I wanted to share with you my ultimate list of books for creative introverts, the ones that have genuinely changed my life (for the better!) and the ones I point to over and over again, when anyone ever asks me for recommendations.
How could I not kick this list off with the Queen of Introverts herself, Susan Cain. I was recommended this book by the same friend who told me, I’m an introvert. After I denied his diagnosis, after all I didn’t consider myself shy and that’s what all introverts are, right, shy?… Or so I thought – he told me to just read this book by Susan Cain and check out her TED talk, which I did.
And I was stunned. I’m sure many, many of those listening have come across this book and found it just as enlightening as I did. It really is the starting point for introverts who are looking to understand themselves better. I’ve read lots of other books with ‘Introvert’ in the title, but honestly nothing compares to Quiet.
I also just really love Susan Cain herself – if you’ve ever heard an interview with her, you might understand why. I’ll link to some in the show notes at theCreativeIntrovert.com. She’s just so… down to earth, intelligent and sweet. She’s definitely my Queen.
“So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multi-tasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way.”
Cain’s overall take seems to be to embrace our introversion, and like me, encourages us to work with it as opposed to trying to fit ourselves into boxes made for extroverts.
Another super popular bible for many introverts, and some extroverts, is The Highly Sensitive Person. This was another epiphany for me, when I discovered what it was to also be a HSP. About 70% of introverts are likely to also be HSPs, and this was another book that shed light on why I was so uncomfortable and drained in the traditional office environment.
An HSP is basically someone who takes in more sensory information than average, and all this stimulation can get rather exhausting for the nervous system. Ultimately, this means HSPs aren’t at their best in hectic environments, loud places, bright places and can respond more strongly to all kinds of information, including things that create an emotional response.
So if you’ve ever been told ‘you’re too sensitive’ (UGH) then you may be an HSP and I can promise you – it is not a bad thing at all.
Here’s a link to an episode of the podcast on HSPs and if you want to check out Elaine’s work, I highly recommend giving her a google.
“There is a common misunderstanding that emotions cause us to think illogically But recent scientific thinking, reviewed by psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues, has placed emotion at the center of wisdom. One reason is that most emotion is felt after an event, which apparently serves to help us remember what happened and learn from it. The more upset we are by a mistake, the more we think about it and will be able to avoid it the next time. The more delighted we are by a success, the more we think and talk about it and how we did it, causing us to be more likely to be able to repeat it.”
Like Cain, Aron emphasises the benefits of this quality and how we can work with it, not against it.
Yet another foundational text that I have had countless conversations about with fellow creatives. Not everyone jives with Julia Cameron’s talk of God and the emphasis on the spiritual nature of creativity, but I’ve read it twice and can honestly say if you can get past that stuff, there is a LOT of gold in this book.
What I like most are the exercises she gives you at the end of each chapter.
In fact it’s really a 12-week course which I recommend going through in real time. Some weeks the exercises will seem virtually impossible – I’ll admit I’ve never done the break from reading she suggests – but Artists Dates are a game changer, as is the Morning Pages.
“Boredom is just “What’s the use?” in disguise. And “What’s the use?” is fear, and fear means you are secretly in despair. So put your fears on the page. Put anything on the page. Put three pages of it on the page.”
Quotes like this are peppered throughout the book, on nearly every page you’ll find little golden nuggets like this and that’s why it’s a must-have for any creative who wants to get serious about making art.
I LOVE telling people about this book who haven’t come across it. At first some will try to correct me with: ‘don’t you mean the Art of War?’ but no, I don’t.
Pressfield is a great writer anyway, but for me it’s his non-fiction writing, his writing about writing and creativity in general. This is the ultimate book on creative resistance, and how to overcome it. Honestly, this is the number one book I turn to when I’m feeling like I’m avoiding doing something or that I can’t climb the daunting mountain of a creative project.
I think I actually cried at one point in this book – a part where he talks about the Muse and it gets a little bit spiritual… but in a way I think even the most hard-nosed skeptic can appreciate.
“Here’s another test. Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?”
Pressfield is constantly pressing you to be more in this book. He can be a bit of a hardass like that, but my god is it helpful, or at least I found it so. If I could hire anyone on earth to be my creative coach, it would be Steven Pressfield.
