Creativity is not a gift from the gods, says Twyla Tharp, bestowed by some divine and mystical spark. It is the product of preparation and effort, and it's within reach of everyone who wants to achieve it. All it takes is the willingness to make creativity a habit, an integral part of your life: In order to be creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative. In The Creative Habit, Tharp takes the lessons she has learned in her remarkable thirty-five-year career and shares them with you, whatever creative impulses you follow -- whether you are a painter, composer, writer, director, choreographer, or, for that matter, a businessperson working on a deal, a chef developing a new dish, a mother wanting her child to see the world anew.
When Tharp is at a creative dead end, she relies on a lifetime of exercises to help her get out of the rut, and The Creative Habit contains more than thirty of them to ease the fears of anyone facing a blank beginning and to open the mind to new possibilities.
Tharp's exercises are practical and immediately doable -- for the novice or expert. In "Where's Your Pencil?" she reminds us to observe the world -- and get it down on paper. In "Coins and Chaos," she provides the simplest of mental games 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 how to clean your cluttered mind overnight.
To Tharp, sustained creativity begins with rituals, self-knowledge, harnessing your memories, and organizing your materials (so no insight is ever lost). Along the way she leads you by the hand through the painful first steps of scratching for ideas, finding the spine of your work, and getting out of ruts into productive grooves. In her creative realm, optimism rules. An empty room, a bare desk, a blank canvas can be energizing, not demoralizing. And in this inventive, encouraging book, Twyla Tharp shows us how to take a deep breath and begin!
Perhaps the leading choreographer of her generation, Tharp offers a thesis on creativity that is more complex than its self-help title suggests. To be sure, an array of prescriptions and exercises should do much to help those who feel some pent-up inventiveness to find a system for turning idea into product, whether that be a story, a painting or a song. This free-wheeling interest across various creative forms is one of the main points that sets this book apart and leads to its success. The approach may have been born of the need to reach an audience greater than choreographer hopefuls, and the diversity of examples (from Maurice Sendak to Beethoven on one page) frees the student to develop his or her own patterns and habits, rather than imposing some regimen that works for Tharp. The greatest number of illustrations, however, come from her experiences. As a result, this deeply personal book, while not a memoir, reveals much about her own struggles, goals and achievements. Finally, the book is also a rumination on the nature of creativity itself, exploring themes of process versus product, the influences of inspiration and rigorous study, and much more. It deserves a wide audience among general readers and should not be relegated to the self-help section of bookstores.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Simon & Schuster
September 29, 2003
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Excerpt from The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Chapter One: I Walk into a White Room I walk into a large white room. It's a dance studio in midtown Manhattan. I'm wearing a sweatshirt, faded jeans, and Nike cross-trainers. The room is lined with eight-foot-high mirrors. There's a boom box in the corner. The floor is clean, virtually spotless if you don't count the thousands of skid marks and footprints left there by dancers rehearsing. Other than the mirrors, the boom box, the skid marks, and me, the room is empty.In five weeks I'm flying to Los Angeles with a troupe of six dancers to perform a dance program for eight consecutive evenings in front of twelve hundred people every night. It's my troupe. I'm the choreographer. I have half of the program in hand -- a fifty-minute ballet for all six dancers set to Beethoven's twenty-ninth piano sonata, the "Hammerklavier." I created the piece more than a year ago on many of these same dancers, and I've spent the past few weeks rehearsing it with the company.The other half of the program is a mystery. I don't know what music I'll be using. I don't know which dancers I'll be working with. I have no idea what the costumes will look like, or the lighting, or who will be performing the music. I have no idea of the length of the piece, although it has to be long enough to fill the second half of a full program to give the paying audience its money's worth.The length of the piece will dictate how much rehearsal time I need. This, in turn, means getting on the phone to dancers, scheduling studio time, and getting the ball rolling -- all on the premise that something wonderful will come out of what I fashion in the next few weeks in this empty white room.My dancers expect me to deliver because my choreography represents their livelihood. The presenters in Los Angeles expect the same because they've sold a lot of tickets to people with the promise that they'll see something new and interesting from me. The theater owner (without really thinking about it) expects it as well; if I don't show up, his theater will be empty for a week. That's a lot of people, many of whom I've never met, counting on me to be creative.But right now I'm not thinking about any of this. I'm in a room with the obligation to create a major dance piece. The dancers will be here in a few minutes. What are we going to do?To some people, this empty room symbolizes something profound, mysterious, and terrifying: the task of starting with nothing and working your way toward creating something whole and beautiful and satisfying. It's no different for a writer rolling a fresh sheet of paper into his typewriter (or more likely firing up the blank screen on his computer), or a painter confronting a virginal canvas, a sculptor staring at a raw chunk of stone, a composer at the piano with his fingers hovering just above the keys. Some people find this moment -- the moment before creativity begins -- so painful that they simply cannot deal with it. They get up and walk away from the computer, the canvas, the keyboard; they take a nap or go shopping or fix lunch or do chores around the house. They procrastinate. In its most extreme form, this terror totally paralyzes people.The blank space can be humbling. But I've faced it my whole professional life. It's my job. It's also my calling. Bottom line: Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.I'm a dancer and choreographer. Over the last 35 years, I've created 130 dances and ballets. Some of them are good, some less good (that's an understatement -- some were public humiliations). I've worked with dancers in almost every space and environment you can imagine. I've rehearsed in cow pastures. I've rehearsed in hundreds of studios, some luxurious in their austerity and expansiveness, others filthy and gritty, with rodents literally racing around the edges of the room. I've spent eight months on a film set in Prague, choreographing the dances and directing the opera sequence