The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

by Twyla Tharp

In The Creative Habit, author Twyla Tharp unveils the transformative power of cultivating creativity as a daily practice. With the belief that anyone can tap into their creative potential, Tharp provides practical strategies for generating mind-blowing ideas, getting to the heart of their work, and breaking free from creative ruts. With an invigorating perspective on the vast realm of creative possibilities, this book empowers individuals to take that essential first step, inspiring them to breathe deeply and embark on their creative journeys.

Summary Notes

Rituals of Preparation

Establishing rituals at the beginning of the creative process is important. That's because at this stage, we're most likely to doubt ourselves, chicken out, give up, or head in the wrong direction. So, having rituals can be a game-changer.

The great thing about rituals is that they take away the need to question why we're doing something or whether we even like it. When we have a ritual, we just do it without overthinking. It's a friendly reminder that we're on the right track and doing what we're supposed to be doing.

We all have rituals in our daily lives, even if we don't realize it. Take Igor Stravinsky, the composer, for example. Every morning when he entered his studio, he would sit at the piano and play a Bach fugue. That was his ritual to get into the creative zone. There are also painters who can't work in their studios without blasting energetic music. And there's even a writer who prefers to write outside because they don't want to miss out on the inspiration of a beautiful day.

The point is, many creative people have rituals connected to their working environment. By creating these rituals, they set the stage for their creative day.

Keep in mind that there's no one-size-fits-all formula for creativity. What works for one person might not work for another. The only thing that matters is finding an environment where you feel comfortable and inspired. It should be a place where your creativity can flow without any hindrances. Once you find that sweet spot, stick with it and make it a habit.

Actions to take

Harnessing Your Memory

Memory plays a vital role in creativity because it allows us to store a wide range of information, including both significant and seemingly insignificant data, images, and experiences from our lives.

Creativity is all about making connections between the things we remember—facts, fiction, and feelings. And one of the most powerful tools for making those connections is metaphor. Metaphor is the lifeblood of art itself. It helps us express what we remember and interpret it, both for ourselves and for others.

Metaphor, according to Cynthia Ozick, has the ability to transform the unfamiliar into something familiar. Even the simplest metaphors, such as Homer's description of wine as a dark sea, rely on our existing knowledge of wine to understand and relate to the concept of the sea. If we consider all art to be metaphorical, then it becomes evident that memory is the foundation of all artistic expression.

Actions to take

Starting with a Box to Think Out of the Box

Thinking outside the box is a way of approaching a project from different perspectives and coming up with creative solutions.

Here's a simple way to do it: Get yourself a box, write the name of your project on it, and start filling it with things related to your project. You can gather notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes, books, photos, and pieces of art that inspire you.

The idea is to collect items that spark your creativity and keep you connected to your original idea. The more thought and effort you put into filling up the box, the better your creative output will be.

The box also serves as a way to reflect on your performance and think about the directions you didn't explore. Essentially, it's a reminder to step back and widen your horizons so you can find the solutions you're looking for.

Actions to take

Scratching For Ideas

Starting a creative endeavor can feel like stumbling around in the dark, with no clear direction or purpose. It's a chaotic and uncertain process, where you're busy but don't know where you're headed. That's when scratching comes in handy.

Scratching is all about digging deep and exploring everything around you to find inspiration. It involves finding connections between different things and using those connections to generate ideas. For example, if you're a fashion designer, you might visit vintage stores, watch music videos, explore unique places like rock quarries, or read books to get your creative juices flowing.

When you're scratching, pay attention to the ideas that excite you and lead to even more ideas. Sometimes, the tiniest spark can ignite a whole chain of thoughts. Musicians understand this well because composing a song rarely happens all at once. They refer to their snippets of inspiration as lines, riffs, hooks, or licks. That's what they search for when they're scratching for an idea.

There are many ways to scratch for ideas. If you're a storyteller or songwriter, you can listen to everyday conversations for inspiration. You can also find ideas by appreciating the work of others, whether it's visiting museums, watching plays, or exploring art exhibitions. Another approach is to follow in the footsteps of your mentors and heroes, using their styles as a starting point for your own ideas. Lastly, immersing yourself in nature can be surprisingly inspiring. For example, renowned composers like Mozart and Beethoven drew inspiration from listening to birds.

