This week our Director of the Toledo Market, Suzanne Brockway, finishes up the last three chapters and shares her final thoughts on Twyla Tharp and Mark Reiter’s book The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life. Make sure to order your copy or place a hold at your local library!
Twyla Tharp is one of the world’s most renowned dancers and dance choreographers. Not only has she choreographed and produced many plays and performances – for over 50 years she’s run her own business. The Creative Habit is Twyla’s self-help book for the creatively challenged. Her general philosophy is that creativity is a habit, a product of preparation and effort, and not necessarily just a God-given gift that only some people have. Creativity is not just for artists, it’s for business people looking for a new way to close a sale, it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem, it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.
Chapter 10 – Ruts and Grooves
What do you do when you’re feeling stuck? Do you find yourself doubting your ability and questioning why you began? When I’m in a creative rut, my thought process looks a lot like this: “Why am I spinning my wheels and staying in one place? Maybe I shouldn’t have started this project in the first place. Am I ahead of time with these ideas? Or maybe I am just in the wrong place at the wrong time?” Twyla tells us that when we are stuck we need to challenge our assumptions and question everything except our ability to get out of the rut. Using Twyla’s method, instead of going into a self-doubt spiral I should ask myself “Has the world changed since I last looked? What worked then, doesn’t mean that will work now!”
When a ritual or tradition loses its potency, it’s time to move on no matter how hard it can be. How many times have you been in a meeting and new idea was brought up it was shot down with a “We have always done it this way”? Often the more disciplined we are the less we are willing to cut our losses and stop the insanity. If you find that you keep going back to the same idea, give this activity a try: set an aggressive quota and a time limit to come up with new ideas. Write down every idea that you come up with even if it doesn’t make sense or isn’t worthwhile, evaluate the quality of the ideas after the exercise is over. By forcing yourself into a constraint you can help your imagination come forward!
Conversely, grooves often happen when you first dislodge yourself from a rut. I like to call it “the zone” since it is the sweet spot in time when everything is in sync. You can’t maintain the groove forever but it’s important to bask in the joy of it being there! Personally, I love Ernest Hemingway’s trick of calling it a day in the middle of a sentence where he knew what came next. He could start up again with zeal to wrap up what he wrote the night before. This helped him build a bridge to the next day and got him started on the right foot! In the end, ruts and grooves are different sides of the same coin. The work itself will tell you which side you’re looking at. Does this work make be happy or sad? Escape the boring, lifeless ruts and create the groove where life and creativity blossom.
Chapter 11 – An “A” in Failure
Failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it plants the seeds for later success. Learning from failure is one of the most important pieces of the creative arsenal. Failure will happen despite your best efforts, give yourself a second chance! The old adage is that we are hardest on ourselves. Words that never would be said to others flow so easily when directed at ourselves, instead try thinking “Damn, I think I am just human”.
The best failures are the private ones. If you have failed with lack of skill, get to work and develop the ones you need. If it is just a bad idea, to begin with, get out while the getting’s good. Cut your losses and move on. Have the courage to go with your gut feelings and don’t let someone else’s judgment substitute for yours. And whatever you do, don’t fail by repetition. The first forage into unexplored territory was a stroke of genius. The sequel, probably not so much. Most of us love tribute bands but enough is enough but do you recognize the musicians or know their names? Don’t be self-limiting. Do not let denial be your undoing. Challenging the status quo of your own making is more than unpleasant, it is painful. Fixing it has nothing to do with creating and everything to do with survival. When you hit bottom and have nothing to lose, the only place to go is up. Respect defeat and profit from it, oftentimes it inspires our best work.
Chapter 12 – The Long Run
Twyla’s says, “When it all comes together, a creative life has the nourishing power we normally associate with food, love, and faith.” I have personally touched upon that special life for periods of time and my heart aches for more. This space is called the “Bubble”, the Bubble is the ideal state where nothing is wasted, where every detail feeds your art because it has nowhere else to go. Everything you see, hear, touch or smell gets trapped within it immediately. Sunlight creates shadows of figures, clouds in the sky inspire patterns, you get the idea. Everything can be an inspiration if we open our minds and hearts to the world. Wherever you go, take the Bubble with you.
Stay inspired and motivated for the long haul. Motivation is the state of mind that allows you to subtract anything that disconnects you from your work. When creativity has become your habit you are on your way to mastery but remember mastery does not have to mean perfection. Twyla says, “When you can create beauty and wonder from the metaphorical stone that the builder refused, you have achieved mastery. It masks the insecurities and the gaps in technique and lets you believe you are capable of anything.”
I have come a long way from my first attempts to express thoughts and stories with paint, pencil, papers, feathers (yes, feathers!) and sticks. but I am nowhere near finished. So…let me tell you about the trip I took to New Orleans and how it inspired me to paint with acrylics on re-cycled doors. Oh, the colors and hardware…I could go on and on…but I would rather have the doors tell you the story.
Thanks for taking this journey with me! I hoped you enjoyed The Creative Habit as much as I did.