The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

The Creative Habit: Learn it and use it for life (2003)
Twyla Tharp
245 pages

I read The Creative Habit a few weeks ago and have been meaning to write something about this wonderful book.

I usually don’t read books about creativity and creative thinking. I prefer to read about the writing and reading experiences of others, but after reading about this book on another blog, I wanted to give it a try. Being a mom and a student, I sometimes feel like I need something different in my life. The Creative Habit gave me many ideas to use in not just my everyday life, but also when I blog.

The Creative Habit is choreographer Tharp’s manifesto on creativity. Divided into twelve chapters, each chapter deals with a different aspect of creativity and ends with exercises the author suggests readers use. Her topics range from finding a ritual to the different types of memory, from what a good idea looks like to being in a rut and failures. This isn’t a book designed just for artists but for everyone. One of the most surprising things I read is when Tharp talks about creativity being a habit, a discipline.

Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this? . . .The ritual erases the question of whether or not I like it. It’s also a friendly reminder I’m doing the right thing. (I’ve done it before. It was good. I’ll do it again.) We all have rituals in our day, whether we’re aware of them or not.

It made me realize that one of my morning rituals is to make a pot of coffee before I do anything else. Once it’s made I can sit down and do what is that’s needed for the day. Making a pot of coffee is my start to conquering the world around me.

I also noticed that throughout the book Tharp stresses that what works for one person may not work for another. There were exercises and suggestions that I took notes on and many that I didn’t bother with. I was talking about this book on Twitter with a fellow blogger when she stated that the number of physical exercises turned her off. I thought about that. There are exercises that involve the physical movement of the body. I’m not really a physical person though I understand that as a former dancer Tharp is. So those exercises I wasn’t really looking at.

My favorite chapter is definitely the chapter on “scratching”.

You can’t just dance or paint or write or sculpt. Those are just verbs. You need a tangible idea to get you going. The idea, however minuscule, is what turns the verb into a noun-paint into a painting, sculpt into sculpture, write into writing, dance into a dance.

Don’t you just love that? Scratching is a way of finding ideas to fuel your creativity. You can scratch by going through books or visiting different stores, by taking a walk, having a conversation, or traveling. Included in the chapter is tips to keep generating new ideas.

One of my favorite exercises from the book is entitled “reading archaelogically”. In the exercise, Tharp writes why she reads and various ways she read. One example is her suggestion to readers to conduct their own reading dig. A reading dig is when you take an author or subject and starting with the most recent of texts, read your way backwards to older texts. Along the way you take note of recurring themes and style, learning as you go.

Overall I had a great time reading this book. It gave me a lot of ideas when it comes to blogging and I’m glad I read it. Highly recommended.

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5 thoughts on “The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

  1. I had this book in my hands at the book store just the other day, but decided on another choice instead. Now of course, I wish I had bought it. Like you, the notion of “scratching” is an appealing one to me. Now I wonder how she suggests to funnel the ideas generated? Hmmm.

  2. I also don’t usually go in for “how to be creative” books, but I have to say, this one sounds like something I might really enjoy, and I remember you tweeting about it, too, which perked my interest in the first place. Also (shallow thought ahead!) I really love the author’s name.

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