However, the tricky part about scratching is that you can't stop at just one idea. It's like connecting the dots in an empty room. You start with A, but you need to keep going to B, C, and so on until you reach your destination, which might be H. The goal is to combine ideas and find connections between seemingly unrelated things. That's when you truly have a workable idea.

Scratching is a messy and unpredictable process, but there are a few tips to make it more manageable:

  • Stay in shape: Just like athletes perform better when they're in good physical condition, you'll come up with ideas more easily if you've been consistently practicing your craft.
  • Scratch in the best places: Similar to how sculptors choose the best materials to work with, seek inspiration from the best sources in your field. Read the works of top writers, study the masterpieces of renowned artists, or pay attention to the movies made by the greatest directors. Surrounding yourself with excellence raises the quality of the ideas you'll encounter.
  • Try different approaches: Don't keep scratching the same way every time. If you want fresh ideas, you need to explore different methods and perspectives.
  • Maintain a sense of urgency: Sometimes, you need to give yourself a little push. Just like when a boss gets angry in a meeting, and everyone springs into action, use a bit of self-imposed pressure to fuel your creativity. It might be frustration or anger, but it can give you the adrenaline rush you need to break through a creative block.

Remember, scratching isn't about control and calmness. It's about unleashing your energy and letting it collide with everything around you. Sometimes, that collision produces sparks and sets off a chain reaction of ideas.

Actions to take

Balancing Planning and Spontaneity for Productive Work

Productive artists understand the importance of having a plan when they start working. They know what they want to achieve, how to do it, and how to adjust if things don't go as planned. But there's a fine line between good planning and overplanning. You don't want your plan to hinder the natural flow of your work.

Think of a plan like the scaffolding around a building. It's important when you're constructing the exterior to provide support and structure. But once the exterior is done and you move inside, the scaffolding is taken down. A plan should be solid enough to guide the initial stages of your work, but it shouldn't dominate the entire process. The truth is, creative ideas rarely follow a strict plan.

Since you can't map out every detail involved in the creative process in advance, you have to be open to unexpected changes, new perspectives, and accidental sparks of inspiration. Embrace them as lucky moments rather than disruptions to your perfect plan. Being lucky and being prepared go hand in hand. You can't be lucky without preparation, and there's no point in preparing if you're not open to fortunate accidents.

There are common problems that can derail your plan: relying too much on others, overthinking the structure, feeling obligated to finish what you started even if it doesn't fit your vision anymore, and using the wrong materials or tools. Being aware of these pitfalls can help you navigate your creative process more effectively and ensure that your plan supports your artistic growth rather than stifling it.

Actions to take

Getting Out of Creative Ruts

Sometimes, no matter how many good habits you've developed or how organized you are, there will come a time when your creativity just hits a wall. It's like being stuck in a rut. You're revving your engine, but you're not going anywhere. People around you start getting annoyed, your collaborators get bored, and you feel like everyone else is progressing while you're standing still. You might even start feeling frustrated and relieved when you finish something, instead of excited about it.

Ruts happen for different reasons, like having bad ideas, bad timing, bad luck, or just sticking to the same old methods that no longer work for you. To get out of a rut, you need to take action and get your creative engine running again.

So, how do you break free from a rut? Well, it's a three-step process. First, you have to recognize that you're in a rut, and second, you have to admit that you're stuck in it. This can be tough because it means acknowledging that you've made a mistake or that your current approach isn't working. It's not always easy to admit, but it's necessary if you want to move forward.

Finally, it's time to actually break out of the rut. If you find yourself in a deeper rut, what you truly need is a fresh idea. One effective way to generate new ideas is to set an aggressive quota for yourself. When you challenge yourself to come up with a large number of ideas within a specific timeframe, it activates your competitive instincts. Rather than panicking or feeling overwhelmed, you become more focused and agile in your thinking, leading to increased fluency and creativity.

Another way to break free is by questioning your assumptions. Just like when your car is stuck, you put it in reverse to see if that helps. The same goes for your ideas. Challenge them, poke at them, and see if they hold up. Often, we get so caught up in the excitement of a new idea that we forget to put it to the test. By questioning your assumptions, you might realize that they've been leading you astray. Try switching things up and see if that sparks some new energy.

By following these steps—recognizing the rut, admitting to it, and taking proactive measures to break free—you can reignite your creativity and regain momentum in your creative endeavors.

Actions to take

Don’t just read. Act.
Read comprehensive summaries and discover carefully compiled action lists for active learning