We, as a society, have a strange relationship to the arts. On the one hand, we all benefit from the work of creative people, unless you never read, never watch movies, and walk around with your eyes closed to avoid ever looking at architecture. But on the other hand, we've all collectively decided that it's cool to look down on people who choose creative careers, pay them less money, and gut their government funding. And that's too bad, because life would be pretty grim without sitcoms or art. Here are a few books to help you build a creative career, because it is possible to do what you love and also pay for food.
I don't mean to say that a career in acting or painting or writing is more important that a career in medicine or law. But I am prepared to say that people in the arts are giving back more to society than, say, hedge fund managers. Hungry, creative people give us everything from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to this article that you're reading while on an extended bathroom break. So, whether you're a newly graduated English major in full panic mode, or a mid-career accountant who secretly wants to draw graphic novels, here are a few books to help you figure it out:
1'Real Artists Have Day Jobs (And Other Awesome Things They Don't Teach You in School)' by Sara Benincasa
It's true: you can have a day job and still be a real, bona fide artist. Author Sara Benincasa shares 52 witty essays about her own harrowing twenties, and how she emerged on the other side with a lot of hard-earned advice for making a living while chasing your dreams. This book is smart, realistic, and above all encouraging for anyone who's still getting the hang of this whole "adulthood" situation.
2'The Art of Asking: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help' by Amanda Palmer
Amanda Palmer got her start performing as a living statue, so she knows all about asking your audience directly for money. These days, she's a musician and artist and crowdfunding superstar, and The Art of Asking is all about building an independent career through, well, asking. Asking for help, whether it's money or emotional support, can be hard. Palmer shares the lessons that she's learned, and reminds us all that sometimes the bravest career move is to know when you need help and ask for it.
3'Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living' by Manjula Martin
Ever wondered how your favorite writers when from starving artists to reasonably well-fed, published authors? Scratch is a collection of essays from brilliant writers like Roxane Gay, Cheryl Strayed, and Yiyun Li, all candidly talking about their creative careers. This book manages to be fun and inspiring and still address the realities of making ends meet.
4'Letter to My Daughter' by Maya Angelou
Letter to My Daughter is less a book of career advice and more a beautifully written call to action. Angelou wants her daughter (that's you!) to live a life full of meaning, even if that doesn't entail a traditional career path. Through essay, memoir, and poetry, Angelou imparts her candid wisdom for the next generation of young, creative people.
5'On Writing' by Stephen King
Even if you're not a writer yourself, there is so much to be learned from Stephen King's On Writing. It's a book about living as well as writing, and about how King went from a janitor living in a trailer to one of the bestselling authors of all time. It'll inspire whichever career you choose. I mean, just read this quote: “Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
6'Steal Like an Artist' by Austin Kleon
Steal Like an Artist is already a classic for creatives everywhere, and with good reason. You'll tear through this book in a about a day, but the straightforward lessons on getting up and doing the thing will stick with you forever. As Austin Kleon says, "Don't wait until you know who you are to get started."
7'Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration' by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
Embarking on a creative career doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to be writing out of an attic and eating instant ramen. You might work for a huge creative company, like Pixar. Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation, writes about finding creativity in a business environment, striving for originality, and, of course, making all of your favorite childhood movies.
8'Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life' by Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird is a step-by-step guide for how to write, but all of Anne Lamott's instructions apply to other creative endeavors as well (sometimes you just have to take it one bird at a time). It can seem overwhelming to take on such a big, monumental task as "becoming successful in the arts," but Lamott breaks the creative process down into simple, manageable steps (or birds, if you prefer).
9'Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All' by Tom Kelley and David Kelley
Creative Confidence comes from more of a business perspective than some of these other books. But if you're looking for a way to inject more creativity into the job you already have, then Creative Confidence is a good read for encouraging all of us to think outside the box, no matter what field we work in. Creativity doesn't just belong to creatives, after all: with the right encouragement, everyone has the capacity to come up with new ideas.
10'The Creative Habit' by Twyla Tharp
So it turns out that being creative takes work. Shocking, I know, but if you want to build a career in the arts, especially in a field that requires you to create your own work and then submit it, you need to make a habit out of being creative. It's not enough to be struck by inspiration while lounging on your daybed: you need to wake up every morning and get to work. The Creative Habit is advice on how to do just that, from revolutionary choreographer Twyla Tharp, and it's a must read for creatives of every kind.