Here is a book from someone who I would give my little toe to have on the podcast, Derek Sivers. This is a super practical, sweet and funny book which is packed with advice for anyone trying to start making a living from doing what they love.
“Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision—even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone—according to what’s best for your customers.”
That seems to be Sivers in a nutshell – if you want to take advice with someone who is truly heart led, this is the book to read.
I think this is a book I’ve mentioned more than any other on the podcast, and for very good reason. It’s kind of a long read to get to the overall point, I’ll admit, which is basically to ask for what you need and trust people will support you – but I picked up a lot on the journey.
Amanda Palmer isn’t exactly an introvert, and I can’t see myself going to quite the lengths she does in the name of art, but I do admire a lot about her, and this book reminded me I’m more capable than I’m usually aware of – if I let some trust into the equation.
This is the book to read when you’re in need of some guts: or just a great story about a fascinating character.
“When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand. And you feel stupid doing it.”
What I take from quotes like this is that Amanda fully acknowledges the pain that comes with making art and sending it out into the world, yet she doesn’t back down or quit when it gets tough. She does it anyway, even if she feels stupid doing it.
This book makes my list not just as a great read for creative introverts, but one I could recommend to pretty much any soul on this planet. These four, simple (yet not always easy) agreements or rules for life that Miguel Ruiz lays out so beautifully really spoke to me when I read them, but I also like to remind myself of them again and again. Most of my suffering comes from not living by these agreements, and I’m willing to bet at least one of them will hit you in a profound way too.
“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”
That was from the second agreement, ‘Don’t take anything personally.’ This chapter alone will do a lot for you, if you’re concerned about the opinions of morons on social media or anyone else for that matter.
Now this truly is a book for creative introverts – after all, the author totally is one. I don’t remember exactly how I came across Pete Mosley, but once I did I knew I had to have him on the podcast, and I was lucky enough to get a yes. It’s a pretty quick read and some of the lessons in it have stuck with me like glue. One of them, from the Cheeky Letters story actually made it into my own book – I just updated it by replacing letters with email – and made sure to credit Pete for sharing this with the world.
“It is important to understand that your values generate the energy that fuels you to work consistently towards meeting your goals. Do something that fits with your innate values and you will make progress. Do something that doesn’t fit and you will grind to a halt. It’s a no brainer.
One way to judge whether an activity fits with your innate values is the extent to which you are in flow whilst you are doing it – does time pass without you noticing it? Are you eager to get back to the task after taking a break? Do you consistently look forward to your next burst of activity?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then the chances are your chosen activity meshes with your core values. If the answer is no, then goals and values are in conflict.
It’s important to work from a baseline of strong personal values – and values that are your own – neither pushed upon you by others nor acquired by osmosis through the ever-present ‘collective unconscious’ of social media overwhelm.”
This is what you’ll find throughout the book: simply explained concepts, which, if followed will undoubtedly lead you to do what you love, in a way that suits you. There are also lots of questions to the reader throughout, which I found really helpful in getting me to face myself and acknowledge certain facts about myself and my way of operating – and change something if needed.
This is a really underrated book, in my opinion. Partly because there’s another fairly similar book called The ONE Thing, which at the time I read both, seemed to get more press coverage, at least on the podcasts I listened to.
Anyway, where the ONE Thing is probably a slightly easier read, I felt like it lacks the depth and the practical advice I found in Essentialism. Maybe read both, because I’m sure every creative introvert who has ever felt overwhelmed because they’ve got too much on their plate or feel they can never finish anything because they’re always starting new things… could definitely find some utility in the concepts shared in them.
“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.”
This quote stuck with me, and since then I try not to let myself say something like ‘I have three top priorities.’ I took the plural out of my vocabulary, and try to state the ONE singular priority.
How do creative people come up with great ideas? Moreover, how do they put those ideas into action and actually make significant change in the world? That’s what Adam Grant seeks to do in this book.
I don’t normally love books that are just case studies about unicorns – well, actual unicorns would be cool but I mean the human kind – because I generally don’t find them informative or inspiring, just kind of depressing because they remind me of how I’m NOT these people.
