist. I read it as part of a seminar English class in college.

  5. kateposeyphd Avatar

    I love the idea of a creativity challenge! I’m currently doing NaNoWriMo and I feel like it’s helped me to just relax, and write, and that’s definitely help me get into the creative mode. I think it’s so important to be creative everyday, so I love this. I recently took an online class on mixed media art and am excited about painting more. I’m going to add some of these books to my TBR. Thank you!

  6. […] list of books about creativity I’m hoping to read this […]

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