The Creative Habit
Learn It and Use It For Life
by Twyla Tharp
from the flap… 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.
pg 66 It’s no different from a young person sitting with a drawing pad in a museum copying a great artist. Skill gets imprinted through the action.
If there’s a lesson here it’s: get busy copying. That’s not a popular notion today, not when we’re all instructed to find our own way, admonished to be original and find our own voice at all costs! But it’s sound advice. Traveling the paths of greatness, even in someone else’s footprints, is a vital means to acquiring skill.
pg 82 I know one magazine editor who hoards newspaper and magazine clippings. A good chunk of his day is spent with scissors in hand clipping stories, photographs, and illustrations. After he clips, he opens a file drawer and deposits the clippings on a pile of other clippings. Then he closes the drawer, letting them accumulate in the drawer’s cool darkness. He doesn’t think about them much, but he knows they are there if needed, which happens whenever a colleague wanders into his office desperate for a good idea. He’ll open the drawer again, haul out its contents on his desk, and say, ”Let’s see what we’ve got here.” Host and guest then leaf through the clippings together. Without fail, an intriguing headline or phrase or photo of someone will beget a thought that in turn suggests a story idea – the guest will depart, slightly less desperate and infinitely more inspired. The drawer, in effect, contains the editor’s pre-ideas – those intriguing little tickles at the corners of your brain that tell you when something is interesting to you without your quite knowing why.
pg 88 When a journalist gets a story assignment, he doesn’t immediately sit down and knock out a finished piece. He has a routine, which is common to all good journalists. Frist, he reads all the background material he can get his hands on. Then he talks to people to verify old information, unearth new information, and pull out lively quotes (which he knows are the lifeblood of solid reporting). He jots all this down in his notes. Filling up the notebooks can take hours or months, depending on the journalist’s deadline. But only when this research and reporting are done and his notebook is full does he write the story. If his reporting is good, the writing will reflect that. It will come out clearly and quickly. If the reporting is shoddy, the writing will be, too. It will be torture to get the words out. (Amanda’s note: this reminds me of the content gathering process)
pg 97 In Hollywood, an adventure movie with two guys doesn’t quite qualify as an idea. Two guys and a bear does. It adheres to the unshakable rule that you don’t have a really good idea until you combine two little ideas. Like all good ideas, it kept moving forward, eventually evolving into the movie The Edge with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin.
The difference between good ideas and bad ideas is a lot like E.M.Forster’s distinction between narrative and plot. Plot is ”The queen died; the king died.” Narrative is ”The queen died; the king died of a broken heart.”
pg 100 I suppose this is no different from a songwriter noodling around at the keyboard waiting for a corpuscle of music to emerge and engage the ear, or a painter dashing off sketches right and left until one pleases the eye. That’s what improvising is like for me. There’s no tollbooth between my impulse and my action. I just do it and I consider the results, the consequences, and the truth (if any) later in repose. That’s an incredible place to be. If you’re privileged enough to be able to do that for forty-five minutes a few days a week, you have been given something wonderful.
pg Egg makes you move. I can’t say enough about the connection between body and mind; when you stimulate your body, your brain comes alive in way you can’t simulate in a sedentary position. The brain is an organ, tied integrally to all the other systems in the body, and it’s affected by blood flow, neural transmission, all the processes you undergo when you put your body through its paces. (Amanda’s note: use ‘vehicle fire drill next time you’re stuck in a meeting: shoes off everyone, when I say go, leap out of your seat, run clockwise around the room and back to your seat as fast as you can!)
pg 115 It doesn’t matter where you live. If you have a goal in mind, you can turn any venue or destination into a valuable field trip. If you’re looking for beauty and sensory relief, if could be a local gallery or a walk in the woods. If you want chaos and exposed human emotions, spend some time in a hospital emergency room or a bus terminal. If you want information, pour over documents in a forgotten archive at your library. If you want to observe people under pressure, check out a police station or loiter around a construction site. A mall, a blues club, a diary farm, an open field – they are all worthwhile field trips if you have a clear purpose in mind.
pg 126 Remember this the next time you moan about the hand you’re dealt: No matter how limited your resources, they’re enough to get you started. Time, for example, is our most limited resource, but it is not the enemy of creativity that we think it is. The ticking clock is our friend if it gets us moving with urgency and passion. Give me a writer who thinks he has all the time in the world and I’ll show you a writer who never delivers. Likewise with money, which comes a close second as our most limited resource. It’s tempting to believe that the quantity and quality of our creative productivity would increase exponentially if only we could afford everything we’ve imagined, but I’ve seen too many artists dry up the moment they had enough money in the bank. For every artist who is empowered and inspired by money, there is another who gets lazy and self-satisfied because of it. Necessity will continue to be the e mother of invention.
pg 147 Floating spinelessly can get you through the day, but at some point you’ll be lost in the middle of a project, whether it’s a painting, a novel, a song, or a poem, and you won’t know how to get back to what you’re trying to accomplish. it might not happen in your first creation, which, in your bubble of sweet inexperience…. But it will happen in the next piece, or the one after that. It happens to everyone. You’ll find yourself pacing your particular white room, asking yourself, What am I trying to say? That is the moment when you will embrace, with gratitude, the notion of a spine.
pg 168 It is that perfect moment of equipoise between knowing it all and knowing nothing that Hemingway was straining for when he said, ”The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.” You cannot manufacture inexperience, but you can maintain it and protect what you have. … Inexperience erases fear. You do not know what is and is not possible and therefore everything is possible.
pg 173 Without passion, all the skill in the world won’t lift you above craft. Without skill, all the passion in the world will leave you eager but floundering. Combining the two is the essence of the creative life.
Additional pages with flags I wasn’t able to blog:
pg 191 about the stool…
pg 207 do a verb…
pg 205 Hemmingway bridge…
pg 211/212 A in … and math student
pg 214 the golfer…
pg 228/229 Validation squad