20 Best Books to Jumpstart Your Creativity (in 2019)

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When considering creativity, most people probably think in terms of famous artists, musicians or the creative geniuses among us. Or maybe they know someone who has honed talent to near perfection so see them as creative.

Rarely do we look at ourselves that way. Yet scientific research indicates we are all wired for creativity from birth.

That’s easy enough to believe when watching preschoolers at play; their imaginative storytelling and playacting, the way they color with abandon, the ease with which they handle a paintbrush or dig into a mound of clay without fear of what the finished product will look like. Until they are informed otherwise, children don’t worry about coloring outside of the lines.

Something happens between the age of five and adulthood, when most of us put aside our crayons for the more serious tasks of education, acquiring a job, paying bills, and raising a family. For many, however, there remains a deep inner longing, a search for an elusive something more tied to the very activities we were initially drawn to that were abandoned by junior high.

Unless we are an artist, writer, or musician by profession, we might consider creativity as frivolous play. Yet research has proven there are dramatic health benefits to practicing creative endeavors. Are you ready to reclaim your box of crayons? At the very least, would you like to unleash some of that latent innate creativity you possessed as a child?

I guarantee these books will give you a jumpstart: 

Table of Contents

1. Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire

There’s a science behind the study of creativity and Wired to Create does an excellent job explaining it. Based on psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman’s groundbreaking research, this book offers a glimpse inside the “messy minds” of highly creative people.

Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire study the latest findings of neuroscience and psychology, and the practices of well-known “creatives,” concluding that we are all, in some way, wired for creating, and everyday life presents endless opportunities to express that.

Madeleine L’Engle, most famous for The Wrinkle in Time and other children’s books, also wrote adult non-fiction: essays, a memoir series Crosswicks Journals, and books of poetry.

In Walking on Water, L’Engle explores the connection between art and faith, addressing the question of what it means to be a Christian artist. These beautiful and insightful essays explore what she views as the prime tasks of an artist: to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation through one’s own art.

The owner of New York City’s #1 art school, Rebecca Schweiger details step-by-step instructions for fifteen hands-on painting and mixed-media projects designed to get creative juices flowing, but it is her introduction to each chapter I found most intriguing.

Even if you never do any of the projects outlined in this book (and I didn’t), Rebecca’s wisdom and insight regarding our creative natures is a must-read for anyone wanting to connect with their inner artist. All we need to do is reflect on our childhood nature to know something in us wants to create; whether that is through writing, drawing, pottery, music, or yes, painting.

Founder of the emerging Mosaic church in Los Angeles, Erwin Raphael McManus is convinced we are all born with a need to create. With inspirational stories and insights from art, life, and scripture, McManus walks readers through the process of crafting a life that is a masterpiece, with God as the final craftsman.

“Though we may create many beautiful works of art, the most important works of art to which we will ever give ourselves are the lives we live,” he concludes in The Artisan Soul.

Embark on a personal journey of self-discovery with this book that speaks to all levels; the practiced creative, as well as those just beginning,  to realize their creative potential. Not only is the artwork beautiful, but the writing is too.

I devoured every word of inspiration but skimmed over the practical application lists that follow each chapter, only because I’m far enough along in my journey of creativity, I didn’t need them. Magsamen will transform what you think you know about art, creativity, and personal fulfillment, demonstrating you’ve already got everything you need to create a life of joy and beauty.

If you think you can’t have it all; work and family, individuality and motherhood, the creative life and family life, then think again. One Beautiful Dream is the deeply personal, often humorous tale of one woman who dared to reimagine what having it all looks like.

A self-described introvert, workaholic, and former atheist determined to never have children, author Jennifer Fulwiler is now a Christian mother of six, determined to find joy while chasing toddlers and dreams.

Though this New York Times bestseller is more about igniting courage and grace in the lives of women, Chapter Ten deals exclusively with the topic of creativity. “Creating takes minutes and hours. Living a creative life means making room to dream, craft, compose, produce,” author Jen Hatmaker writes.

“Art requires time, which of course, you have none of. This is the creator’s dilemma. You will not miraculously produce by carrying on exactly like you are. It’s a whole thing, and you have to make room for it.” Hatmaker’s refreshingly honest and sometimes hilarious insights will convince readers to make room in their life for art.

I was the elementary school student who gazed out the window while the teacher lectured on topics that didn’t interest me, the adult who’d stare blankly at her child or husband when they interrupted my writing. As a lifelong day-dreamer, I’m gratified to realize there were benefits to my “spacing out.”

In 2015 Manoush, host of the WNYC’s popular podcast and radio show, “Note to Self,” led twenty thousand listeners to sign on to the Bored and Brilliant Project, an experiment to help them unplug from their devices, get bored, and jumpstart their creativity. Apparently, “mind-wandering” allows us to do some of our most original thinking and problem-solving and we can harness our boredom to become more creative and productive.

“How often have we neglected activities like art, music, writing, dance― or a host of other creative endeavors as we pursue careers and families?” Ellen J. Langer laments in On Becoming an Artist.

“We might regretfully add them to the list of things we’ll get to later, but we think little about why we are doing so. Then one day we realize that now is yesterday’s later.” This book serves as an excellent reminder that creative endeavors may be the key to finding meaning and fulfillment in our lives, and it is never too late to incorporate it into our days.

