The Creative Habit

Summary Written by Barb Brittain-Marshall

The Big Idea

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

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.”

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Insight #2

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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Twlya Tharp

Twyla Tharp, one of America’s greatest choreographers, began her career in 1965, and has created more than 130 dances for her company as well as for the Joffrey Ballet, The New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, London’s Royal Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre. She has won two Emmy awards for television’s Baryshnikov by Tharp, and a Tony Award for the Broadway musical Movin’ Out. The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 1993 and was made an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1997. She lives and works in New York City.

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