Monday, November 19, 2012

"Creative Habit": #1) I Walk into a White Room

"Creative Habit" is a 12 week series based on "The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life" by Twyla Tharp (Simon & Schuster, 2005).  This book is out of print. 

Picture this:  A blank computer screen.  An empty canvas.  An untouched notebook.

What emotions come up when you think of staring at this white space?

For some it is scary.  Others, paralyzing.  For some, exhilarating.
Twyla Tharp describes this as “the moment before creativity begins.”

But, what makes someone creative? How does someone face the empty page, the empty stage and making something where nothing existed before? It is not just a dilemma for the artist, it is something everyone faces everyday. What will I cook that isn't boring? How can I make that memo persuasive? What sales pitch will increase the order, get me the job, lock in that bonus? These too, are creative acts, and they all share a common need: proper preparation. For Twyla Tharp, creativity is no mystery; it's the product of hard work and preparation, of knowing one's aims and one's subject, of learning from approaches taken in the past. It's a process undertaken every day. It's a habit. “The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life” (Simon & Schuster, 2005) is not merely a look inside the mind of a remarkable woman with remarkable skills, but a programmatic, inspiring, encouraging guide to help each of us achieve our fullest creative potential.
1)       Establish a routine.

2)       Set a daily/weekly goal.

3)       Be disciplined.

“Over time, as the daily routine becomes second nature, discipline morphs into habit, “ states Tharp.
I met Twyla Tharp in 2005 while working on some educational initiatives for her Billy Joel-inspired Broadway musical, Movin’ Out.  Although some read her serious exterior as gruff, I quickly learned that Twyla Tharp was both brilliant and an incredibly hard worker.

She opens her book by describing her own daily routine, starting at 5:30am in a cab on the way to a studio for 2 hours of working out and dancing.  She never deviates from this routine, and it shows in her success.  Tharp is a woman who has gotten where she is, not by sheer talent, but by hard work and determination.

And “The Creative Habit” is a book about that hard work.  Its about building skill.  It’s a book about preparation.  “In order to be creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative.”  Throughout the book, Tharp gives exercises to make us stretch, get stronger and lasts longer.  It is her belief that this hard work is what pays off…not just being naturally good.
“It takes skill to bring something you’ve imagined into the world.  No one is born with that skill.  It is developed through exercise, through repetition, through a blend of learning and reflection that’s both painstaking and rewarding.  And it takes time.”

Are you ready to put in the hard work? 
Throughout the next 11 weeks, I will be reflecting on and providing exercises from “The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life” each Monday.  If you want to establish a routine, set goals and therefore be disciplined about your work as a writer, please feel free to join me. 

Together we will learn to embrace the empty white space.  Together we can develop the Creative Habit.

 Favorite Quotes from Chapter One:
“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."

“The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more.  And this routine is available to everyone.  Creativity is not just for artists.”

“Creativity augmented by routine and habit.”

“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.  That’s it in a nutshell.”
“If art is the bridge between what you see in your mind and what the world sees, then skill is how you build that bridge.”

“Everything is raw material.  Everything is relevant.  Everything is usable.  Everything feeds into my creativity.  But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it.  Without the time and effort invested in getting ready to create, you can be hit by the thunderbolt and it’ll leave you stunned.”


  1. I love this series idea, Marcie! Thanks so much for doing this. How lovely that you actually met Twyla Tharp. My daughter is also a dancer and choreographer (also "brilliant and incredibly hard working" :) ). So looking forward to 11 weeks with you.

    1. Thank you, Marsha. Glad you will be reading along. To say I actually got to WORK FOR Twyla Tharp is more like it. She was very hands on as I developed the educational guides and workshops for MOVIN' OUT. She also spoke to all of our school groups at our education matinees. What a motivational and inspirational woman.

  2. Love this idea too and am looking forward to the reflections, exercises, and filling in the white space together.

  3. We were chatting about this book at the Fall Craft Weekend. I definitely must find a copy.

    I do like how walking into a white room presents endless possibilities, whereas walking into a colored, decorated room seems limiting. (I am using my ugly living room in this metaphor, LOL.)

  4. I KNEW I would love this series. I love it already. This will be fun. Thanks. Blank page? It's fine with me. It's never blank for long.

  5. great idea to share these strategies. Blank page - no prob. Lack of discipline - ouch!

  6. Very interesting Marcie. I'm in. At first I thought--routine---ugh! I hate routines, even though I know they are necessary. I think PiBoldMo and 12 x 12 are along the same lines. It all gets one into a certain mindset that allows creativity to flow.

  7. Great, Marcie!!! I need this. I am lacking in my writing routine! It seems to be hit and miss and WAY too much social media-ing! I look forward to making changes that will help me establish a routine!

  8. Nice! That's why I love the 12x12 challenge and Picture Book Idea Month because it forces me to get my work done.

  9. I agree with Penny. I used to start out my mornings with a ten minute writing. Pretty soon, I wander to check my emails, Facebook, etc. and then, I am drowned in the social media for the whole morning.
    I am so glad that I did not start a blog site or I would be on it all day long.
    I need to create a daily schedule and be disciplined.
    During my college days, I was disciplined. I showed up at the studio daily and stared on the white canvas for hours and then, I create.
    Thanks for sharing Twyla Tharp's book.

  10. I never thought I'd be grateful for having a bad cold that's turned me into a mouth breather - but I am - because I stayed home from work today and finally read this post! I'd been getting the email notices and they intrigued me, but hadn't had time to read them. I'm moving on to #2 - thanks so much for sharing this!!