Back in 2017 I was working as a freelance content manager. My biggest client sold the company to a Silicon Valley startup and I lost the account. I had a big decision to make: either I could carry on and search for new online publishing projects or I could switch gears.
I knew in my heart that I was tired of sitting behind the computer screen all day every day. I wasn’t working in a state of flow and the hours started to become long and tedious. Plus, there was something else nagging at me…
Not enough time for the work I love
Sound familiar? For me, it was ceramics. Making pots was my favorite hobby from the time I was a child. But as an adult, it was an activity I squeezed into my busy schedule when I could. In the end, I was paying for studio space that I barely used.
I decided I wanted to spend all day doing the work that I love. I had enough in my savings to get by for a time, so I finished my remaining freelance projects and started spending a lot more time in the studio. I sold pieces in small markets and eventually on Etsy. Later, I started my own web shop.
In the beginning it was very slow going and very scary. I suffered from the imposter syndrome, constantly doubting myself and my abilities. But I knew I wanted to push through those fears and persevere. So I looked to other creatives who have built careers for themselves and who share their stories and advice.
Books to inspire a new creative career
I started reading as many books as I could to cultivate my confidence and learn practices to push through the hard times; how could I ignore worry and self-doubt? How do I silence my social conditioning telling me to get back to reality and start looking for a “real job?”
I’m happy to say that I made it through all that BS. I’m still working as a full-time ceramics artist today and I have never been happier. I won’t lie to you—it’s hard work. But worth it.
If you’re about to make the big jump into a creative career, here are a few books that I highly recommend to get started.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Elizabeth Gilbert is incredibly honest and straight-forward in her description of the creative process. It’s hard. And for many people it can be ruthless. Reading Big Magic felt like sitting down with a good friend and sympathizing over a glass of wine. If you’re a creative person struggling to find your voice, Gilbert will give you aha moments and shivers down your spine.
She asks all the right questions and gives advice that every artist needs to hear. One of the most important pieces of advice: just keep going. You’re going to get rejected. It doesn’t matter. Just keep going.
Gilbert tears apart the romanticized version of the tormented artist. How have so many people come to believe that in order to be creative they need to be depressed, tormented, sitting in the dark shadows of loneliness, drowning in alcohol and cigarettes? Only tortured souls create really great art. Seriously? Gilbert calls BS. Enough with the artists’ martyrdom and melodrama!
She encourages artists to create from the beauty within. She helps build creative confidence by helping you to realize that you—and you alone—are the only person who gets to decide if you’re an artist.
If you don’t get enough from the book, she hosts a wonderful podcast covering the same topic. It’s called Magic Lessons.
The Art of Asking: How I learned to stop worrying and let people help
Amanda Palmer has a raw authenticity that’s worth paying attention to.
The Art of Asking is a gift—a flower— from Amanda to all artists struggling to believe in themselves. It is the memoir of an artist who has put herself out there, walked naked into the arms of her audience—both literally and figuratively. She describes how making herself vulnerable and available feeds her artwork.
The Art of Asking reveals true and honest fears, struggles, and accomplishments of a working artist. Amanda’s stories brought me to tears and inspired me to become more fearless with my own work and in communicating with others. Being an artist means being vulnerable, and sometimes we need a little encouraging to take that step into the deep end. I highly recommend this book if you’re currently looking for that encouragement.
“Collecting the dots. Then connecting them. And then sharing the connections with those around you. This is how a creative human works. Collecting, connecting, sharing.” ― Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking.
If you’re interested in learning more about Amanda’s story, you can also watch her talk on TED.
The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self
Author Julia Cameron says that her book is about ‘artistic creative recovery,’ which is a fancy way of saying an artistic block (or writer’s block). However, The Artist’s Way is also very helpful for people just starting out on their creative career. As Julia explains, every child is a creative person, if we as adults are not living creatively, then it is indeed a creative recovery.
Her book is divided into 12 sections (or weeks) with exercises, questions and commitments.
The most important exercise is writing daily Morning Pages in order to clear you mind and prepare yourself for creative work. And there are many more such as taking yourself on a weekly Artist’s Date (yes, that’s a date with yourself) as an opportunity to follow your curiosities. You should also pamper yourself, from time to time
Julia also does a great job of describing how we sabotage ourselves and criticize ourselves to the point of no return. Once we recognize these bad habits we have the ability to stop them And once we give in to the powerful creative spirit (or whatever you want to call it flow, God, the universe…) conspires to help us and synchronicity is waiting around every corner.
‘Leap and the net will appear’ -Julia Cameron
More than 25 years after it’s initial publishing, her book continues to inspire.
The War of Art
Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art, asks a very important question: What keeps so many of us from doing what we long to do?
Resistance is a cruel trick the universe is playing on us. One that we must each overcome if we are to do anything important in our lives. Resistance is that inner voice filled with doubt and procrastination. Resistance is the fear that rises up any time there’s something really worth doing.
The The War of Art teaches us how to overcome the obstacles of ambition before it’s too late. Resistance is self generated an self perpetuated. It’s the enemy within. Learning how to ignore or control one’s own enemy is the secret to doing the work you were born to do.
Creative Strength Training: Prompts, Exercises and Personal Stories for Encouraging Artistic Genius
Jane Dunnewold’s Creative Strength Training explores how our creative processes intersect with memory, experience, human psychology and spirituality. This book has more than just inspiration. Jane takes it one step further and provides advice, examples, tools and exercises to get the creative mind on track and out of trouble. Her exercises are structured for discovery and exploration.
Here are a few of my favorite tips from the book:
Writing: The importance of writing as a creative tool is undeniable. It allows the mind to explore while recording your thoughts on the page. It’s important to pay attention to the words you use to describe yourself. They are not only defining how you see yourself, but how others see you. The more you write, you will advance your beliefs and conversational skills around your own creativity. You will be amazed at how your thoughts and conversations are impacting your own creative limitations.
Dismantle your committee: We all have individuals who are important to us: teachers, parents, friends, colleagues —special people who we don’t want to disappoint. We also have critics: someone who’s told us we’re not good enough or a boss who ignores our ideas. Some of these voices and opinions (our “committee”) have a very real place in our self-talk. If we’re not conscious of them, they will restrict our creative vision.
Connect with your inner rebel – make time. Outside of our very real, imminent responsibilities we have to choose to make time for creativity. Here’s where the author invites you to get in touch with your inner rebel —the one who skips out on less important responsibilities to make time for creative exploration.
Well there you have it—those were the 5 books that helped me quit my job and become an artist. Do you have more to share? Please feel free to contribute in the comments below.
In the meantime, keep creating!