Notes on The Creative Habit

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp is the first of several books I’m planning to read on the creative process. Tharp’s book is a great place to start, as it contains many nuggets of useful information on fashioning a creative life that can be put into practice immediately. Although Tharp’s art is dance, her advice is general enough to apply to any creative pursuit, even cooking, yoga, or gardening, and of course, writing. I found it very inspirational and wanted to share my reading notes, which may be of interest. I hope if you are intrigued that you go ahead and read the whole book–it’s worth it.

Rituals of preparation: Begin each day the same way. Commit to a creative practice by starting with a ritual. Create a working environment that’s habit forming. Distractions and fears are the enemy!

Twyla says: “…there is no one ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself.”

That’s why following someone else’s prescription for creativity may not work!

Creative DNA: How do you see? What is your focal length: close up, medium, or long view?

Harness memory: Experiences and memories are the source of art. Find new ways to connect the memories that you’ve stored.

Twyla says: “Metaphor is the lifeblood of all art.”

Start with a box: When starting a new project, put everything about that project together into a box,* including research, notes, inspiration. (*A blog can be a “box.”)

Scratching: the process of getting started and finding ideas. Look everywhere. Read! You can’t stop with one idea–a workable idea is the combination of two separate ideas.

Accidents: Have a plan/don’t over plan. Be open to luck and happy accidents. Run with them when they occur. Limits on resources can help creativity.

Creativity as an act of defiance: Why do I have to obey the rules? Why can’t I be different? Why can’t I do it my way?

Spine*: the first strong idea/your intentions/motive for existence. Stick to your spine and your piece will work. The audience does not have to know what it is. It guides you and keeps you going. It’s a gift you give yourself to make the work easier.

*This is the key chapter in the book, the one most important piece of wisdom to take away.

Thought: Could you have a spine not only for creative projects, but for phases of your life?

Skill: You need to develop your skills to be truly great. Combine skill with passion. Learn to do for yourself to broaden your skills. Practice (diligence+habit) to keep your skills. Never take fundamentals for granted.

Inexperience erases fear–you don’t know what is not possible. Switch genres or to another skill set.

Ruts and grooves: There will come a time when creativity fails you. A rut: you’re spinning your wheels; the world is moving on while you’re standing still. Ruts are caused by bad ideas, bad timing, or bad luck. A rut is sticking to old methods without taking into account how you’ve changed (“always done it this way”). Question everything except your ability to get out of the rut.

First see the rut; second, admit you’re in a rut; third, get out of the rut. You may need to change your environment. You may need a new idea; set an aggressive quota. You may need to challenge or reverse your assumptions; practice this.

A groove: moving forward without hitches; learning, growing, stretching, being at your best. The call to a creative life is not supposed to be torture. Does it give you pain (a rut) or pleasure (a groove)?

Build a bridge to the next day. Write your intention down and read it first thing on the following day.

An A in failure: The creative act is editing out the ideas that don’t work. You do your best work after your biggest disasters. Failure is necessary, but you must be willing to learn from your failures. Build failure into the process; invite criticism and learn from it.

  • failure of skill: develop skills
  • failure of concept: move on to something else
  • failure of judgment: be a tyrant
  • failure of nerve: looking foolish is good for you
  • failure through repetition: try something new
  • failure from denial: admit when something is not working

The long run: Be in the bubble. Be willing to subtract everything that disconnects you from your work. (The most difficult advice to put into practice!)

Essay of the week: Exposure

Sally Mann’s Exposure – NYTimes.com: a beautiful essay about art, motherhood and the clash between private and public lives.