CWC Reads: Books on staying creative and organised



Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the blockbuster memoir Eat, Pray, Love, a book long beloved by women seeking enlightenment and escape. Big Magic is her first foray into the self-help arena, and she manages to weave plenty of personal stories and examples into her advice and tips on prioritizing creativity. Some parts of the book can veer into woo-woo territory (Gilbert is a firm believer in magic, literally, which might turn you off) but the messages about finding a muse, managing creativity and a family and handling fear are both practical and inspiring.

Gilbert describes creativity as not necessarily “pursuing a life that is professionally or exclusively devoted to the arts,” but “living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” This makes it appealing for anyone who wants to live creatively but doesn’t have a traditional artistic practice. The book’s six chapters—Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity make up Gilbert’s tenets for creative living, and are peppered with anecdotes, pep talks and digressions.

 Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert is the accompanying podcast, where Gilbert chats with people about overcoming their own struggles with creativity.

Five word synopsis:

Permission to live creatively without fear.

Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

Habits “are the invisible architecture of daily life,” Rubin begins. “If we change our habits, we change our lives.” As the follow up to Rubin’s bestseller The Happiness Project, her new book discusses the extent to how our habits shape our lives, and how to make lasting change.

Like The Happiness Project, the book is very accessible and relatable. Rubin strikes a perfect balance of information and anecdote, and imparts a lot of knowledge without overwhelming the reader. She will help you discover your own tendencies – are you a Rebel, an Upholder, a Questioner or an Obliger? – and explains how to change your habits accordingly. Using 21 strategies, including Treats, Loophole-Spotting and Cues, she uses herself and her family and friends as guinea pigs in what does and doesn’t work when changing your habits. Like Big Magic, Gretchen also has an accompanying podcast called Happier with Gretchen Rubin, which she co-hosts with her sister Elizabeth. Her website also has loads of tips, quizzes and resources on the practical pursuit of happiness and good habits.

Five word synopsis:

Changing our habits changes lives. 

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

This book literally changed my life. Written by surgeon and writer Atul Gawande, the general premise is how professionals – from surgeons to pilots to builders- deal with the increasing complexity of their responsibilities. As many professions move towards becoming a Jane-of-all-trades (and we know this is true for many creative types!), the sheer amount of knowledge that we must remember and draw upon is staggering. The answer? A checklist.

In order to reduce inevitable mistakes of human error, we need to use checklists to walk through the key steps in any procedure. After reading this book, I’ve started using checklists in our business, in my daily life and when starting a new project.

Gawande uses many examples from his own profession. A five-point checklist implemented in 2001 virtually eradicated central line infections in the intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, preventing an estimated 43 infections and eight deaths over 27 months. In the last section of the book, Gawande shows how his research team has taken this idea, developed a safe surgery checklist, and applied it around the world, with staggering success. 

Five word synopsis:

Using a checklist really works.

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

This is the kind of book to keep on your desk and flip through when you need a boost. Full of hand-drawn pictures and handwritten quotes, it is a little book that packs a punch of inspirational advice on being an artist. Like Big Magic, Steal Like An Artist uses the term artist loosely, so the book is for anyone who considers themselves to be creative.

The book is based on a speech that artist Austin Kleon made to a New York college in 2011, where he outlined ten basic principles to boost your creativity.  Kleon posted the text of the speech on his blog, which went viral and became a huge cultural phenomenon. The book expands on these ten principles, with examples, exercises and anecdotes peppered throughout.  The advice is solid: Chapter six is “Do good work and put it where people can see it” and Chapter Two tells us “ Don’t wait until you know who you are to start making things.” The ten principles are printed on the back of the book for easy reference.

The ideas and advice really made me think about originality, creativity and work. Kleon explains that “Nothing is original, so embrace influence, collect ideas, and remix and re-imagine to discover your own path. Follow your interests wherever they take you. Stay smart, stay out of debt, and risk being boring—the creative you will need to make room to be wild and daring in your imagination.”

Five word synopsis:

Discover your own original path.

Emma Clark Gratton is a writer, editor and podcaster. She also runs furniture design studio GRATTON with her husband. She blogs about mothering and renovating at Worst House Best Street and is co-host of The New Normal podcast. Find her on instagram at @emmaclarkgratton.