Words of wisdom from my favourite books for creatives

Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk (*).

Over the past few months, I’ve been rebooting my life and business. I’ve been overhauling my diet, decluttering my home, redesigning my business from the ground up and working on a rebrand (not all at once, I should stress!). It’s been a slow and sometimes painful process of realising that my life was more a product of default than design, having several freak outs along the way and slowly doing the work to figure out what I truly value and how to build a life in alignment with those things.

Today, I want to share four books that have sparked fundamental shifts for me and supported this process, with some of my favourite quotes from each. Of course, these extracts can only be fully appreciated within the context of the whole, but I’ve tried to choose passages that can stand alone and give a good sense of the ideas that have had the biggest impact for me.

For those who’ve also read and loved these books, I hope this post can be a useful reminder (for you and me!) to stay focused on the things that really matter. And for those who haven’t, I hope it can serve as a useful introduction to some of the powerful ideas within these titles.

Either way, I hope these words can help you in the same way they’ve helped me.


Essentialism* - Greg McKeown

On living by default

"In sacrificing my power to choose I had made a choice - a bad one. By refusing to choose 'not law school', I had chosen law school - not because I actually or actively wanted to be there, but by default. I think that's when I realised that when we surrender our ability to choose, something or someone else will step in to choose for us."

Books for Creatives - Greg McKeown quote

On Essentialist living

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

“Life will become less about efficiently crossing off what was on your to-do list or rushing through everything on your schedule and more about changing what you put there in the first place.”

On essential trade-offs

“Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?”

“In many cases we can learn to make one-time decisions that make a thousand future decisions so we don’t exhaust ourselves asking the same question again and again.”

On saying no

“When [we are unclear about what is essential] we become defenceless. On the other hand, when we have strong internal clarity it is almost as if we have a force field protecting us from the non-essentials coming at us from all directions… In virtually every instance, clarity about what is essential fuels us with the strength to say no to the non-essentials.”

“Since becoming an Essentialist I have found it almost universally true that people respect and admire those with the courage of conviction to say no.”

Books for creatives - Greg McKeown quote

>> Check out Essentialism*

Daring Greatly* - Brené Brown

On embracing vulnerability

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

“What we know matters, but who we are matters more. Being rather than knowing requires showing up and letting ourselves be seen. It requires us to dare greatly, to be vulnerable.”

Books for creatives - Brene Brown quote

On being Wholehearted

“As I conducted my interviews, I realised that only one thing separated the men and women who felt a deep sense of love and belonging (Brené calls these people the 'Wholehearted') from the people who seemed to be struggling for it. That one thing was the belief in their worthiness. It’s as simple and complicated as this:

"If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging."

On sharing your work

“Sharing something that you’ve created is a vulnerable but essential part of engaged and Wholehearted living. It’s the epitome of daring greatly. But because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached your self-worth to how your product or art is received… You’re officially a prisoner of “pleasing, performing, and perfecting."

“With an awareness of shame and strong shame resilience skills, this scenario is completely different. You still want folks to like, respect and even admire what you’ve created, but your self-worth is not on the table.

"When our self-worth isn’t on the line, we are far more willing to be courageous and risk sharing our raw talents and gifts."

Books for creatives - Brene Brown quote

On healthy boundaries

"[The Wholehearted] didn’t hesitate to connect worthiness with boundaries… they explained that reducing anxiety meant paying attention to how much they could do and how much was too much, and learning how to say, ‘Enough’. They got very clear on what was important to them and when they could let something go.”

>>Check out Daring Greatly*

Big Magic* - Elizabeth Gilbert

On rejecting the ‘tortured artist’ path and what to do instead

“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures. You can battle your demons (through therapy, recovery, prayer or humility) instead of battling your gifts - in part realising that your demons were never the ones doing the work, anyhow."

“You can believe that you are neither a slave to inspiration nor its master, but something far more interesting - its partner - and that the two of you are working together toward something intriguing and worthwhile. You can live a long life, making and doing really cool things the entire time.”

Books for creatives - Elizabeth Gilbert quote

On the difference between courage and fearlessness

"Creativity is a path for the brave, yes, but it is not a path for the fearless, and it's important to recognise the distinction. Bravery means doing something scary. Fearlessness means not even understanding what the word scary means."

"Trust me, your fear will always show up - especially when you're trying to be inventive or innovative.

"Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome."

On why you should create the things that ignite your soul

“Whenever anybody tells me they want to write a book in order to help other people, I always think, oh, please don’t. I mean, it is very kind of you to want to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive, because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls."

“I once wrote a book in order to save myself. I wrote a travel memoir in order to make sense of my own journey and my own emotional confusion. All I was trying to do with that book was figure myself out. In the process, though, I wrote a story that apparently helped a lot of other people figure themselves out - but that was never my intention."

“Create whatever creates a revolution in your heart. The rest will take care of itself.”

Books for creatives - Elizabeth Gilbert quote

>> Check out Big Magic*

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People* - Stephen R. Covey

On climbing the right ladder

“It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busyness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall. It is possible to be busy - very busy - without being very effective.”

“People often find themselves achieving victories that are empty, successes that have come at the expense of things they suddenly realise were far more valuable to them.”

On listening to understand

“'Seek first to understand' involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives.”

Stephen Covey quote

On learning to say no

"You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage - pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically - to say 'no' to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger 'yes' burning inside. The enemy of the 'best' is often the 'good'."

“As you live your values, your sense of identity, control and inner-directedness will infuse you with both exhilaration and peace.

"You will define yourself from within, rather than by people’s opinions or by comparisons to other.”

On rewriting the script

“Because I am self-aware, because I have imagination and conscience, I can examine my deepest values. I can realise that the script I’m living is not in harmony with those values, that my life is not the product of my own proactive design, but the result of the first creation I have deferred to circumstances and other people."

“And I can change. I can live out of my imagination instead of my memory. I can tie myself to my limitless potential instead of my limiting past. I can become my own first creator.”

Books for creatives - Stephen Covey quote