'The Creative Habit' by Twyla Tharp
reviewed by J. Zimmerman

Dancing Up Your Ladder
J. Zimmerman reviews
The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp.

Buy 'The Creative Habit' The Creative Habit : Learn it and Use it for Life
by Twyla Tharp.
This is the best book I read in 2003. It inspires the reader to move into the creative zone and do the work essential to being any kind of professional artist. Twyla Tharp (the leading and innovative choreographer) is a brilliant mentor and a no-nonsense delight.

Brendan McCarthy, in her marvelous review in Ballet Magazine, writes:

[Twyla Tharp] is a Puritan, has great certainties and is impatient of ambiguity ("I don't like grey. That is how I am.").
... The core of her argument is in the book's title: that creativity is less a matter of genius than of disciplined work habits. Her rituals - notably her daily two-hour gym session beginning at 5.30 a.m. - matter; not merely because they shape her day, but because they are a source of strength when creativity is barren and inspiration comes slow.

Read the book. Do the exercises. Do your art.

Twyla Tharp is relentless in bringing you the good news:

All it takes is consistent effort, organization, and commitment. Show up with dedication. Do the work with full commitment.

Through 12 chapters and 32 exercises, Twyla Tharp shows you how to discover the rungs of your ladder and how to climb with discipline, consistency, and grace. Here's how, chapter by chapter.

And we urge you to buy your own copy of The Creative Habit, so that you can read the text and exercises.

The chapters are:

  1. "I Walk into a White Room."
    She begins by addressing "the task of starting with nothing and working your way toward creating something whole and beautiful and satisfying." Creativity is for everyone, not "artists" alone, but also engineers, parents, children, business people.

    She writes:

    She urges you to do the exercises she provides, as their purpose is to help you to develop the thing that causes you to read her book - they help you develop your creative skills.

  2. "Rituals of Preparation."
    She describes her rituals as:

    These are vital to her and she advocates that you establish yours.

    What do you fear? Mockery? Rejection? Incompetence? What do you allow to distract you? Movies? Numbers? Music? Your rituals, urges Tharp, help you focus on what you intend to do.

    Then she has 4 exercises. One is to figure out "what is the one tool that feeds your creativity and is so essential that without it you feel naked and unprepared." Another has you take a week without one of the things that is a distraction - newspapers, say, or speaking.

  3. "Your Creative DNA."
    To help define what is your own "Creative DNA," do one of the best exercises in the book, which is the set of 33 questions to describe your "Creative Autobiography."

    Then she has 2 more exercises. My favorite is the one on watching a pair of people and listing what they do, particularly the "interesting" actions.

  4. "Harness Your Memory."
    Use different mechanisms of memory - muscle memory, virtual memory, sensual memory, etc.

    Then she has 3 more exercises. As a non-dancer, I am interested in her "muscle memory" exercise.

  5. "Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box."
    This is a WONDERFUL section for someone who needs help getting organized. By using a box, you avoid the paralysis of the blank page. Keep putting stuff in the box, and taking it out, shuffling it, discovering new organizations, connections, and ideas.

    Then she has 1 exercise on how to begin.

  6. "Scratching."
    This is about the generation of ideas, maybe from reading, conversation, handiwork, mentors, or nature.

    She has 5 exercises on Scratching. Her favorite is "Chaos and coins." I am drawn to "Reading Archaeologically" and "A Dozen Eggs." Check out her book for what works for you.

  7. "Accidents will Happen."
    Don't get hooked on perfectionism, the wrong materials, or unlimited resources.

    Then she has 4 more exercises. One of my favorites is to be generous. Another is to work with the best.

  8. "Spine."
    She writes:

    How do you find the Spine? Induce it with Ritual. Discover it by talking about your project to a friend, by recalling your original intention. Read her book to learn more.

    Then she has 3 exercises. My favorite is the Metaphor Quotient.

  9. "Skill."
    She writes:

    Then she has 3 more exercises. I love her approach to taking a skill inventory. I am surprised by the skill that is the most important to her:

  10. "Ruts and Grooves."
    Sometimes your creativity fails you. You're in a rut. This is very important at the dangerous time when you might be tempted to abandon a project.

    She looks at how you enter a rut and how you get out of it. She has 4 exercises to help you clamber out.

  11. "An 'A' in Failure."
    She writes:

    Is it a failure of Skill? of Concept? of Judgment? of Nerve? of Repetition? of Denial?

    She describes a specific public situation where she had to cope with Failure and shows how she worked her way through that.

    Then she has 2 exercises, including Building Your Own Validation Squad.

  12. "The Long Run."
    This is when you find out if you can make her kind of commitment.

    She writes:

    She describes the way she is most productive, in a creative bubble:

We highly recommend The Creative Habit : Learn it and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp.

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