Must-Read Books for Creativity

The one unfortunate thing about creativity is it’s not something you can simply turn on and off. Instead, creativity comes to you in waves, and, at work, that might be a bit of an inconvenient schedule if you need it while you plug away on a project.

These 27 books can’t necessarily guarantee you’ll wake up and feel a flood of creativity after you read them. What they can do, though, is help you unlock different portions of your brain, give you confidence in your ideas and help you tap into a creative side you didn’t even know you had.

Each book has a purpose in the vein of creativity, so read on to find out which one(s) can help you. Then, get back to work and create, in whatever way you have to:

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Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman: There are two types of decisions in life: quick, emotional ones and slower, well-thought-out ones. Kahneman shows us how both come into play throughout the creative process and how to decide which style will best solve your creative dilemma.


Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley: Don’t think you’re creative? This book is for you. The two authors show that innovation doesn’t only come from textbook creatives, and tapping into your right brain can help you find success and fulfillment.


The War of Art by Steven Pressfield: Every creative has two sides: One is a confident, productive creative while the other is a dissenter and naysayer. Pressfield explores this war that happens when we try to create, as well as how to quiet your inner critic.


The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp: Twyla Tharp is a world-renowned choreographer, but she’s not going to push her creative process on you in this book. Instead, she inspires readers to find their own patterns and stick to them to find success.


Flow by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi: There’s no better feeling for creatives than getting in the flow: that elusive state of mind in which time flies because you’re tapping deep into your creativity and are, therefore, creating. This book delves into the idea of flow and provides you with exercises that’ll make it easier for you to reach your flow more regularly.


Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke: Here’s a book that proves good advice will stand the test of time. Poet Rainer Maria Rilke composed 10 letters to a fellow writer who wrote to Rilke for tips on becoming a writer. Rilke’s inspiring words hold true, even though they were written in the 12th century.


Imagine by Jonah Lehrer: Pulling from recent research into the imagination, Jonah Lehrer makes the argument that some minds aren’t more creative than others. Instead, it’s our job to learn how to tap into these parts of our brain and to use them more effectively.


The Little Spark by Carrie Bloomston: All it takes is a little spark. This book gives you the match in the form of motivational quotes, exercises, activities and images that inspire — everything you need to light the fire within.


The 52 Lists Project by Moorea Seal: This isn’t just a book — it’s a diary. Within it, you’ll find 52 lists designed to help you realize you already have plenty of productivity, creativity and confidence, though it’ll help you sharpen each quality, too.


Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert: Elizabeth Gilbert has been inspiring readers for years, having written beloved books like Eat Pray Love. In Big Magic, she provides insight into how she generates her own ideas and how inspiration works for her. Like her other works, this one provides hope and motivation for readers, no matter what creative work they hope to tackle.


Show Your Work by Austin Kleon: When you create and come up with something great, it might be instinct to keep it to yourself. Kleon suggests the opposite, though: that we share our creative process and ideas so others will do the same. In turn, we’ll all lift each other up. He also gives a few tips on how to get your work seen, too.


Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory: If you’re time-crunched, this book is for you. Danny Gregory provides five- to 10-minute exercises to get your right-brain working, whether it’s over breakfast, on the commute to work or after the kids go to sleep.


The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown: So many grown-ups in your past probably told you to put down your pencil, stop doodling and start listening. This book turns that idea on its head, as some of the world’s greatest thinkers — Einstein included — were avid doodlers. Your own scratch-paper drawings could yield something incredible, too.


Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon: When it comes to creative confidence, Austin Kleon has you covered. In this book, he shows that you don’t have to be a genius to make your creative vision a reality. You just need to be yourself — originality is key.


How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson: Speaking of inspiration, this book tells the story of how six important innovations came to be. You won’t see formulaic creation, either. Rather, you’ll see trial and error as well as luck and fate working together to make visions — and dreams — come true.


Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod: Hugh MacLeod’s creative career came in time, but it started while he lived in a YMCA, drawing cartoons on the backs of business cards. He’s now a beloved cartoonist and humorist, and he has a lot of advice for aspiring creatives. For one, you should never water down your ideas so they’re more commercial — less people will like them that way. The rest of his book offers inspiring, frank words like these.


Disciplined Dreaming by Josh Linker: Are you in charge of a team or business that could use a burst of creative energy? Josh Linker’s book has a five-step program to help you infuse your organization with innovation at all levels — traditionally creative departments aren’t the only ones who can be creative. The end results could just be innovation and growth of your business.


Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson: Steven Johnson relies on everything from neurobiology to pop culture to explain where our best ideas come from. He concludes by showing how much more possible innovation becomes in today’s accessible society.


It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden: This book is targeted at aspiring advertisers, but it has valuable insight for all creative minds. It’s especially poignant for creatives who find it hard to get past their shyness to make things happen.


Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch: Director David Lynch contends that the key to his creativity is nothing more than regular meditation. He also guides readers through the capture and transformation of ideas into reality.


The Book of Doing by Allison Arden: This book is perfect for those who love a good throwback. Inside, you’ll find hands-on activities designed to bring you back to your childhood and the happiness and energy you felt back then. With that wave of joy might just come a burst of fresh creativity.


Stimulated! by Andrew Peck and Jeannine McGlade: Even creative types get burnt out. This book gives you five ways to boost your own innovation, such as turning work into play and relying on both success and failure to fuel your next creation. Now, get back to work!

jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace: Pixar is undoubtedly one of the most creative and forward-thinking animation studios in the world, and it didn’t happen by accident. Co-founder Ed Catmull delves into his management style and how others can replicate it to give employees their wings to soar to new creative heights.


Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards: Artists revere this book and have for decades, but it’s a great read for all creatives. Aside from the parts that give practical drawing tips, readers will also learn how right-brain strength can help us to overcome or lessen the importance of left-brain rigidity. It’ll also remind us of the importance of learning new things and sharpening your creative prowess, even if you’re not a top-notch artist.


Daily Rituals by Mason Currey: Every creative genius has habits that help them create. Whether it’s a late-night studio session, a midday walk or a coffee cup that never runs dry, those who create have non-negotiables that keep ideas and energy fresh. This book sheds light on 161 creative minds who famously navigated their distractions and obstacles to make some truly incredible works.


How to Get Ideas by Jack Foster and Larry Corby: Jack Foster is no stranger to generating ideas: He has more than 40 years in advertising. In this book, he and Larry Corby provide a guide to coming up with your own fresh ideas and innovations.


Start With Why by Simon Sinek: When faced with a new project, you might find yourself focusing on the “how,” but Simon Sinek believes that the real motivator should be “why” — and you can’t simply say it’s for money or profit, either. The “why” that motivates us should be for something bigger that makes the company and, perhaps, even the world a better place.



In the constant hustle of the busy world, you might find your creative well running dry. Hopefully these books will give you the inspiration you need to fill it back up.

Have any other books or tips you’d add to the list? Share them in the comments!

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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