Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Creative Habit

The quote in my sidebar from Aristotle really spoke to me this morning when I read it. It led me to my bookshelf to seek out one of my favorite books, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. Funny, this is the second time I've thought of this book in two days. To me, it's a sign. That book must have something to teach me today...

Yesterday, I was both surprised and delighted to note that it was included in Josh Kaufman's The Personal MBA Recommended Reading List: The 77 Best Business Books In Print. I was surprised because I wouldn't typically expect to see this book on a "business book" list and delighted because I think it really belongs there.

This book was published in 2003 so it's not new. But, like every truly good book, it's new again to me every time I pull it down from my bookshelf. Much more than a self-help book, this book discusses all stages of the creative process and is somewhat autobiographical. The author, Twyla Tharp, is one of the best dance choreographers of our day, creating over 130 dances for Broadway musicals and the best ballet companies in the world. This book is practical and approachable and provides countless strategies for approaching a creative life. It is a treatise on not only the process of creativity but the results of creativity and how one cannot exist without the other. It's creatively written, using various font sizes and colors -- only 250 pages and a quick read.

Above all, this book, like the Velveteen Rabbit is real. It has become more real for me the more I use it. Twyla Tharp recognizes we are human. She expects failure, she expects creative ruts, she expects life to overwhelm our creativity at times and she gives brilliantly simple suggestions for overcoming these ruts. Interruptions are inevitable...don't be crushed by them, expect them, manage them, make them part of who you are, and move on to further greatness...I love it.

Here are some of the things she says:

  1. After so many years, I've learned that being creative is a full-time job with its own daily patterns.
  2. Creativity is not just for artists. It's for business people looking for a new way to close a sale; it's for engineers trying to solve a problem; it's for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.
  3. Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.
  4. In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative...there's a process that generates creativity -- and you can learn it. And you can make it habitual.
I know why I was supposed to pull down this book today. The Summer always throws me into a creative tailspin. Vacations, adventures, sports activities are wonderful fodder for my creativity but the time left to actually produce is lessened.

As we approach the start of school, I'm excited! Excited to prepare for those days of productive creativity. Chapter 2 of The Creative Habit talks exclusively about Rituals of Preparation, or for me, preparing myself for the creative time when Jack is at school. I'll leave you today with one of my favorite excerpts from her begins Chapter 2.

I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30am, put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.

It's a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualizes it- makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently. It is one more item in my arsenal of routines, and one less thing to think about.


Debra Dixon said...

Good, thought provoking post. For me, the best way to be creative and to continue to be creative is to do it everyday. I treat my studio days like work days. I show up and I do something.

I went through The Artist Way and one of the things I learned is that you cannot be creative unless you show up & do the work. Inspiration is one thing but making that inspiration into something creative that you have done yourself is a whole different animal.

Routines are vital to the creative process for me too. Without them it's just fondling fabric and daydreaming. It's fun while it lasts but it doesn't get anything done.

allie aller said...

I'm with Debra all the way here.
8 to 12 a.m. is my creative "prime time", each and every day unless life intervenes...but I keep my calendar as white as possible so that it doesn't. (Except for a certain engagement this coming May...)
Excellent post!

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