To cultivate our creative self means revisiting our childhood, and what better way than through doodling? When Hugh MacLeod was a young copywriter living in a YMCA, he began doodling on the backs of business cards while sitting at a bar. Those cartoons led to a popular blog. His reputation for pithy insight and humor includes strong opinions on everything from marketing to creativity.

“Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back please,’” MacLeod writes in this book.

A popular Instagrammer, artist, and photographer Philippa Stanton’s book is delightfully heavy on illustrative and artistic photos. Conscious Creativity will open up your senses to the beauty in the everyday.

Simple, engaging exercises encourage observation and experimentation and demonstrate how you can unlock your artistic potential using your natural curiosity. Take a colorful leap into the most creative time of your life with this beautiful book.

Any of the books created by the Flow magazine team will energize your creativity, but Creativity Takes Courage is a favorite.

Organized around a series of twelve “dares”—including Dare to Fail, Dare to Be a Kid, and Dare to Be Bored—this book encourages the reader to be fully present, spending idle time staring out the window, leaving their comfort zone and nourishing creativity by visiting museums and reading inspirational books. What’s not to like about that kind of advice? The book includes fill-in pages and writing prompts.

This short volume will appeal to the digital natives among us, those who have grown up with Internet access and social media. A quick read, Steal Like an Artist is an inspiring guide to creativity, presenting ten transformative principles that will help readers discover their artistic side and build a more creative life.

Austin Kleon guides the reader with a graphic look, illustrations, exercises, and examples that will put readers directly in touch with their artistic side.

With visually appealing artwork and insightful essays, author Patti Digh’s guidebook gives the reader permission to re-insert creativity into their lives and call themselves artists. Visually appealing with a mixed media look, Digh’s insight on the creative process encourages readers to live a fuller life. If you don’t think living life is an art in itself, reading this book might change your mind.

Of particular interest to readers in the second half of life, those who might think it is too late for them to develop their creativity, Dr. George D. Cohen, a pioneer in the research on mental health and aging, insists it is never too late.

“Creativity is built into our species, innate to every one of us, whether we are plumbers, professors, short-order cooks, or investment bankers. It is ours whether we are career-oriented or home-centered. It is the flame that heats the human spirit and kindles our desire for inner growth and self-expression,” he writes.

Whether it is a new hobby, the pursuit of an advanced college degree, or activism, Cohen delves into the many ways we can work creativity into our mid-life and beyond.

Wondering what to do with your one wild and precious life? Life coach and bestselling author Martha Beck guides readers in discovering how they got to where they are and what they should do next, with clear, concrete instructions on tapping into the deep, wordless knowledge we carry within us.

Do you sense you are called to do something, maybe an activity you’ve been drawn to since childhood? This book will encourage you to unleash your incredible creative energy and fulfill your life’s purpose.

I discovered this book among my mother’s things after her death in 2010 but didn’t read it for another seven years. When I did, I found I was crying by the third chapter, recognizing Kinkade’s message was the same one my mom had strived to impart. While raising ten children in poverty, my mother had maintained an extremely creative mind, utilizing her inherent talents in every aspect of her life, never forgetting where that talent came from.

I took six pages of notes as I read, so moved by the book I immediately searched for a way to reach the author, only to discover he’d died in 2012. Lightposts for Living reads like a guiding light down the pathways of a creative life, affirming values of home, family, faith in God, the beauty of nature and the joy of living simply.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include at least one book pertaining to the craft of writing, but this book has more to do with living a creative life than the act of writing.

Through a blend of deeply personal stories about what formed her as a writer, tales from other authors, and a look at her own creative process, Shapiro offers revealing insights for all creatives: a guide of hard-won wisdom and advice for stubbornly staying on course.

“The writer’s life requires courage, patience, empathy, openness. It requires the ability to be alone with oneself. Gentle with oneself. To be disciplined, and at the same time, take risks.” Those with an artistic temperament will find inspiration in these pages.

Yet another writing book that isn’t just for writers. Author Mark Levy discusses the technique of “freewriting” for generating ideas and solving business problems. Levy describes how we hold ourselves back with conventional brainstorming methods, our internal editor taking over, polishing our thoughts so our ideas fit acceptable societal norms.

Freewriting allows for more out-of-the-box thinking to occur. The idea is to start writing as fast as you can, for as long as you can, about a subject you care deeply about, ignoring the standard rules of grammar and spelling. The internal editor won’t be able to keep up with the output, allowing for more breakthrough ideas.

Have you ever been so lost in an activity that hours passed by and you barely noticed? This is why I can begin a morning with nothing more than a cup of coffee, a legal pad, and pen, and suddenly look up at the clock and realize it’s mid-afternoon and I’m still in my pajamas.

The book isn’t a light read, but if you are at all curious about what it means to be in a state of “flow” during creative activities, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a pioneer in the scientific study of happiness, discovered people find genuine satisfaction during the flow state of consciousness, particularly with activities that involve their creative abilities.

His definition of flow is “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter, the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” That pretty much sums up my thirty-year love affair with writing.

About the Author

Website: Mary Potter Kenyon Blog

Mary Potter Kenyon lives a creative life in Dubuque, Iowa, where she works as Program Coordinator for the Shalom Spirituality Center by day, teaching workshops and doing public speaking by night and weekend.

She is widely published in magazines, newspapers, and anthologies and the author of seven books, including the award-winning “Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace,” and a book on creativity to be released by Familius Publishing in 2020.