But Grant has a way of writing, a humour and a practicality that actually makes these types of case studies really helpful and inspiring. I also link to his TED Talk here so you can check that out for a flavour of Grant’s style and his own original ideas.
“If originals aren’t reliable judges of the quality of their ideas, how do they maximize their odds of creating a masterpiece? They come up with a large number of ideas… They simply produced a greater volume of work, which gave them more variation and a higher chance of originality.”
So the author of this book is a super interesting character, who I got super interested in after I heard him interviewed on the Tim Ferriss podcast and read this incredible and mind-bending book he wrote, God’s Debris. That’s for another list, but the book I think is most helpful for creative introverts is this one, the crazily titled How to Fail at Almost Anything And Still Win Big.
As crazily titled as it is, it does point to one of my favourite lessons in the book: this idea that you can fail or have perceived failures in life, without being held back. You can overcome weakness, turn flaws into benefits and ultimately leverage your innate talents and personality to your benefit. It’s beautifully and simply written, with a healthy dose of humour – the author did create the Dilbert comic after all – and you will undoubtedly take something from it, even if it’s just a reminder that you aren’t a failure, no matter what you think.
If you’re someone who feels goal-setting just leaves you feeling frustrated and like you’re spinning your wheels, you might like Adams’ take on goal setting versus systems:
‘If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.
[O]ne should have a system instead of a goal. The system-versus-goals model can be applied to most human endeavours. In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system. In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system.
Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction. …’
I was telling someone the other day about a story in the first chapter of this book, because it had such an impact on me. There’s something about Hari’s writing that makes this book un-put-downable, and I can’t say that for many (or any) books I’ve read about mental health and brain science.
The overall point of this book is to illustrate the problem Western society is facing with depression, and it’s true causes. As someone who has had run in’s with the black dog, and has to carefully pay attention for it’s signs: this book is really important to me.
“Loneliness isn’t the physical absence of other people… it’s the sense that you’re not sharing anything that matters with anyone else. If you have lots of people around you—perhaps even a husband or wife, or a family, or a busy workplace—but you don’t share anything that matters with them, then you’ll still be lonely.”
Loneliness is a big subject in this book, and it’s something I’ve found myself almost unconsciously trying to combat with my search for community and authentic connections which I’m sure most of you’ve heard me rabbit on about more than once. Introverts are of course just as much if not more at risk of loneliness and some of the more extreme consequences of isolation and this is why this book makes my list. Check it out, with an open mind.
According to Pink, we’re all in sales. Which I’m willing to bet sent chills down the spine of many of you. I know it did me. But when I wrapped my head around the idea that selling, or encouraging someone to take an action, is a fundamental human skill… well, I could see Pink had a point. I could also see that it’s a skill that I could get better at, without having to do anything gross or spineless.
This is what this book can do, particularly for those of us who are a bit allergic to the idea of sales. It shows us that even if we suck at selling, there are a handful of metaskills that we can practice in order to sell with greater ease and confidence and less self-doubt.
“Extraverts, in other words, often stumble over themselves. They can talk too much and listen too little, which dulls their understanding of others’ perspectives. They can fail to strike the proper balance between asserting and holding back, which can be read as pushy and drive people away.*”
So if you associate selling with extraversion, Pink is going to bust that myth for you in this book.
Come on, did you think I could leave out my own book?
Well I could, for sure. But after glancing over Pink’s book I figured it was probably worth reminding you that I did indeed write a book last year and it’s actually coming up to the 6-month anniversary of its release date. Sweet eh?
Yeah so The Creative Introvert book was officially written in one year, but really it was a good 7 years in the making, because it really is the culmination of everything I’ve learned (at least the stuff that worked) in the years between quitting my day job at the web design agency, to building and growing the business that is The Creative Introvert.
I try to pack in as much as I can – everything from self-knowledge to proper planning to marketing to dealing with critics – the outer and the inner kind. It has a bunch of resources to download for free when you purchase it, and it’s still on Kindle Unlimited for a crazy affordable 99p in the UK.
I’m not usually proud of things I make, but it’s been 6 months and I can still look at this and think: yeah, it’s OK.
If you do read it I’d love to know what you think. Getting tagged in IG stories or posts about the book literally makes my day, so thank you if you do that too.
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