Over the last year and a half or so I have read a few books on the topic of writing or being creative in general. In the process of writing this post I might come to the conclusion that I have enough to put together a list of “7 books about writing” but what ever. I find it very hard to rate them, or put them in some kind of order because reading them is a cumulative experience. So many of them say the same things but I, the reader, have probably changed because of them. Or maybe I’m a stubborn thing that never learns.
Like On writing the memoir of a craft by Stephen King. It was written ages ago but I only read it now and that’s only because it’s been reissued in Swedish. I do recognize his thoughts on ideas finding a host and the importance of routines so the ideas know where to find you. Elizabeth Gilbert brought up the same thing in Big Magic. Did she get it from King? Possibly. Or maybe she hasn’t read his book and just had the same epiphany along the way. But since I had already read Gilbert, and accepted the whole “ideas just whirl around” thinking, I paid little attention to that in King’s book, and much more attention to other aspects.
I now understand people who read many self-help books or books like this better, and intuitively it’s not difficult to understand why they do. If you want to change your life then there will probably not be one book that does it all, none of them will be the perfect fit. And trying to change everything at once is a set-up for failure. Reading books like this is a process: with the first one you learn one lesson, or maybe two, because that’s all you can take in. With the next book you take another step and so forth. And of the books I’ve read many come back to the same things; actually doing it.
I don’t want to paint Gilbert in a bad light but so much of what she said came right out of the Stephen King playbook. That said maybe she needed to write that book for herself, she could well be more appreciated by a different audience and reach new people that need to be reminded that being a selfish person doesn’t necessarily equate with genius and that most success is built on hard work. That routines work, that you should to be open to the ideas and words of others to be able to say something that connects with other is turn. An that isn’t brain surgery either. I find that these books contain a lot of sensible advice, stuff I already know, but that I might need that push that the book provides.
So given that reading books like these are steps in a process I would argue that the first one you read will probably be the one that has the most impact. You have realized that you want to change something and that’s the first thing to get closer to a solution. In my case that was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamotte. Her words on perfectionism (that it is overrated) meant a lot to me. It also helps that she has a very friendly voice, and by that I mean that her writing is friendly and funny. Her word are very easy for me to take in. Gilbert has a a more bombastic voice and is someone I would find hugely entertaining at a dinner party but I wouldn’t want her as a close friend( and I do recognize that both women are probably different in life from their books. I want to be friends with the author Lamotte like she is in her book).
Another book that I much liked, even though it did very little for me in the end because I had read others, was The Artist’s way by Julia Cameron. I think I got the tip about this one from Garance Doré’s blog once upon a time, I think she’s a fan, and many others are I discovered. What is great about this book is that it’s a method, clear steps to follow to a more creative self. And then you can do as little or as much of it as you need I guess, advice is always optional in some ways. But it is process that is drawn up and a clear path that you can follow to wherever it leads you. The spiritual side of it I tried to ignore frankly.
Then why am I reading these books? A large part of it is fascination with the creative process; my own and that of others. On that note I would like to mention Daily Rituals by Mason Currey which in short paragraphs explain the process and habits of a large number of creatives; painters,writers and musicians. All of it is second-hand knowledge but one thing that becomes clear is that the chances of success are greater if you put in the effort and that habits have a lot to do with.
I don’t have to go further then myself to see that it applies to me to; how much writing, blogging or sewing do I get done when I’m traveling? None. Are travels important for energy and inspiration. Absolutely. But it’s at my desk or when I have the sewing machine out and do a little every day that I really accomplish stuff. And it should be said that I have no intention or desire to write a novel, this blog is for my own sake mostly because honestly I’m with Joan Didion on this “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means”. And clotheswise my goal is to make about half of the ideas I have into reality so that I can wear it myself. A vanity project for sure but I’m so happy when I’m being creative like that, and if I don’t try to get at least some of the ideas out of my head, I fall to pieces under the pressure that my imagination builds up. And no, trying to have less ideas doesn’t work. I’ve tried and I was miserable. I try to be a good hostess ,always, to guests and ideas alike (ideas are a sort of guest really).
Conclusion? Reading books on how to be creative can be a good thing but in the end it’s guidance, not gospel. You need to figure out what works for you and what it is you want too achieve. I found King and Lamotte the most helpful but that’s just me.
King writes about writing but much can be applied to creativity in general, maybe not that thing about not using adverbs. That might not be very useful if you are a painter. Or maybe it does if you are a text-based artist. Imagine big canvases with adverbs on them. Is that art? Good art? Bad art? Meta? I have no clue but someone that works in that media might. (If you do it in a nice font you might just have a bestselling concept for posters on your hands, I can picture them in my head, being a feature in every ad for apartments in Stockholm. I think the words “Undoubtedly”, “Almost” and “Galore” will be popular (actually I quite like that last one. Those words would look good on my wall). I suggest Baskerville as a font, unless you want to be a totally hipster then by all means go for Comic Sans in an ironic way (eyesore if there ever was one). But I digress. Although maybe some kind of inspirational poster is a good idea, as moral support when getting creative.
Another thing that these book always point out is that one should edit and such. I’ve totally ignored that. You get mad ramblings. And adverbs galore.