The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Beth Hayden, in How to Create Consistently Great Content for the Long Haul, calls Twyla Tharp's new book, The Creative Habit, "a powerful weapon you can use in your quest for better creative output." She writes:
Think of it [The Creative Habit] as an industrial-strength antidote to resistance, creative blocks, and stale ideas.What is this 'amazing secret weapon'? One word: Habits.
But not just any habits. We don't want bad habits like sleeping in till 10:30 am on Sunday and then waking woozy and bleary eyed to a complete and total absence of coffee.
But I digress. Here is a summary of Ms. Tharp's system for forming productive habits for peak creativity.
1. Be organized: The cardboard box method
Beth Hayden quotes Ms. Tharp:
I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.The beauty of this system is that if "she needs to put a project on hold, she can always come back to the box and pick it up again."
That said, it doesn't have the be a physical box.
Beth uses "a combination of Word documents, Delicious bookmarks, and file folders" to keep her ideas organized.
Use whatever works for you.
Myself, I love the idea of using physical containers, cardboard boxes, to organized my ideas--I could put my electronic files on a cheap thumb drive and put it in the box along with all my scribbled notes/notebooks, magazine and newspaper clippings, and so on.
The main disadvantage is an abysmal lack of space. Though my apartment feels expansive, 500 square feet won't accommodate many (additional) boxes, not when I already have so many holding the artifacts of my life.
2. Scratch out new ideas
Ms. Tharp writes:
"... I have a habitual routine to keep me going. I call it scratching. ... I'm digging through everything to find something. It's like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward."
Here's how Beth Hayden suggests we search for our next great idea:
a. Free write
Set a timer for 20 minutes and write. Use pen and paper on a word processor, whatever you feel most comfortable with. The only rule is that you don't stop writing.
If you're doing this on the computer then you could use a program like Write or Die.
Read every day. Read fiction and non-fiction, read about everything not just the sorts of things you write.
c. Soak in art
Don't just read, "Visit an art museum, go to a dance performance, or attend a musical. Get inspired by watching the creative efforts of a fellow artist."
d. Be creative in a different way
I find that often, if I'm blocked, or am seeking inspiration, it helps to draw, paint, bind books, and so on, to engage in some other creative activity.
e. Enjoy nature
Go on a hike, walk a dog, go skiing, swimming or biking. Or "just go out and sit in the grass for ten minutes and watch the clouds."
3. Do regular creative workouts: study the craft
Just as we need to stay in good physical shape so we need to stay in top creative shape.
For writers this means studying the art and craft of writing. Specifically:
Read critically and no just for recreation.
Read articles about writing techniques and best practises. I think it's important to read articles from a multitude of different perspectives.
Write every day, even if, like me, you're a fast-drafter and spend most of your time editing.
Write a short blog article, or write in your journal for 10 minutes.
Or do a warm-up writing exercise to start the day.
The goal is to build a habit and I think the most deeply ingrained habits are those we do every day.
As you become a better writer, you’ll not only get better ideas, you’ll be able to execute better when you do get inspired. It’s like being in shape as a dancer — if you take classes every day and keep your body in great shape, you have virtually no limits on what you can do physically. You will be able to handle the best choreography in the world, which makes you a great artist.Beth Hayden closes her article with a question which I will echo: What are your creative habits? Please share! :-)
Thanks to The Land of Deborah for sending me the link to Beth Hayden's wonderful article! All quotations are from Beth Hayden's article, unless otherwise indicated.
Other articles you might like:- How To Not Write Crap
- Writing Scenes: Getting Up Close And Personal; Using Sensory Language
- The Strange: How To Hook A Reader's Interest
Photo credit: "and in that moment I missed you more than I had thought it ever possible to miss anyone ever..." by slightly everything under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.