The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

twyla tharp - the creative habit - book review - meg biram

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life, by Twyla Tharp

“Some people find this moment—before creativity begins—so painful that they simply cannot deal with it. They get up and walk away from the computer, the canvas, the keyboard; they take a nap or go shopping or fix lunch or do chores around the house. They procrastinate. In its most extreme form, this terror totally paralyzes people.”

Reading this paragraph in the beginning of this book I just thought — yep, she gets it. What a lot of non-artists don’t understand, is that for a lot of creative people, the moment before you actually begin a project, a painting, a novel, can be absolutely terrifying. So scary in fact that it stops you from doing it all together. Paralyzes you.

I know this feeling intimately.

Maybe it’s hard to understand if you have no idea what I’m talking about, but when you are an artist creating work that stems from a deep passion inside you, you have an unexplainable urge to produce and create. The fear that holds artists back can be a multitude of things. Maybe the series they are working on is deeply emotional. Maybe the materials are really expensive and messing it up can be costly. Maybe it’s just a fear of putting their artwork into the world or seeing their vision on paper. Maybe they haven’t perfected the skill they need to create the work and it’s just depressing until they’ve mastered it. So many things can be a factor in this paralyzation for an artist. For many it’s a combination of things. Do you know what I’m talking about? Do you feel this way?

Lots of artists are rarely happy with their work (me). They always feel like it could be better (me again). Or by the time they finish a series they are already over it and on to the next in their head (yep). The term “tortured artist” in my mind, relates to all of these things and more. Most of them have to do with self doubt and that paralyzing fear that Tharp mentions.

If you are a creative person in any capacity, this is a very inspiring book and I highly recommend reading it. In the same vein of my last book review on How Artists Work, Tharp’s main topic in this book is all about rituals, routines, and habits.

She likens these creative habits to that of athletes — they warm up before they workout or play their game — why wouldn’t artists do the same?

“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.”

She talks about creating habits for yourself that provides the right environment for you to work and triggers your creativity. Things that form habits so they become second nature to you and therefore free up your time and energy for your creative work to flow.

Tharp does a lot of things to help stimulate her ideas. They might sound funny or strange (like the egg), but they are things that push her out of comfort zone and force her to think differently. She also talks about preparation for being creative and on the opposite end, over-thinking things.

You can’t imagine the work, you can only generate ideas when you put pencil to paper, brush to canvas—when you actually do something physical.”

You know those times where you are down and you are just thinking about all of your successful friends and how they must have it so easy. That’s probably not true of course, but I love how Tharp words it:

“Look at the luckiest people around you, the ones you envy, the ones who seem to have destiny falling habitually into their laps. What are they doing that singles them out? It isn’t dumb luck if it happens repeatedly. If they’re anything like the fortunate people I know, they’re prepared they’re always working at their craft, they’re alert, they involve their friends in their work, and they tend to make others feel lucky to be around them.”

Tharp also talks about her “bubble.” For her and many artists, they do their best work when they somewhat cut themselves off from many distractions in the world and retreat to their bubble. It is usually anti-social and isolating, but it tends to be very good for creativity and actually accomplishing things.

There are a lot more gems I took out of this book, but you should read it for yourself. It was beyond inspiring and if you are a creative person (paralyzed artist like me sometimes) it really helps you change the way you think about creating your work.

Get your copy here.

Have you read The Creative Habit? What did you think? What other books are on your to-read list, or what have you read recently?