Twyla Tharp

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.

From Publishers Weekly
Perhaps the leading choreographer of her generation, Tharp offers a thesis on creativity that is more complex than its self-help title suggests. To be sure, an array of prescriptions and exercises should do much to help those who feel some pent-up inventiveness to find a system for turning idea into product, whether that be a story, a painting or a song. This free-wheeling interest across various creative forms is one of the main points that sets this book apart and leads to its success. The approach may have been born of the need to reach an audience greater than choreographer hopefuls, and the diversity of examples (from Maurice Sendak to Beethoven on one page) frees the student to develop his or her own patterns and habits, rather than imposing some regimen that works for Tharp. The greatest number of illustrations, however, come from her experiences. As a result, this deeply personal book, while not a memoir, reveals much about her own struggles, goals and achievements. Finally, the book is also a rumination on the nature of creativity itself, exploring themes of process versus product, the influences of inspiration and rigorous study, and much more. It deserves a wide audience among general readers and should not be relegated to the self-help section of bookstores.

Twyla Tharp’s new book, The Creative Habit, is
1. Practical and straightforward, two attributes to be expected from a dancer. Dancers wrestle daily with the obstinacies of the flesh. It’s not about smoke and mirrors. It’s about hard work and commitment, the “habit” of showing up to do the work and developing one’s creativity in the process.
2. Literary and literate. Tharp quotes the Bible, Dostoyevsky, Mozart, and many other greats of the Western Canon to illustrate her points and show that the struggle to be creative is nothing new and that great artists have fought the same battles as anyone who strives to create.
3. Accessible. There’s no mystery or theory of genius here other than the habit of work. Tharp constantly makes the point that we have to establish habits for our creative pursuits or the work will not get done and the creativity will have no place to manifest.
4. Myth Busting. Mozart didn’t get his musical genius from On High; in fact, he worked his fingers into early deformity from practicing so much. Not that Tharp proposes hurting oneself in the creative quest. She’s merely making the point that practice is supreme, not sitting around waiting for the muse to make an appearance. Her choice of Mozart is historical, but I’ve heard similar about Michael Jordan. When other ball players were out doing whatever, Jordan was on the court practicing his shots.
5. Encouraging. One of America’s greatest choreographers shares her demons with us, so we know our fears aren’t “special,” and no, they won’t go away with success, so stop with the “if only.” Wrestling demons is just part of the process; it comes with the territory.

I love the layout of this book: an airy, elegant use of color, font, and white space, which parallels the visual of her stage work. Tharp is very generous in sharing details of her work regimen and her methods for getting things done. Obviously it works for her. The good news is that because her methods are so practical, they can work for others, too.

Tharp uses photos very sparingly in this book, so if you’re looking for a photo history of her career or her company, this isn’t the book. She focuses on the Creative Habit and she doesn’t make herself or her work the center of the story; she draws on the experience and history of many well-known artistic giants and a few lesser known artists as well.

If you want to create or you’re interested in the creative process, don’t wait for the paperback. I’ve seen many books on creativity, but this is by far the most practical and accessible one I’ve read. Tharp knows that it takes hard work and good habits to create something tangible, and she doesn’t waste our precious time on mystical mumbo jumbo or some magical “way” of the artist. It’s the work, folks.

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