Even on the best and brightest of days, it can be a struggle for artists and writers to breathe something new into existence. Enter COVID-19. Right now, I’m grateful to get any words on the page at all. Based on tweets I’ve seen from my favorite contemporary authors, it seems I’m not alone. Luckily, I’ve been able to find comfort and inspiration in books. Below, you’ll find book recommendations for struggling creatives, artists, and writers that might also be a balm to you.
Nonfiction Book Recommendations for Struggling Creatives
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
In Big Magic, Gilbert assuages the fears that so many have around creativity. I took comfort in having someone tell me that I didn’t have to have an MFA or fit a certain mold to be a writer. She inspired me to chase the projects that bring me joy and trust my voice. Perhaps most importantly, Big Magic is a reminder that it’s okay to be messy and make mistakes. (How does one make a masterpiece without a little fumbling along the way?) If you need a book to lift your spirits and renew your creative energy, Big Magic is the perfect starting place.
Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot
In Heart Berries, Mailhot describes growing up in a tumultuous household and blossoming into womanhood while grappling with a dual diagnosis of PTSD and bipolar disorder II. While in therapy, she wrote through her pain, not trying to solve or dispel it but to reconcile it so that she could move forward. She also shared how much of her creativity had its roots in her identity as an Indian woman from the Seabird Island Indian Reservation. Her writing is a reminder that we have to embrace our identities and personal history to find healing through art. If anxieties around the pandemic are bringing other long-buried struggles to light, give Heart Berries a go. It might be exactly what you need.
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
Something about the coronavirus has made me more prone to wasting time on social media than usual. The solutions Instagram ads are trying to sell me as salves for my anxiety are more tempting than ever and my desire to compare my productivity levels to my friends on Facebook has grown exponentially. That’s why How to Do Nothing was such a blessing to find when I did. Odell gives her readers permission to slow down, enjoy art, and engage with the natural world. Reading her work reminded me that I don’t have to package myself in a way that’s branded and easily digestible. I can simply be a human in the world and interact with both others and myself without a filter. How refreshing!
Poetry Book Recommendations for Struggling Creatives
The Black Unicorn: Poems by Audre Lorde
When I’m feeling unmoored, upset, angry, or stagnant, I turn to Audre Lorde. Reading her words is like sitting at the feet of an elder creative who’s willing to impart her wisdom on even the most intimate topics. In this collection, she tackles subjects like the difference between poetry and rhetoric, the ways women create, and the danger that lies in the truths we dare not say.
Hungry for more poetry? A list of comforting poetry books can be found here.
Fiction Book Recommendations for Struggling Creatives
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
In Dept. of Speculation, a nameless narrator endeavors to balance her writing life with marriage and motherhood. Despite setbacks and gendered expectations, she marches on, never forgetting that the first and most desperate desire of her heart was to create. If you’re attempting to juggle homeschooling your kid with plotting your novel, this book might be for you.
If Dept. of Speculation makes you crave more writing by women, check out this list of suggested authors.
While books are the first place I look for inspiration, there’s also something to be said for quiet observations and rest. How to Do Nothing was a good reminder of that. In the midst of the pandemic, take inspiration from wherever you can find it.