Among the many things that have been keeping me occupied, reading is one that is always a pleasure. I’ve recently finished Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life – Learn it and Use it for Life (Simon & Schuster 2003). This engaging treatise is both a practical guide and a focused glimpse into her own experiences with the creative process throughout her long career as a dancer and choreographer. Combining creativity research, historical wisdom and personal anecdotes, Tharp breaks the creative process down into its components and shows the reader how to navigate the many challenges intrinsic to any creative endeavor.
The book is divided into twelve chapters, each one examining an aspect of the process by which an individual can combine her talent with hard work to generate creativity. Tharp begins the first chapter by addressing the conflicting feelings people have when faced with the empty room/canvas/page, laying down her essential argument that establishing a creative habit will help one begin and ultimately work through the creative process. In subsequent chapters, she explores ways to develop creative rituals and overcome fears and distractions. She challenges readers to discover their “creative DNA” and harness their memory in order to view their world and their creativity through the lens of metaphor. She continues by discussing the importance of having an organizational system to collect creative ideas and materials, “scratching” for small, tangible ideas with which to get a creative project going, and learning how to embrace creative “accidents.” The essential elements of skill and spine (the underlying message of a work) are outlined in chapters eight and nine. Chapters ten and eleven bring the reader deep into the creative process and provide some strategies for dealing with getting stuck in a creative rut and working through failure. Finally, in chapter twelve, Tharp projects the reader into the realm of mastery by showing how all of the various aspects of the creative process come together in a “bubble,” the single-minded place where there are no distractions to keep one from working freely and maintaining the creative habit.
Tharp’s core message is that it takes skill – developed through the creative habit of exercise and repetition along with learning and reflection – to bring an idea into the world. Her premise, which she backs up with a plethora of real-life experiences, is that “when creativity becomes your habit; when you’ve learned to manage time, resources, expectations and the demands of others; when you understand the value and place of validation, continuity, and purity of purpose – then you’re on your way to the artist’s ultimate goal: the achievement of mastery.”
The Creative Habit is a motivating and encouraging guidebook that offers inspiration and practical support to any reader who wants to achieve her fullest creative potential. If that sounds like you… I wholeheartedly recommend it!