“There’s a paradox in the notion that creativity should be a habit. We think of creativity as a way of keeping everything fresh and new, while habit implies routine and repetition. That paradox intrigues me because it occupies the place where creativity and skill rub up against each other.”
There is one book that I take with me on every trip: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. It’s been my bible for a few years now.
I’ll admit that I’m a junkie for books on the creative process, but this one is by far one the best of the genre. It is the most underlined book I own…
I’m mining the pages of this book once again, as I’m about to get into another season of writing and practicing. Fall and Winter are my best seasons for solitary creative work.
hard work and the blank page
“It is the perennial debate, born in the Romantic era, between the beliefs that all creative acts are born of a) some transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration, a kiss from God on your brow that allows you to give the world The Magic Flute, or b) hard work.”
For Twyla, as a choreographer, it’s an empty room. But whatever form it takes, the challenge is the same: to make something out of nothing. And making something out of nothing is just plain hard work. It’s nearly impossible to create anything on a consistent basis without establishing some sort of routine (aka habit).
I love that in the first chapter, she criticizes Amadeus, a film she worked on as choreographer, for it’s portrayal of Mozart as a “naive prodigy who sat down at the keyboard with God whispering in his ears…”
Reality: Mozart was pushed into music from birth by his musician father, and he worked at it like a nut! By 28, his hands were deformed from all the playing he’d done. He was well educated in philosophy and religion, as well as music, and he was extremely disciplined. He worked hard and often, and he worked to make money to feed his family. Twyla:
“It’s a great image for selling tickets to movies, but whether or not God has kissed your brow, you still have to work. Without learning and preparation, you won’t know how to harness the power of that kiss.”
I’m preparing for the blank page….and for some hard work…and the empty practice room.
Preparing to be creative might seem like a strange idea, but some of the most successful songwriters I know will tell you otherwise. The really successful ones have it down. They rent a place for 2 weeks to write. They have a goal. That takes some prep work.
That’s partly what I’ve been doing here at the cottage.
Being away from the city for a few days has helped to clear my brain and focus on what I want to work on in the months ahead. And Twyla’s book is always my first go-to trusted resource when I’m on the cusp of a new creative season.
OK. Tea time!
(photos by Ali Eisner)