Next Meeting

June 14th- The Writing Life: Hacks, Tips, and Solutions (speaker Elle Andrews Patt)

July 12th- From Novel to Cocoon to Screenwriting (speaker Barbara Harrington)

August 9th- Topic Pending (speaker Sylvia Weiss Sinclair)

September 13th- The Evolution of Genres (speaker Ken Pelham)

October 11th- Topic Pending (speaker Sharon Belcastro)

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Creative Habit

Tharp, Twyla. The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life. Simon & Schuster, 2003.

I was tipped off to this book by a post on thriller writer Jeff Abbott's blog. His organized writer posts are full of tips on writing discipline, advice for other writers, and encouragement for pursuing creative dreams. In one of these posts, he mentions Twyla Tharp's book on creativity, The Creative Habit. Although Ms. Tharp is an Emmy and Tony award winning dancer and choreographer, the book isn't limited to dance. Of course it is written from a dancer's perspective, but Tharp has a broader understanding of creativity that makes this book worth reading for any artist.

Tharp dismisses the idea that good art is the result of a muse whispering in someone's ear, independent of skill or practice. Instead, she argues that artistic creativity come from hard work. "Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits." Mozart, for example, practiced and worked so hard at creating music that his fingers were deformed by the time he was twenty eight. That's a far cry from the popular belief that he was simply a prodigy whose success was the result of "God whispering in his ear."

In each chapter, Tharp identifies one aspect of making creativity a habit. Several chapters have to do with generating and developing ideas--through daily rituals that put you in a creative frame of mind, by exploring your background and personality (what she calls "Creative DNA"), or by harnessing your memories. She also discusses organization (and how not to over-organize) and overcoming the accidents and obstacles that occur during the creative process. And of course, she urges all creative types to practice, practice, practice, the fundamentals of their craft.

If the book has a flaw, it's that sometimes she goes overboard with examples. About half way through the book, I realized that once I'd gotten her point in each chapter, I could skip the rest of the material because it wouldn't add anything new. However, that's a minor complaint.

The most valuable thing about the book is that at the end of each chapter, Ms. Tharp provides a handful of exercises that specifically address the issues in that chapter. They aren't specific to dance, and many are clearly valuable to writers. You could do worse than to pick up this book and simply do the exercises without reading the rest.

On the other hand, the rest is kind of fun, too, and some of Ms. Tharp's stories about how she works are fascinating in their own right. This is a book well worth picking up.

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