Edit: See also Creative Careers: 12 Inspiring Career Guides for Creative People and my free 26-part creative careers course The Creative Pathfinder.
‘Creative careers’ is an oxymoron for some people. But whether or not you like the word ‘career’, as a professional artist or creative you’ll need to find some means of getting enough of the kind of work you want – whether that means exciting commissions, a dream job or promoting and selling your own work. And while you’re working on your creative challenges, you’ll need to solve what poet Louis MacNeice called “the perennial if unimportant problem / Of getting enough to eat”. Hopefully these books will help you strike the right balance between your creative and career ambitions.
Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd
A career guide for creative people – brilliant idea, wonderfully executed. This book is for or every artist or creative who’s ever sighed and rolled their eyes at the thought of having a ‘career’. It is an in-depth look at the challenges you face when you put your creativity centre-stage in your life and work. There are chapters on maintaining your creative inspiration and identifying your strongest creative talents, as well as exercises for mapping out possible futures and setting yourself compelling goals (yes, she covers the fact that most artists hate the word ‘goal’). Carol Lloyd also addresses the practical question of ‘the drudge we do for dollars’ by looking at the various options for earning a crust with minimal interference in your creative work.
As well as the practical advice and exercises, there are lots of interviews with artists and creators who have succeeded in creating a life worth living – both personally and artistically. Maybe one of the biggest benefits you can get from reading a book like this is the sense that “I’m not the only one – there are others who have followed an unconventional path and succeeded. If they can do it, so can I.” (Amazon USA link.)
It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden
If you like the title, you’ll probably like the book. Arden makes his points in pithy two-page spreads, with a headline, brief explanation and illustrative artwork or design. Headlines include ‘Why do we strive for excellence when mediocrity is required?’, ‘Don’t give a speech – put on a show’, ‘Fail again, fail better’ and ‘Don’t be afraid to work with the best’.
The format calls to mind classic print advertising, and Arden’s experience as Executive Creative Director at Saatchi and Saatchi means some of his advice is most relevant to people in advertising, but there’s lots of thought-provoking advice for anyone who deals with creativity in their work – whether as an artist, creative or manager. There’s more of the same, only different in his follow-up Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite. (Amazon USA link.)
Marketing Your Creativity by Matt Perry and Ant Mulder
A common problem faced by my clients is that they are creatively very accomplished – but they find it really, really hard to ‘sell themselves’, whether they are applying for a job or promoting their work to galleries, publishers or other distributors. This book tackles the issue head-on, arguing that as competition hots up in the creative industries, freelancers and agency creatives need to take a creative approach to marketing themselves and their work.
‘Demonstrate your talent’ is a key piece of advice, and there are lots of case studies of creatives who initiated their own projects such as exhibitions and websites, to attract attention and win jobs or commissions. Some of the most valuable material is in the interview snippets with creative directors and other gatekeepers – who tell you what they are looking for and how they like to be approached. The authors practise what they preach – the book looks (and feels) great, the beautiful design and illustrations make you want to pick it up and flick through it again once you’ve read the text.
Twenty Four Seven by Adam Graveley (free e-book)
As well as being full of advice for aspiring graphic designers, this e-book is a good example of the kind of self-generated project advocated by Perry and Mulder. When Adam Graveley was looking for his first job as a graphic designer, he struggled to find a useful guide – and resolved to create his own, by writing to leading graphic designers and asking for their advice. He managed to elicit responses from Tom Roope (Tomato Interactive, UK), Alexander Gelman (Design Machine, NY), Jan Wilker (Karlssonwilker Inc, NY), Jonathan Ellery (Browns Design, London), Peter Saville (London) and Adrian Shaughnessy (TiRA, London). He then wrote and designed this guide incorporating their responses, and published it himself as a free e-book. Although aimed at graphic designers, much of the advice is clearly applicable to those setting out on many different creative careers – if that’s you then since the book’s free it’s hard to think of a reason not to look at it.
And of course the book is a nice piece of viral marketing for the author, since it showcases not only his design and writing skills but his initiative and determination, interpersonal skills (persuading so many illustrious names to contribute) and marketing savvy. In Seth Godin’s terms, he’s created something ‘remarkable’ – meaning its interesting enough for other people to remark on it and pass it on. Which is what I’m doing now – I hope this recommendation helps his career a little, as well as yours.
Zen and the Art of Earning a Living by Laurence G. Boldt
Not so much a creative careers book as a creative approach to career design. Laurence Boldt starts with the idea that “everyone is the artist of their own life” and comes up with lots – and lots – of inspiring ideas and practical strategies for creative people. If Paul Arden is pithy, Boldt is encyclopedic – the book runs to over 600 pages, densely packed with stories, exercises, advice, diagrams and illustrations. The first part of the book helps you discover “what you really want to do”, the second focuses on how to go about doing it. Whether this book is for you depends on (a) whether you want an in-depth exploration of your creative and career ambitions, and (b) whether you have a taste for stories from esoteric traditions such as Zen Buddhism and ancient mythology. If so, you’ll find plenty here to inspire you as well as force you to do some hard-headed practical thinking. (Amazon USA link.)
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
This one comes under the heading of ‘inspirational’ rather than strictly practical. It’s not a career book, but a classic study of the Hero’s Journey in the myths and legends of the world. Campbell’s encyclopedic knowledge of world mythologies enabled him to trace themes, situations and character archetypes that are common to many stories of the heroic quest.
If you’ve ever been inspired by the story of a mythic hero, this book should resonate with you and enourage you on your own journey. And if you find it hard to relate all this mythological stuff to modern life, you might like to look at The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, which is based on Campbell’s book and has provided the narrative template for numerous Hollywood films. (Amazon USA link.)