Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The 16 books I'm going to read to inspire my creativity in 2016

I just read Danielle Duell's post on Linkedin in which she listed the 16 books she plans to read in 2016, and I thought it was a terrific idea. So here are the 16 books I have selected to read next, books that I think will especially stimulate my creativity throughout the year.

1. Walden by Henry David Thoreau - I've never read this classic of American literature, and I feel it's time.

2. One Day My Soul Just Opened Up by Iyanla Vanzant - I read this back in 2010 when I was travelling around Cambodia, and it had a profound effect on me. I feel it's time to re-visit it.

3. Fear Not by Carol Tice - I think it was recommended in a blog post or on a podcast, but I just feel like this might do me some good. My confidence waxes and wanes.

4. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod - I don't actually need much convincing that early rising is a great productive habit. I do need to discipline myself more, though.

5. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill - I have actually read this one a couple of times before, but not in a few years, so it's time to see what I might be able to get out if it right now.

6. The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth - You can tell I am having anxiety issues about productivity.

7. All of P.G. Wodehouse - OK, this is a bit of a big ask, but at some stage in 2016 I want to teach a course on the English comic novel, and this just has to be done.

8. All of Ian Rankin - Another mammoth project. I am working on a crime novel of my own, and everyone says that Rankin is the one to study.

9. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke - Never done it, and it is a glaring gap in anyone's library of creativity. Plus I'll be able to look my friend Stephanie Dowrick in the eye, as she wrote the book on the subject.

10. The Cruise of the Snark by Jack London - I loved Jack London novels as a boy, and I still think he is an absolute master. This is a book of his I haven't read, and hadn't even heard of it till I saw Susannah Fullerton give a lecture on the Mills & Boon company, who originally published this.

11. The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

12. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr - Because I am a memoirist, and because I teach memoir writing and love the form.

13. The Art of War by Sun Tzu - I've never been able to finish it. But I'm meant to know a lot about Chinese culture, so it's kind of embarrassing.

14. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield - I love it, and this will be my third time. I always get inspired by this book.

15. The Art of Work by Jeff Goins - Because he's a nice guy and one of the thought leaders I've decided to follow closely this year.

16. Bleak House by Charles Dickens - I adore Dickens, and I am a member of the NSW Dickens Society, but I have never read this one. More gap-filling.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Todd Henry's Die Empty - a review

I don’t think I have ever endorsed a book with such a controversial title. For me it is without any import – I rather like the idea of dying empty, having used up each and every ounce of creativity and passion. But a surprising number of people react negatively to the title and the concept. I have used this book several times now teaching creativity courses, and there is always one or two people who shrink from the title.

If you are one of those, I apologise, but I also urge you to overcome you initial reaction because Todd Henry’s book is really quite exceptional and has been a major source of creative inspiration to me for some time now.

Todd Henry

In Die Empty, Todd Henry offers some indispensable advice on avoiding the aimless life and recognising the potential for happiness here and now. Henry is one of those ubiquitous modern marketing gurus in the Seth Godin mould who have sprung up in the age of podcasting and social media with a unique style of life and career advice specifically aimed at a media and technology savvy generation. He is always interesting, and never more so than in this book.

It is also quite brutal advice, encouraging people not to be self-deluded. Henry offers the example of the hapless, hopeless contestant of the TV reality talent show, the one destined for the “worst of” show who is surrounded by well-meaning mothers and friends who encourage them in their delusions. Yes, well have innate talents, but in any cases these talents require a great deal of careful discernment, and can potentially be overshadowed by externally-imposed (or confected) dreams of greatness.

Neither is success necessarily about wealth or possessions. Henry is not of the “3 Ferraris” school of motivation, with a cheque for a million dollars pasted up on one’s ceiling. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting some sort of material comfort, it is just that Henry suggests much of what fulfils us and uses our greatest talents may not necessarily be big moneyspinners. It is ultimately more important to create energising personal narratives built around more lasting motives.

Henry advises us all to take “small, calculated risks” each day in our quest to become greater and to be of greater use in this world. It is passion for our actions that drives us and makes us happy. The age of duty is perhaps over, at least for those of us living in the more privileged world. If we are not bound to take on work that will support our families and guarantee their welfare then we find our moral obligations in other places, principally in the direction of those vocations where we find ourselves belonging. Our moral duty has shifted to an obligation to make the most of our talents, and to use them in life-celebrating and fulfilling ways. To ignore these talents and focus instead on a mundane life is its own sort of sin.

It’s a challenging book, as the title indicates, and is not for readers who want to look for excuses. Henry tells us we have to acknowledge the areas of resistance in our lives (echoes of Steven Pressfield’s work here) and move on through them. Perhaps at heart we all want to be great, or at least to contribute something to the greater good of humanity reading Die Empty might make you start taking this destiny more seriously, and convince you to start planning the final years you have left. An uplifting and motivating read, this is a book I am certain to return to again. Check it out.