3 books to inspire creative courage


Fear gets in the way of making art. So how do we manage that fear?

Here are three seriously good books that were recommended to me when I first started out in writing and illustration. Each one is a fantastic resource to help you face your creative fears.

Put them on your Christmas wish list early!

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

by Julia Cameron

It describes itself as ‘a self-help book for recovering creatives’. The book helped me get out of a really big funk about 6 years ago and the activities in it changed my life. It was recommended to me before I started out in picture books; I’ve since recommended it to a lot of friends and everyone has noticed an effect.

If you read this, be prepared to be challenged and changed.

Art and Fear: Observation on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

by David Bayles and Ted Orland

art and fear

Both authors are working artists writing from experience about the process of making art, and the inevitable place of fear within that process. It’s a series of short essays, each peppered with dry humour and nuggets of wisdom. Check out this quote:

“Fears about artmaking fall into two categories: fears about yourself, and fears about your reception by others. In a general way, fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.”

If you read this, be prepared for your artistic practice to get a serious reality check.

Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers

by Susan Shaughnessy

walking on alligators

Shaughnessy has collected quotes from authors about creativity and writing. Each quote is followed by an elaboration and reflection, then a goal for the day’s writing. The book opens with this quote about the courage to do the work and see where it goes:

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow that talent to the dark place where it leads.” -Erica Jong

Another from page 9, on the terror of facing the blank page:

“In the sense that there was nothing before it, all writing is writing against the void.” – Mark Strand

The quotes are all fantastic, but Shaughnessy’s goals for your day’s writing are what really make this book. Each begins with “Today, [I will do something].” For example:

“Today, I will have the courage to go wherever my writing wants to take me. I will not judge as I write. I will write, and write as honestly as I can.”

If you read this, be prepared to follow through and do the work.

So those are my three top books for inspiring creative courage. Do you have any other books you’d recommend?

Author: James Foley

James Foley makes children’s books for children who read books. If you’re a child and you’re eating his books, you’re doing it wrong. His books include Brobot, Dungzilla, Gastronauts, Chickensaurus, Toffle Towers, My Dead Bunny and There's Something Weird About Lena. James lives in Perth with his wife, 2 kids, and a labrador. He is a massive Marvel movie nerd and comes from a long line of queuing enthusiasts. Follow him on FB/twitter/insta/youtube @jamesfoleybooks, or at www.jamesfoley.com.au .

4 thoughts on “3 books to inspire creative courage”

  1. Thanks. I will surly check them out. Being an artist I would probably add another type of fear. The fear of ruining my work. I feel the best stuff always flows subconsciously, and my biggest enemy is my active consciousness. Too often I have ruined what I considered great work by actively trying to make it better. Don’t know if that makes sense.

    1. I know what you mean, Philomath. I’ve had many situations in the past where I’ve overcooked a drawing, usually because I’ve tried to make it better (or perfect, like that were possible). I’ve also enjoyed being in the ‘flow’ state, that sweet spot between conscious and unconscious effort, where you’re not afraid and it’s all working. I wonder if it’s the creatives’ equivalent of runners’ high?

  2. Hi James, The Artist’s Way helped me at a time when I was feeling disheartened because I kept coming up against so many brick walls in trying to find publishers for my children’s books. Julia Cameron’s writing touched a chord for me and I went on to read and buy The Write to Right and The Sound of Paper, both brilliant books which I recommend when presenting writing sessions. Natalie Goldberg’s Long Quiet Highway and Writing Down the Bones are also high on my list of books that have changed my life as a writer, and more recently I read Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing – the Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life. I can see I will have to add Walking on Alligators to my To Read pile.

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