Sunday, April 7

How To Create And Maintain The Habit Of Writing

How To Create And Maintain The Habit Of Writing

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.

b. Read

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:

a. Read

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.

b. Write

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.


  1. Very informative, I'd add "Do other creative things" like doodling or playing an instrument, even if you're not good at either. Practicing other creative activities has been proven to create new neural connections in the brain, which makes you more creative overall :)

    1. Thanks Andrew.

      Wonderful suggestions, and I appreciate the reminder that we don't have to be good at these other creative pursuits to get a benefit. :)

  2. I keep most of my hard copy stuff and in a file folder box. It's a got a hand for ease of carrying. Holds my notebooks, pens, mechanical pencils and of course file folders. I've got one for character work, previously edited copies of whatever I happen to be working on and a folder for my writers group that I take with me when I go.

    I also am a fan of using dropbox and pearltree. Dropbox is where I backup my Scrivner projects and such. Pearltree for links, contain research of all sorts including link for stuff regarding the craft of writing. So far it's work out great. I know where everything is at any given time. I am also thinking about using a thumb drive in conjunction with all of this as well.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Timm.

      I'd never heard of Pearltree before, thanks for passing that on.

      Like you, I use Dropbox but am thinking about switching over to Google Drive. Google plans to give users 15 GB free rather than the 2 GB Dropbox allots to free accounts.

    2. Pearltree is awesome. It sets it up in a mindmap sorta way. I've got Google Drive installed but have yet to really use it. I'm not sure if it plays with Scrivner. I monitor the G+ group for Scrivner but I haven't seen anything posted for or against.

      I may have to give it a go and see if it works. I started moving some of my writing stuff to DP so if I went somewhere other than home to write, I didn't have to lug around my 1tb external drive.

      I now travel just a tad lighter.

    3. "I started moving some of my writing stuff to DP so if I went somewhere other than home to write, I didn't have to lug around my 1tb external drive."

      I hear that!


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