The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

Big Idea: 

In order to be creative you need habits that prepare you to be creative.

Context:

Twyla Tharp is one of America’s greatest choreographers who since 1965 has created more than 130 dances for her company, the New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, London’s Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.  She has created pieces to the music of everyone from Mozart, Bach and Beethoven to Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel.

Exercise 1

Every artist has a ritual that impels them to get started on their creative task.  This automatic sequence replaces doubt and fear with comfort and routine. For Tharp, it’s getting into a cab each morning for stretching and weight training.  For a chef, it could be tending his garden. For a composer, it might be playing a Bach fugue. For a basketball player, it’s bouncing the ball 3 times before a free throw.

Identify one trigger – whether an action, surrounding, or feeling – that warms you up for your best creative work, and stick with it for one week.  Create your own mini-routine of self-reliance, and Pavlovian dog response to start creating.

Exercise 2

Tharp also believes that distractions are just as much an obstacle to creativity as fear.  She suggests subtracting dependence on creative crutches to increase creative independence, creating a protective bubble that forces you to rely on your own ability.

Take one week off distractions such as mirrors, clocks, newspapers, speaking, the internet.  That’s right. Don’t look at a mirror, a watch, a newspaper, for one week.  Subtract this clutter for one week to add more creative room.

Exercise 3

To find an idea, scratch. Dig through everything to find something.  Tharp advocates scratching for ideas through: one’s memory, environment, reading, conversation, nature, culture, mentors and heroes.  Ideas are everywhere; we just need to find them. Remember the unshakeable rule that you don’t have a really good idea until you combine two little ideas.

To get started, find the tiniest microcell of an idea that gets you going.   Scratch smaller when stuck; don’t write about the town, but rather the upper left-hand brick on the Opera house.

All good ideas open up possibilities, turn you on and keep you moving forward. A bad idea closes doors and confines.

Remember Freud’s quote: “when inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it.”

If you run out of ideas, break routine.  Travel to a different city. Read a magazine you never looked at before. Scratch in a different place. Look for new combination of ideas: metaphors.  

When presenting an idea to others, ask yourself if your idea generates forward or backward momentum.  Does the idea move people to action and create more possibilities?  Or the opposite?  Present your idea in its most generative form.

Exercise 4:

Creativity is an at of defiance.  You’re challenging the status quo and questioning accepted truths and principles.  You’re asking 3 universal questions that mock conventional wisdom: 1) why do I have to obey the rules? 2) why can’t I be different? 3) why can’t I do it my way?

Pick a fight with the 1 routine or ritual of the world.  

Quote:

“The one thing that creative souls around the world have in common is that they all have to practice to maintain their skills. Art is a vast democracy of habit.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *