The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life, by Twila Tharp
Although I consider myself a generally creative person, especially when it comes to the written word, I have long found it useful to read about what others think and how others practice their own creativity to see if I can learn from their own insights and experience and perspective, especially where it is different from my own. Twila Tharp is herself an intensely creative dancer and choreographer, a world that I do not know much nor am I involved with. The fact that I found her approach to be creativity to be broadly similar to my own, based on a great deal of hard work, the establishment of clear and consistent patterns, and also the conscious breaking of ruts so that one is not simply going over the same ground over and over again. The author shares a great deal of her own personal experiences, both her triumphs as well as her struggles, and even points out the way that the world of choreography works and how it is that one can be flexible enough to solve problems relating to there not being enough dancers, or the time the dancers have to learn new routines being very limited, which was of interest to me.
In about 250 pages, including some photos, the author discusses the development of creative habits in twelve chapters. She begins by talking about her white room, where she begins the process of creating dances, which would be analogous to the empty page or screen or canvas that other creators have to deal with (1). After this there is a discussion of the rituals of preparation that help creativity flow (2), the creative DNA that is within us that influences what and how we create (3), and the way that we can harness our memory to overcome problems (4). The author talks about how we must start with a box to think outside of it (5), showing an awareness of the importance of genre conventions, and how it is that we scratch for new insights (6). The author talks about the fact that accidents will happen (7), and that one needs a spine to keep a work together (8) as well as skill in working out one’s creation (9). The author then closes with chapters that examine ruts and grooves (10) from our habits and familiarity as well as how we fail successfully (11) and what we need to be creative and successful in the long run (12), after which the book closes with acknowledgments.
Overall, there is a great deal about this book that can be appreciated. Although the author’s creative sphere is very distinct from my own, she has worked with a great many people in other fields and she also has a great deal of respect for other creative people as diverse as Billy Joel (whose music she turned into the successful Broadway hit “Movin’ Out”), novelist Philip Roth, and comedian Buster Keaton, and how they work. By and large, the author focuses exactly where she should focus on, and that is in helping the reader to develop successful habits as well as expand one’s comfortable areas through deliberate experimentation, and to appreciate constraints for the way that they answer questions and focus one’s thinking on creative problem solving. In reading the book it is clear that the author is of the belief that creativity is something that can be done by a wide group of people and is by no means limited to a narrow class of society, and also is of the belief that creativity requires purposeful and consistent and diligent effort in order to build up skill even as one uses that skill to generate novelty in some fashion.