The Focus Course

Books Worth Reading: Creative Process

Creative work stretches far and wide. It stems from the arts, but by no means is it reserved for the eccentric outliers.

Every time you exercise your power of choice, you express a facet of creative thinking. Creativity is thinking deeply about problems waiting to be solved and uncovering original solutions.

This instead of that. Round instead of square. Combining two principles previously unrelated. Clarifying a project scope.

Whether it’s designing cover art or designing a workflow for massive amounts of information — when you problem-solve, find new solutions, write sales copy, build backend automations, you are doing creative work.

These books have inspired and strengthened these creative elements in my own work and process. It’s a combination of ingredients, some of which are character traits that need strengthening and some skills that need mastering. I hope you find these both encouraging and enlightening in your creative journey.

How to Fight a Hydra by Josh Kaufman

How to Fight a Hydra

Josh Kaufman brilliantly writes about topics of courage, problem-solving, and creativity through the narrative of story. You could read How to Fight a Hydra cover-to-cover in 45 minutes and think about it for days.

It’s the story of a young peasant that sets out to win fortune and fame for himself by slaying the mythical hydra and claiming for himself untold riches. The town thinks him mad, and maybe he is, but he knows that he must try. It’s a story of courage, persistence, and mastery, and also of adapting to unforeseen challenges and peril.

It’s not so unlike the elusive dreams of our own. The creative process is anything but predictable, and overcoming the challenges of finishing a creative work often feels like cutting off one monstrous obstacle for another to grow in its place.

The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna

The Crossroads of Should and Must

While Cal Newport would say following your passion is bad advice, The Crossroads of Should and Must is about following creative instinct. What started as a post on medium turned into a full-fledged-book.

There are two paths in life: should and must. We arrive at this crossroads over and over again. And every day, we get to choose.

While I’m not in favor of recklessly abandoning careers to chase a pipe dream, it is worth asking, what dreams have been set aside for far too long due to the shoulds of life.

  • You SHOULD get a college degree
  • You SHOULD find a steady job
  • You SHOULD buy a house
  • You SHOULD have children
  • You SHOULD build a retirement fund
  • You SHOULD get health insurance
  • You SHOULD be on social media

Crossroads Excerpt

There are a lot of “shoulds” in life, but what is the thing we feel we must do. It may be senseless, maybe even a little reckless, but we know we were made for it.

This book is beautifully illustrated and an easy read. Don’t speed read it. Go slow. Savor it. Think on it. You’ll be glad you did.

Accidental Creative by Todd Henry

Accidental Creative

A book we keep handy around the office, Accidental Creative is a must read for creatives young or old, new or experienced.

One of the biggest challenges creatives face on a daily and weekly basis is how to continue doing prolific work. The project the blows everyone away, but then becomes the new standard of work that we must exceed the next time, which creates a cycle of forever chasing better. Not to mention working with teams of creatives that all are self-conscious and egotistical at the same time.

If you make a living as a knowledge worker or are a creative of any sort, Accidental Creative is a goldmine for staying fresh. There are ingredients that fuel creative thought and help sustain creative work. Thankfully, these are skills that can be learned and practiced.

Finish by Jon Acuff

Finish

I brought Finish into the conversation around creativity because, as we all know, hitting publish on any creative endeavor is a fight.

Whether it’s finishing a writing goal or completing a training program, the objections and reasons why we can’t finish are largely the same.

The enemy of done is perfect. If it’s not going to be perfect, why even bother. The excuses pile on as to why we can’t pick up where we left off.

If our creative ambitions are to see the light of day, our constant rival will be the voice of perfectionism. It kills good ideas. It keeps us from hitting publish. It steals joy from the creative process.

Finishing is as much about overcoming our perfect mental models as it is about doing the creative work to begin with. Finish is about silencing the voice of perfectionism and doing your best creative work.


No matter your creative outlet, it takes an immense amount of courage to continue showing up with a determination to push the boundaries a little further each time. Whether you’re a designer or project manager, continue to find new mental models that help you think differently about the creative challenges you are trying to crack. No one else can produce the creative works you contain. Get out there and make stuff.

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