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The Creative Habit Summary

“The Creative Habit” by Twyla Tharp is a guidebook for anyone seeking to enhance their creativity. 

Tharp, a renowned choreographer, dispels the myth of creativity as a solely inspiration-driven process. Instead, she emphasizes the importance of rituals, preparation, and consistent effort in developing a “creative habit”. The book offers practical exercises like journaling, mental games, and techniques to break through creative blocks. Tharp’s goal is to show that creativity isn’t just for artists – it’s a learnable skill that can be applied in any field.

Summary

The main aim of the book is Twyla Tharp aiming to demystify creativity and help readers make it a daily practice. She doesn’t see creativity as a divine gift, but a skill honed through intentional habits.

The core of the book is about the concept of rituals – both for starting and ending your creative work.

Starting Rituals

Tharp believes you must “show up” consistently to catch those elusive moments of inspiration. To be prepared for when they strike, she encourages establishing specific rituals.

One major tool is Tharp’s “Project Box”. 

For every new endeavor, she designates a cardboard box and fills it with anything related to the project. This transforms an abstract idea into something tangible. It reminds you of the project’s growing importance, helps track progress, and can provide a sense of accomplishment when you might feel stuck. 

The box is, in essence, a practical and symbolic tool for keeping the project moving.

Ending Rituals

Inspired by Ernest Hemingway, Tharp advises leaving off in the middle of a task. This makes it easier to pick up the next day, as you know exactly where you left off and retain the momentum from the previous session.

Understanding Creative DNA

Tharp emphasizes the power of “Creative DNA”, a unique combination of talent and experiences that forms the wellspring of your ideas. 

To understand your own Creative DNA better, she suggests writing a creative autobiography

This involves answering questions such as:

  • What was your first creative memory?
  • Which artists inspire you?
  • What do you fear most as a creator?

The answers provide insight into your motivations and influences.

The Importance of Preparation

While inspiration is vital, it’s not enough. Tharp stresses the crucial role of preparation. This includes:

  • Scratching: The act of continuously generating ideas, even if many are mediocre. It paves the way for better results later.
  • Gathering Information: Be relentless in researching and acquiring knowledge related to your field.
  • Seeking Mentors: Find knowledgeable guides who can offer constructive feedback.

Universality of Her Approach

Though drawing on her experience as a dancer, Tharp carefully explains how her techniques can be applied across various creative domains. 

Readers don’t need a background in dance to grasp and benefit from her wisdom.

In essence, “The Creative Habit” offers a roadmap for anyone who wants to cultivate creativity as a sustainable daily practice. It emphasizes discipline, preparation, and understanding the forces that drive your unique creative expression.

The Creative Habit Summary

Key Lessons

1. The Power of Rituals for Igniting & Sustaining Creativity

  • Why it matters: Rituals help overcome procrastination, signal to your brain that it’s time for creative work, and build consistency that fosters creative breakthroughs.
  • Tharp’s examples:
    • Her morning exercise regimen to prime herself for the day
    • The “Project Box” where she collects anything relevant to a project
    • Ending her work mid-task to ease into the next day
  • How to implement:
    • Starting ritual: Choose a simple action to do before your creativity sessions. This could be a specific beverage, a short walk, or putting on music that gets you in the zone.
    • Sustaining ritual: Designate a dedicated workspace and remove distractions during creative time.
    • Ending ritual: Try Hemingway’s trick of stopping mid-sentence (or wherever applies to your work) to maintain flow for the next session.

2. Embrace Preparation as a Foundation for Creativity

  • Why it matters: Ideas alone aren’t enough. Consistent preparation builds your skillset, expands possibilities, and makes you ready to execute when inspiration strikes.
  • Tharp’s examples:
    • “Scratching” to churn out ideas, regardless of initial quality
    • Relentlessly researching and learning about her field
    • The importance of skill-building through practice and study
  • How to implement:
    • Commit to regular learning: Dedicate time for reading, tutorials, or exploring your chosen field.
    • Experiment: Set aside time to play with ideas without the pressure of a perfect outcome.
    • Develop basic skills: Even if not directly applied to your main creative work, build general skills that contribute to your expertise (photography, basic coding, etc.)

3. Understand and Tap into Your “Creative DNA”

  • Why it matters: Your experiences, influences, and unique talents form the wellspring of your creativity. Understanding this helps you find your own authentic voice and build upon your strengths.
  • Tharp’s examples:
    • The “creative autobiography” exercise to trace the development of your creative interests
    • Acknowledging your fears as a driving force to overcome
    • Recognizing the formative influences that shape your perspective
  • How to implement:
    • Do the creative autobiography: Set aside time to answer Tharp’s suggested questions about your creative journey. Look for patterns, recurring themes, and moments of inspiration in your answers.
    • Reflect on your influences: What artists, works, or experiences leave a lasting impression on you? Analyze why and how they fuel your own ideas.
    • Face your fears: Make a list of creative fears (failure, judgment, etc.). Challenge yourself to tackle one small fear at a time through your work.

4. Build Your “Validation Squad”

  • Why it matters: Constructive feedback is essential to refine your work and avoid getting stuck in creative bubbles.
  • Tharp’s examples:
    • Assembling a trusted group of individuals who understand your work and offer honest critiques
    • Seeking feedback from people outside your immediate circle to gain fresh perspectives
  • How to implement:
    • Identify potential members: Think of friends, colleagues, or mentors who are supportive but willing to give constructive criticism.
    • Set clear expectations: Communicate that you’re looking for honest feedback, not just empty praise.
    • Start small: Begin by sharing smaller pieces of work for feedback to build trust and establish a comfortable feedback process.

Important Note: Tharp’s approach values discipline and process. Don’t get discouraged if inspiration doesn’t strike immediately. The lessons of preparing, showing up through rituals, and understanding your own creative DNA will pay off in the long run.

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