The Creative Habit

I’ve just gotten out of my ‘Egg’ position. This involves sitting on the floor, knees up to my chest, curling my head down to my knees and making myself as small as possible. You should try it.

Twyla Tharp, the author of The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life explains ‘The Egg’ exercise this way: “you have nowhere else to go; you cannot become smaller, you can only expand and grow. It becomes a ritual of discovery.” The thinking is that no matter what movement you do next, it will change your original position, become something new, possibly something unexpected. Ms. Tharp does ‘The Egg’ every morning. Yes, every morning! The hope is for a new position or something new in the process. ‘The Egg’ is one of many suggestions found in her book to foster creative thinking.

Twyla Tharp, master dance choreographer, is legendary in the dance world for having created dances for Joffrey Ballet, the New York City Ballet, and many others. She has done productions in film and television, and garnered many accolades in her dance career. Clearly Ms. Tharp is a creative soul. At one point she contemplated pursuing life as a painter but “I didn’t feel it in my bones. I would tell my ‘story’ through movement. Gotta dance.” It is through this book that she endeavors to help us find our creative dance — our story.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Creativity is a habit

"Being creative is a full-time job with its own daily patterns."
- The Creative Habit, page 6

Ms. Tharp literally sets the stage for us as she describes walking into an empty dance studio only minutes prior to dancers showing up to rehearse the second half of a program that she had yet to create. This scenario, that of a blank sheet with pressure to produce, can paralyze the best of us. No amount of tap dancing will be able to propel us into motion.

If there is a key that will unlock the creative side in all of us, Ms. Tharp advocates it is in the establishing of a creative daily routine. At first glance, routine and creativity seem to be two opposing concepts. Hard to imagine how a routine, something so structured, repetitive and mundane, could inspire us to be our most creative.

But, Twyla Tharp suggests that “the routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more.” She passionately believes that one must be prepared to be creative and that this involves routine and hard work.

The thinking is that in the simple act of routine, starting your day in the same way transforms it into a habit, so that you don’t even have to think about it. It becomes a discipline. This ritual of preparation gives us confidence that enables us to generate creativity.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Lack of resources is a good thing

"No deprivation, no inspiration."
- The Creative Habit, page 125

As someone who is her own boss, with no staff, no IT department or PR group, I found the premise of having little to no resources at your disposal presented as a positive thing in this book a refreshing paradigm shift; encouraging in fact. So often we can slip into complacency as we wait for the perfect time to launch an idea. We hold off until we have gathered enough finances/investors or until we get that new website up and running, or because we just want to tweak that last bit of copy before we go ahead and press ‘publish.’

Ms. Tharp shares how she always used to think that all of the challenges that she faced in her work would vanish if she had exactly the right resources: her own studio, her own dancers, her own theater, an abundance of money, etc. However, she came to realize, that in fact, it rarely plays out this way: “limits are a secret blessing, and bounty can be a curse.” She goes onto share how working with next to nothing helped her, forced her, to discover her own dance vocabulary. She had no choice but to get creative, approach things from a different perspective, and consider how to make a concept come alive on stage with no money for props or scenery.

And so, for us readers, there is a real application to be seized here and as Ms. Tharp herself says, “You’ve just got to get in there and do.”

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Ideas don’t just happen

"Without little ideas, there are no big ideas."
- The Creative Habit, page 98

In the world of Twyla Tharp, ideas do not just magically appear with a sprinkling of fairy dust. They must be cultivated. They must be fostered.

Ms. Tharp introduces us to something she calls ‘scratching.’ Scratching is a term she uses to describe how she gets her ideas. “It’s like digging through everything to find something. It’s like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward.” Anything that comes across your path is fair game for scratching. It might be through reading, conversation, other people’s handiwork, mentors or heroes or nature.

Once the scratching has led you to some gems of ideas or to “those intriguing little tickles at the corners of your brain that tell you something is interesting to you without your quite knowing why”, then what?

Well, here’s where things get fun. Twyla Tharp declares that “before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box.” And to that end she gets a box and into the box goes all the results of her scratching. This might include books, music, photos, newspaper clippings, recipes, a napkin with notes on it, journals, trinkets. You get the idea.

It’s kind of like your own personal 3D Pinterest board that becomes home base for your project. You can always go back to it to refocus when you feel like you’ve lost your way. You can mine it again for new ideas and knowing it is there confirms you are well rehearsed for your upcoming production.

After reading this book I went down into the depths of my basement on a search for a box. An empty shoe box revealed itself and now it sits underneath my desk. I have written the words “Project Postcard” on top in black marker for a project I am currently working on. And now, if you will excuse me my friends, I will go and put this book into my box.

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Barb Brittain-Marshall

ABOUT Barb Brittain-Marshall

Barb Brittain-Marshall is addicted to reading. Seriously, it has become a bit of a problem. Stacks of books clutter her home. She fears an intervention is close at hand...
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