Creativity is not a gift from the gods, says Twyla Tharp, bestowed by some divine and mystical spark. It is the product of preparation and effort, and it's within reach of everyone who wants to achieve it. All it takes is the willingness to make creativity a habit, an integral part of your life: In order to be creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative. In The Creative Habit, Tharp takes the lessons she has learned in her remarkable thirty-five-year career and shares them with you, whatever creative impulses you follow-whether you are a painter, composer, writer, director, choreographer, or for that matter, a businessperson working on a deal, a chef developing a new dish, a mother wanting her child to see the world anew. When Tharp is at a creative dead end, she relies on a lifetime of exercises to help her get out of the rut, and the Creative Habit contains more than thirty of them to ease the fears of anyone facing a blank beginning and to open the mind to new possibilities. Tharp's exercises are practical and immediately doable-for the novice or expert. In Where's Your Pencil? she reminds us to observe the world-and get it down on paper. In "Coins and Chaos," she provides the simplest of mental games to restore order and peace. In Do a Verb, she turns your mind and body into coworkers. In Build a Bridge to the Next Day, she shows how to clean your cluttered mind overnight. To Tharp, sustained creativity begins with rituals, self-knowledge, harnessing your memories, and organizing your materials (so no insight is ever lost). Along the way she leads you by the hand through the painful first steps of scratching for ideas, finding the spine of your work, and getting out of ruts into productive grooves. In her creative realm, optimism rules. An empty room, a bare desk, a blank canvas can be energizing, not demoralizing. And in this inventive, encouraging book, Twyla Tharp shows us how to take a deep breath and begin!
Creativity does not lend itself to being put in a bucket, locked in a box, or sealed in an envelope. I agree that creativity must become a habit, but to build such strictures around the approach can limit the effectiveness of such creativity.
I say this realizing full well that Ms. Tharp's creativity cannot be questioned. She has not received her dance world accolades without an incredible amount of talent, skill, and...creativity. And that is why I have to temper all comments with the realization that no one approach to creativity works for every person. My disorder, disarray, dissonance, and disorganization will not work for everyone. Neither will Ms. Tharp's structured approaches.
And, I have to realize that, in spite of how I was put off by the beginning of this book, I came away with a number of good ideas on how to approach and drive creativity. Spoiler Alert! This review is going to end with the recommendation that you read this book.
But, to start, I was so put off by the beginning of the book that I almost didn't continue. What was the problem? Well, skipping the fact that the second chapter was titled "Rituals of Preparation" (based on my previous comments, you can see how I might be rankled by such a title), following are some of the off-putting quotes from the first chapter.
"I've learned that being creative is a full-time job with its own daily patterns. That's why...the most productive [writers] get started early in the morning , when the world is quiet..." I agree with the first sentence. The second is a gross generalization. I know many writers need a daily pattern. But some use mornings, some use afternoons, some use evenings, some use rum, and some waste time until the muse strikes – any moment, any time. Morning can be a good time to get work done. But that does not mean it is the best time to accomplish creativity.
"The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more." The habit of instilling creativity is a good thing. But "routine" – even a routine to develop creativity – does as much to inhibit creativity as drive it. The basic meaning of routine implies rote practices and repetitive processes. Here's a definition of routine taken from dictionary.com. "Regular, unvarying, habitual, unimaginative, or rote procedure." These are not the building blocks of creativity. I recognize that Ms. Tharp is trying to emphasize the habits of creativity, but an emphasis on routine may be more detrimental than beneficial.
"I will keep stressing the point about creativity being augmented by routine and habit...It is the perennial debate...between the beliefs that all creative acts are born of (a) some transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration...or (b) hard work. I come down on the side of hard work." I agree that creativity is augmented by routine and hard work. And it is definitely true that no one can succeed without training, learning, foot-pounds of energy spent at the typewriter/computer/canvas/instrument like Nemo blasting away at the Toccata and Fugue. But hard work and habits are not the answer. You can't sell me that particular piece of swamp land. Part of the process, yes; but not the answer.
Here is my problem with what I call "Structured Creativity". I am fine with developing patterns that help you reach your creative center. What I am not fine with is when someone believes that is the only way creativity will work. When you delve into how ideas are formed, some of the best arrive in situations away from normal work/thought/creative environments. It is about letting synapses connect when you least expect it. Serendipity, when allowed its head, strikes at the darnedest times.
But, in spite of all my ranting, my raving, my beating of breast, my cries into the wilderness, I think this is a book anyone interesting in creativity should read. [The crowd shies away, aghast at the inferred duplicity of the writer.] In fact, I recently gave a presentation on creativity and ended by including this book on the suggested reading list.
How, after all my castigations, can I suggest you read this book? Because within are some really good ideas about how creativity can be driven. And, while I don't agree with the formulaic approach Ms. Tharp promotes, I do believe people have to develop a certain "habit" of creativity which will help it occur without really thinking about it.
There are some good ideas in here – tools and techniques and suggestions that can invigorate creative processes. And that leads to my final recommendation – go for the tools and techniques and ideas, and ignore the overall structure. In other words, don't make her habits your habits, but wantonly steal her ideas.
So I really can’t explain it. Maybe I’m just off a bit in my reading. In any case, for me, it was just meh.
Read in 2015.
This book was well organized in a way that any creative professional or aspiring creative professional can see a bullet point list of the exact stages of creativity and pinpoint where his or her focus should be at different times. Many exercises are also given for each chapter to assist in nurturing these best practices and excelling at creative endeavors. This book is one that is good to keep on hand and refer back to for a refresher anytime you get in a "rut". Although I feel that she focuses a little more on choreography and dance than necessary, I still thoroughly enjoyed the book, even if I didn't really follow some of the concepts when referencing her profession. I also didn't find those parts of the book particularly helpful or enjoyable, but some of the content did provide supporting elements.
I would recommend this book to anyone struggling with their creativity, desiring to become more of a creative person or starting a new creative endeavor, or a professional creative even just to go back and master some of the basic elements that may be skipped or breezed pass out of habit and repetitiveness. As a creative professional myself, I will be referencing this book often and using the exercises to expand my creative mind.