Feeling Creatively Exhausted? 15 Books To Help You Recharge
So you're a creative person (my condolences). You're a poet or a writer, or you like to sketch in your spare time. You're a professional composer, or you're a big DIY crafter around the house, or you write elaborate homebrew adventures for your D&D group. It doesn't really matter whether you're creative for work or for fun or for some combination of the two: no matter who you are or what you do, you know what it's like to feel creatively exhausted. It's a feeling that can sneak up on you. You just burn out. You don't feel like writing (or painting or singing or calculating orc encounters) anymore. You start to worry that you've used up all your creative juices, that you'll never write again and then you'll lose your job and your cat will leave you and you'll end up dying alone in the street. But don't panic! Have a glass of water, take a deep breath, and pick up one of these books that are perfect for a creative re-charge.
After all, no one can be in production mode 24/7. You need time in between big projects to rest, whether than means sleeping or reading or binging on YouTube video essays. These books will remind you that it's OK to take a break, and they might even give you a spark of inspiration for your next creative effort:
'You Are Here: An Owner's Manual for Dangerous Minds' by Jenny Lawson
Somewhere between humor, self help, and an activity booklet, You Are Here is a lovely antidote to artistic anxiety. Jenny Lawson draws on her personal struggles with mental health and creativity to create this book of insights and illustrations. You can tear out the pages and add your own artistic stamp, or peruse it as an art book when you're feeling overwhelmed.
'Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life' by Anne Lamott
Sometimes you just have to take things bird by bird. At least, that's the lesson of Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott's beloved book on writing and life. There's quite a lot of practical advice on the world of writing in here, but there's also a lot of honest, encouraging words about slowing down and tackling each creative project step by step.
'Your Illustrated Guide To Becoming One With The Universe' by Yumi Sakugawa
As the title might suggest, this little book is a straightforward guide to become one with the universe (or, rather, to relaxing a bit and allowing yourself to be present in the moment). With lovely ink illustrations, Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe encourages you to set fire to your anxieties, have tea with your inner demons, and let go of self-judgment for a while.
'Real Artists Have Day Jobs: (And Other Awesome Things They Don't Teach You in School)' by Sara Benincasa
Let's be honest, here: you're probably not just tired out of existential angst and creative over-extension. You're tired because your barista job is tiring, and you get home too wiped to work on your screenplay, even though you're only working the stupid barista job to survive so that you can go home and work on the screenplay and everything is garbage. Real Artists Have Day Jobs is a funny, refreshingly honest look at being a young creative person, and all the things they don't teach you in your creative writing major.
'Year of Yes' by Shonda Rhimes
I know, I know. You're creatively exhausted and all you want to do is lie on the couch and eat mints. You don't want to have to say yes to things or "dance it out," whatever that means. But Shonda Rhimes' memoir is so infectious that you might find yourself actually wanting to go outside and stand in the sun and yank yourself out of this rut you're in and maybe, maybe do a little bit of dancing it out from time to time.
'Invisible Cities' by Italo Calvino
Invisible Cities is an odd little book. It's not really a collection of stories, but it is a collection of cities. Or rather, it's a collection of prose sketches about beautiful, impossible cities, all written by experimental literature's favorite Italian uncle, Italo Calvino. It's a delightful, inspiring, highly weird book for whenever you need a total reset from reality.
'Am I There Yet? The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood' by Mari Andrew
Adulthood in this day and age is already a destabilizing, Kafkaesque nightmare with bad healthcare and no job security. And if you work in the arts, you can take all that and triple it. Am I There Yet? is a hilarious, honest chronicle of learning resilience and becoming an "adult," perfect for those moments when you need to step back and remember all the adulting you've already accomplished.
'Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays' by Zadie Smith
Sometimes, when generating content feels impossible and even flavored coffee cannot lift you from you general malaise, it helps to step into someone else's perspective. Changing My Mind is a look into the mind of the brilliant Zadie Smith, with essays split up into the categories of "Reading," "Being," "Seeing," and "Feeling." Smith's analysis of art, literature, politics, and pop culture makes for excellent food for thought, and you might even start wanting to jot down your own opinions on the subject matter.
'Relish: My Life in the Kitchen' by Lucy Knisley
Relish is pretty much a memoir of every great meal Lucy Knisley has ever eaten (and also her life and her family and love for cooking and whatnot). Is there anything more relaxing and soul-nourishing than reading about a lot of good food? Aside from eating a lot of good food? Nay, there is not. Even if you're not a foodie, Relish is a calming way to step away from your creative frustrations and spend a couple hours thinking about how good food can be.
'100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater' by Sarah Ruhl
Sarah Ruhl is an absolutely genius playwright whose work touches on the beauty and the absurdity of being alive. She's also the mother of three, and between her career and her family, she just doesn't have time to write a bunch of insightful and creatively inspirational essays. Instead, she's written this book of essays that she would have written if she'd had time (which she doesn't).
'The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life' by Jessa Crispin
Making art is boring and garbage, but tarot cards are magic and fun. So The Creative Tarot eases you into the world of creativity by inventing a new tarot card deck, this one full of practical information and fascinating anecdotes on making art and the lives of famous artists who went before.
'The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help' by Amanda Palmer
Amanda Palmer is a celebrated musician and a crowd-funder extraordinaire. But even if you, personally, are not so into crowd-funding with your own creative projects, The Art of Asking is a lovely book about giving yourself permission to ask for help. Amanda reminds us all that there's nothing wrong with asking for the support you need, and that creating art doesn't have to be a lonely, isolating endeavor.
'How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly's Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life' by Heather Havrilesky
When all else fails, there are always advice columns. Seriously, reading about someone else's problems being answered with empathy and humor is one of the great joys of the 21st Century. How to Be a Person in the World is a collection of letters from veteran advice columnist "Ask Polly." It's well worth your time, whether you're in a creative funk or a life funk at large.
'The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life' by Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp keeps it real. She's here to remind us all that creativity is not some mysterious gift from the gods. It's cultivated through practice. If you're just getting started, don't beat yourself up for being less productive than you feel like you "should" be. Listen to Twyla, and work on reasonable creative exercises to find your muse. And remember not to wallow in despair over the occasional dead end.
'Creative Pep Talk: Inspiration from 50 Artists' by Andy J. Miller
If you're looking for a big ol' tome of creative inspiration from a whole mess of artists, this here is the book for you. It's a fun, easy read filled with color and excited typography, but don't let that fool you. These little pep talks actually pack quite a punch when you're feeling down and out about your own creative work.