12 best books to inspire creativity, imagination & new ideas

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Photo: Sanne Vliegenthart

“The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.”

Neil Gaiman, Art Matters

Looking back, the last decade of my life has been about discovering things: myself, the world, and perhaps most of all, my creativity. As I write this in my home office in Copenhagen, I hope the next decade will offer more of the same, even if it looks a little different than before.

One of my creative outlets has been this website, but I’ve also written a few books, started businesses, and created a way of life that’s very different from what I could’ve imagined growing up on a sheep farm in southern England.

I found some inspiration in the world around me, from the mountains I looked at every day while living in Switzerland to remote corners of Mongolia and solo hikes in the Arctic. But I’ve also regularly tapped into an unlimited source of creativity and wisdom that can be accessed anywhere: books.

In this post, I’ve shared the best creativity books that I’ve turned to for inspiration, motivation, and new ideas. Most of these are non-fiction books about creativity, although a few of them are a little more unique.

Whether you’re a writer like me or channel your creativity into different ideas and creations, I hope these books can inspire you too.

The best books about creativity to inspire your craft and thinking

The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair

Even if (or especially if) you’re not an artist, The Secret Lives of Color is a gorgeous invitation to ponder the kaleidoscope of hues that build our visual interpretation of the world.

Built on the foundation of Kassia St Clair’s lifelong obsession with colours and where they come from, this inspiring book shares the creative and unique stories of 75 fascinating shades and how they came to be, from Van Gogh’s chrome yellow sunflowers to imperial purple.

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon

I wish I could gift everyone Austin Kleon’s little guides to creativity. While you can read each book in one sitting, I’d recommend dipping into them when you need a creative boost (or some motivation to go to your desk and make something).

Start with Austin Kleon’s first book, Steal Like an Artist for a reminder that you don’t need to create something brand new; most art is, after all, an interpretation of other inspiration.

Follow this with Show Your Work! for the encouragement to share more of your ideas, creations, and processes with others.

Finally, Austin Kleon’s most recent book from 2019, Keep Going, is one of the best books to inspire creativity every day, even when you’re stuck in a rut.

The Unwinding by Jackie Morris

“‘In a world that is increasingly dark and aggressive, I think making beauty is an act of rebellion and that’s what I’m trying to do really…”

Delicately crafted by the Kate Greenaway Medal-winning artist Jackie Morris, The Unwinding is one of the most beautiful books to inspire creativity, set in the magical land between awake and dreaming.

In these wonderfully restful pages, fairytale characters explore and magnificent creatures dwell, inspiring a peaceful space where your imagination can stretch and quiet reflection can bring us tranquility. I also adore the book’s companion postcards to inspire creativity and offer a mental reset.

Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

Who better to learn from about creativity than beloved author Neil Gaiman? In collaboration with illustrator Chris Riddell, Art Matters is a delightfully whimsical and joyful creative call to arms.

Browsing through these pages, you’ll find some of Gaiman’s most inspiring speeches, poems, and creative manifestos to explore how reading, imagining, and creating can transform the world and our lives.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

I will never stop being a fan of Big Magic. There’s a bit of woo-woo to navigate (although magic is in the title), but I can comfortably say that this is the best book about creativity I’ve ever read.

Whenever I feel stuck, uninspired, or like I’m ignoring my ideas and creativity, this is the book I turn to. It’s both an antidote to fear and one of the best creative pep talks you can find. The audiobook read by Liz Gilbert is especially wonderful.

“Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants to lead you. Keep in mind that for most of history people just made things, and they didn’t make such a big freaking deal out of it.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives Adam J. Kurtz

Expanding on a series of popular guides Adam J. Kurtz created for the now-retired blog Design*Sponge, Things Are What You Make of Them is an inspiring and refreshingly honest little book sharing wisdom and empathy from one working artist to its readers.

Whether you’re a writer, illustrator, musician, or creatively curious in any other way, flick through the book for advice on topics including “(How to) Get Over Comparing Yourself to Other Creatives” and “How to Get Over Common Creative Fears (Maybe)”.

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

The Creative Habit is one of my all-time favourite books on creativity. It’s also an ode to discipline. Every morning, Twyla Tharp hails a cab and tells the driver to take her to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st street and First Avenue, where she works out for two hours. Then, she gets to work as a choreographer.

I also loved Twyla’s 2019 book Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life, a wonderful guidebook for harnessing vitality as you age while expanding your possibilities and sense of purpose.

“Reading, conversation, environment, culture, heroes, mentors, nature – all are lottery tickets for creativity. Scratch away at them and you’ll find out how big a prize you’ve won.”

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

If you find joy in creating what didn’t exist before and diving into the depths of your imagination, you should absolutely read Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. If you love video games, there’s even more reason to read it.

The only fiction book on this list, Gabrielle Zevin’s bestseller is clearly the result of an awe-inspiring amount of work. And that’s fitting, really, because the book is very much about work – in the most creative, all-encompassing, and collaborative way. I adored reading it last year.

Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind Jocelyn K. Glei

Back when I was at university, before I had any sort of creative business, I loved reading the 99U books. They’re packed to the brim with snippets of wisdom and advice to build a creative life, whether you make money from it or not. A great place to start is with Manage Your Day-to-Day.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Atomic Habits isn’t necessarily a book about creativity, but it is a book about habits – and if you want to sustain your creativity, good habits are pivotal. Pick up this self-improvement bestseller and let it help you bridge the gap from where you are to where you want to be.

As you follow the book’s wisdom, you’ll learn how a creative daily routine starts with your identity; by seeing yourself as someone who creates every single day.

Creative Calling: Establish a Daily Practice, Infuse Your World with Meaning, and Succeed in Work + Life by Chase Jarvis

Creative Calling is Chase Jarvis’s invitation to your most creative way of living, starting with an environment and daily practice where your creativity can soar. Read it for a reminder that life is about the journey and the act of creation, not the end product.

Love for Imperfect Things: How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection by Haemin Sunim

Creativity and vulnerability go hand in hand. And that takes guts. To create and be vulnerable, you need to know that you are enough just as you are. That your voice and art are worth sharing.

Haemin Sunim offers a heartfelt reminder of this in Love for Imperfect Things, a lovely follow-up to The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down.

Other favourite books to inspire creativity:

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