Katherine Cowley's Reviews > The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
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Oct 05, 14

bookshelves: art, nonfiction, on-writing, adult
Read in December, 2011

If there is one book on Creativity that you should read, regardless of whether you’re a filmmaker, a writer, a calligrapher, a dancer, or simply a creative coin collector, it’s Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit.

While there may be elements of inspiration in art, Tharp argues that what’s more important is the habit of creativity. The habitual work makes it possible to recognize artistic inspiration, and be prepared with the skills to do something with it. Further, you end up finding and making a lot of your own inspiration. Tharp recommends always carrying a pencil with you (for the purposes of my video blog this year, I always carry a video camera). I went to the airport a few weeks ago and thought, “it would be cool to have another plane shot.” But it still took close to a dozen shots for me to find one that spoke to me in a compelling way. Yet it was through knowing that if I kept trying and working on it that I managed to capture it.

The idea of “creative habit” resonates with me. I’ve always had a bit of a problem with Romantic (as in of Romanticism) notions of the muse, and the idea that you’re either born creative or you’re not.

Working every day on this blog—having to come up with an interesting or compelling shot even when I’m sick, distracted, or would rather be doing other things—is the best thing I could have done for my creativity this year. I’m a better filmmaker, better at finding that angle, better at holding my hand steady, better at considering lighting and composition. Perhaps more importantly, I’m a better observer of the world—a skill that translates over to all the other creative areas of my life. Perhaps if I wasn’t looking for a shot I would’ve still noticed how cool it looked when some boys were shooting hoops. And perhaps I wouldn’t have noticed. But even if I had noticed, I would have thought, “that’s interesting” and forgotten about it 10 minutes later.

Time, efforts, and the daily process are a huge part of being successful, both in life and in art. Whether you’re writing 1500 words a day for your NaNoWriMo novel, filling pages in your sketchbook, writing and posting an original sonnet every day for a year (as my friend Gideon Burton did in his project Open Source Sonnets), you’re doing something worthwhile.

The Creative Habit reconfirmed some of the creative practices I’m already using, but it also gave me a lot of ideas that will help me improve my projects, from this daily video blog to my writing. One quote that really struck me was Tharp’s paraphrase of an aphorism which I had never before heard: “I read for growth, firmly believing that what you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read” (page 110). This reminds me of another quote I was struck by recently; Thoreau wrote, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

I didn’t agree with everything Tharp wrote (for example, the idea that your creative DNA should lead you to focus on only one art form, or the bit of sacrifice-everything-for-your-art vibe that comes out in the conclusion). Yet having read this book, I feel more inspired to make a difference in the world, one creative act at a time.

(Note: this review was cross-posted from an entry on my video blog, Days of Film.)
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