It's snowing in Albuquerque today, the perfect excuse to stay home and write about Tip #2 from my PDF "12 Ways to Stay Creative Every Day." The PDF is a free print-out that accompanies my web radio interview with Dr. Doris Jeanette at Live at the Edge.
Tip #2: Read How-to Books, lots of them!
I love any book that has something to teach or is written as a workbook. In fact, as soon as I see anything with the word "workbook" in the title, I'm hooked. Only a couple of days ago I was at a bookstore renting DVDs when I saw a used copy of Animal Painting Workbook by David Webb. It didn't take me long to know I had to buy it, and I'm glad I did; I've decided it's going to be the foundation of my painting and drawing practice in the New Year.
Most of my favorite how-to books center on art and writing. Top of my all-time "best" list has to be Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, followed by Wild Mind. Others include Making a Good Writer Great, by Linda Seger, and Nick Bantock's book on collage techniques, Urgent 2nd Class.
Reading cookbooks and step-by-step travel guides can be another way to keep creativity on tap. My well-worn and much-loved copy of The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon has given me the confidence to make authentic Indian dishes from dhal to kulfi, and even invent my own vegetarian curries based on her ideas. It also gave me the idea for a character from India in one of my on-going WIPs.
One great trick I've learned for using art instruction books, and the over-sized ones in particular, is to tear them up. There, I said it. But using them in the conventional manner, i.e., trying to keep the pages open and flat (impossible with a paperback), and then still have space left on my work table to draw or paint can be challenging to say the least. What I now do is separate the pages from the binding and hold them together with a bulldog clip. When I want to try an exercise or copy a drawing, I take it from the stack and tape it to the wall. This has made such a difference to how often and willing I am to use my art books that I wish more were published this way. (Could also work for cookbooks, too.)
I buy a lot of my how-to books second-hand. The subjects have ranged from knitting to pottery-making, but I must admit I don't keep many of them. Unless it's going to be something I'll use again, I usually pass the books on to my friends, writing groups, and the library used bookstore--a great place to find more how-to books!
Tip of the Day: Reading how-to books are a necessary--and enjoyable--part of the creative process, but writing one of your own can be even better. When I wrote The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript I think I learned more about writing than at any other time in my life.
To get started writing your own how-to book, list 12 things you know how to do that could be the basis of a book. Choose one topic and then organize it into 12 potential chapters. Make each chapter the solution to a problem and add some how-to exercises at the end. Start writing! The how-to books that have meant the most to me have also included the author's personal life-story and creative journeys. Freewrite and add similar examples to your own chapters.