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The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life Paperback – January 6, 2006
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All it takes to make creativity a part of your life is the willingness to make it a habit. It is the product of preparation and effort, and is within reach of everyone. Whether you are a painter, musician, businessperson, or simply an individual yearning to put your creativity to use, The Creative Habit provides you with thirty-two practical exercises based on the lessons Twyla Tharp has learned in her remarkable thirty-five-year career.
In "Where's Your Pencil?" Tharp reminds you to observe the world -- and get it down on paper. In "Coins and Chaos," she gives you an easy way 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 you how to clean the clutter from your mind overnight.
Tharp leads you through the painful first steps of scratching for ideas, finding the spine of your work, and getting out of ruts and into productive grooves. The wide-open realm of possibilities can be energizing, and Twyla Tharp explains how to take a deep breath and begin...
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When I decided to read The Creative Habit right after The War of Art, I have to admit I gave myself a great big pat on the back. The War of Art was great in helping artists recognize & identify where & why Resistance stops you from doing That Creative Thing You Do, but the phrase "A Practical Guide" at the bottom of the cover of The Creative Habit made me think that it would address the "how." Sure, The War of Art really hit home with that beloved phrase, "Just do it (Every day. No matter what)," & while that's simplistic & powerful in so many ways, the artist & life coach in me wanted more. I was hoping The Creative Habit would deliver it, and it did - to a point.
The Creative Habit is divided into chapters that formulate a foundation for Tharp (Spine, Memory, Accidents, etc). She delves into personal anecdotes & advice, always followed by a suggestion of different exercises to further you along in your discovery & personal interpretation of that idea. For example, Twyla speaks often of "scratching", or the process of "digging through everything to find something" - an idea, an image, anything that'll turn into a tangible idea that'll spark your creative endeavor. One of the most memorable exercises comes at the end of the chapter, where she encourages the reader to take a handful of coins in any number & denomination & toss them onto a table to see how they fall, & then rearrange them into a pattern again & again & again, like "a musical chord resolving." I can see how it helps her, a world-renowed choreographer, come up with new configurations for her dancers. I can see, also, how it helps me, a creative person looking for a new perspective, to see infinite possibilities in something that I usually wouldn't look twice at.
Tharp lays it out on the table (i.e. "Somebody's done this before!") & then knocks it down (i.e. "Honey, it's all been done before. Get over yourself"). She also speaks of the joy of planning (not overplanning!) & imperfection, how to determine if you're in a rut, how to keep your groove going & how to deal with failure. Her advice is comforting & inspiring, all the while giving me new perspective & allowing me to feel that I wasn't alone. It's no mistake that rarely do 2 pages flip by that aren't marked by my highlighter.
I mentioned to someone (I forget who, & it's bothering me!) a while ago that I was reading the book, & she mentioned that it's tough to get through it as someone who is more of a Renaissance Soul, & is unable and/or unwilling to just throw themselves into their work. Tharp talks often about how she'll rid herself of all distractions (no music! no clocks! no numbers (yes, really - numbers)! no speaking!) & just live, breathe, think, talk & think the gym & the rehearsal studio - for weeks. She also encourages artists to "pick" a talent if they excel at more than one, as it's a curse to have a 50% chance of being wrong about their true calling. The life coach & Renaissance Soul in me super dislikes this sentiment, but I understand her stance if you're someone that wants to Master & Excel in their field - & is willing & able to chuck the rest of Life.
That said, here are my favorite exercises from the book, just waiting for journaling!:
Tharp poses 33 questions for you to answer in Your Creative Autobiography. Get out your journal & answer some of my faves (seriously - you'll totally want to):
What is the first creative moment you remember? Was anyone there to witness or appreciate it?
What is the best idea you've ever had? What made it great in your mind?
What is your creative ambition? What are the obstacles to this ambition? What are the vital steps to this ambition?
What are your habits? What patters do you repeat?
What do you & your role models have in common?
At what moments do you feel your reach exceed your grasp?
When you work, do you love the process or the result?
Pick a new name. What would you want it to say about you? What would it be? Why?
Take a field trip. Give a walk into purpose by saying that you won't return home until you have something inspiring in your hand, whether it's visual, intellectual or tangible.
For one day, be completely contrary. Pick a fight with everything you do - your wake-up routine, your rituals, your habits, your first creative impulse.
Figure out Your Perfect World. What are the rules & conditions? What's essential & what can be compromised on? Who is with you & what's surrounding you?
Bottom Line? The Creative Habit is a great book from a world-renowned artist who divulges her secrets in creating a new piece, building on it, sticking with it (both the piece as a singular unit & the career as a whole), & climbing the artistic ladder. But if you're looking for an interactive program of sorts, or something that's really gonna kick your ass into gear, I'd take a pass.
So sad. I returned it.
Despite Tharp's initial claim, in the first chapter, "I will keep stressing the point about creativity being augmented by routine and habit. Get used to it," the book quickly devolves (in my opinion) into a somewhat mediocre recitation of How-To's, such as this: "Here’s how I learned to improvise: I played some music in the studio and I started to move. It sounds obvious, but I wonder how many people, whatever their medium, appreciate the gift of improvisation."
And there are countless times when all she does, actually, is talk about being stuck, how to break up boredom, how to see the world differently, how to solve thorny problems, etc. All of it a far cry from the initial claim or foundation of the book which is habit.
This might sound crazy, but I counted my underlines, for this review. I had the sense that I found the book FAR MORE profound in the beginning, and less so in the end, and so I thought this might illustrate or support my supposition.
Chapter 1: Five
Chapter 2: Twelve
Chapter 3: One
Chapter 4: Zero
Chapter 5: Two
Chapter 6: One
Chapter 7: Two
Chapter 8: One
Chapter 9 and 10--I've lost interest and haven't finished, because the book has become (for me) a list of how-to's. At 68, with a broad range of experience and education behind me, I know the problems--and how to solve them.
Tharp is at her best when being dynamic, motivational, and inspiring, like the text you'll read in Amazon's preview of the first 2 chapters or so. But brace yourself for a more or less slog after the first 2 chapters.