The Creative Habit : Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp
Improvising eg. dashing off a bunch of sketches (45 minutes a few days a week = lucky) Look back over them later - just let it go while doing it.
The Harvard psychologist Stephen Kosslyn says that ideas can be acted upon in four ways. First, you must generate the idea, usually from memory or experience or activity. Then you have to retain it - that is, hold it steady in your mind and keep it from disappearing. Then you have to inspect it - study it and make inferences about it. Finally, you have to be able to transform it - alter it in some way to suit your higher purposes.
The tricky part about scratching, however, is that you can’t stop with one idea. Henry James said that genius is the act of perceiving similarity among disparate things. In the empty room you’re trying to connect the dots, linking A to B to C to maybe come up with H. Scratching is a means of identifying A, and if you can get to A, you’ve got a grip on the slippery rock wall. You’ve got purchase. You can move on to B, which is mandatory. You cannot stop with one idea. You don’t really have a workable idea until you combine two ideas.
How to Be Lucky
I don’t use that word lightly. Generosity is luck going in the opposite direction, away from you. If you’re generous to someone, if you do something to help him out, you are in effect making him lucky. This is important. It’s like inviting yourself into a community of good fortune.
Whenever I feel I’m working in a groove its invariably because I feel I am being the benefactor in the situation rather than the beneficiary. I am sharing my art with others, lending my craft to theirs, interest-free with no IOU. In return, they live up to the potential I see in them. Then I am the one who feels lucky. In the luck equation, who is the winner here?
The spine is my little secret. It keeps me on message, but it is not the message itself. … What am I trying to say? That is the moment when you will embrace, with gratitude, the notion of a spine. [spine connects the work to something larger].
Once you accept the power of the spine in the creative act, you will become much more efficient in your creativity. You will still get lost on occasion, but having a spine will anchor you. When you lose your way, it will show you the way home. It will remind you that this is the effect you’re trying to achieve. Having a spine will snap you back to attention quickly and, as a result, will inject speed and economy into your work habits. Energy and time are finite resources; conserving them is very important.
I’ve always thought that one of the great rewards of being a creative person is that I get to do it.
It is that perfect moment of equipoise between knowing it all and knowing nothing that Hemingway was straining for when he said, “The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.” You cannot manufacture inexperience, but you can maintain it and protect what you have.
Beethoven was constantly switching from one skill set to another. … Switching genres was his way of maintaining his inexperience and, as a result, enlarging his art.
Analyze your skill set. See where you’re strong and where you need dramatic improvement, and tackle those lagging skills first. It’s harder than it sounds (most useful habits are), but it’s the only way to improve.
If you’re in a creative rut, the easiest way to challenge assumptions is to switch things around them and make the switch work. The process goes like this:
1. Identify the concept that isn’t working
2. Write down your assumptions about it
3. Challenge the assumptions
4. Act on the challenge
The call to a creative life is not supposed to be torture. Yes, it’s hard work and you have to make sacrifices. Yes, it’s a noble calling; you’re volunteering in an army of sorts, alongside a phalanx of artists who have preceded you, many of whom are your mentors and guides, upon whose work you build, without whom you have no fixed points of reference. They form a tradition that you have implicitly sworn to protect, even while you aim to refashion it and sometimes even shatter it.
But it’s also supposed to be fun.
Build a Bridge to the Next Day
The only bad thing about having a good creative day is that it ends, and there’s no guarantee we can repeat it tomorrow. One good day does not necessarily beget another. But there are ways to increase the chances of successive successes.
Ernest Hemingway had the nifty trick of always calling it a day at a point when he knew what came next. He built himself a bridge to the next day. I cannot think of a better creative organizational tool. The Hemingway bridge is how you extend a mini-groove.
… Don’t drive yourself to the point of being totally spent. Try to stop while you have a few drops left in the tank, and use that fuel to build a bridge to the next day.
Every creative person has to learn to deal with failure, because failure, like death and taxes, is inescapable. If Leonardo and Beethoven and Goethe failed on occasion, what makes you think you’ll be the exception?
I don’t mean to romanticize failure, to parrot the cliche “If you’re not failing, you’re not taking enough risks,” especially if that view “liberates” you to fail too often. Believe me, success is preferable to failure. But there is a therapeutic power to failure. It cleanses. It helps you put aside who you aren’t and reminds you who you are. Failure humbles.
To get the full benefit of failure you have to understand the reasons for it.
First, there’s a failure of skill.… There’s only one solution to this type of failure: Get to work. Develop the skills you need.
Then there’s a failure of concept. You have a weak idea that doesn’t hold up under your daily ministrations… Sows’ ears tend to remain sows’ ears. Get out while the getting’s good.
A third kind of failure is one of judgement. You leave something in the piece that should have been discarded, left on the cutting room floor.… The only way to avoid this mistake is to remember at all times that you’re the one who’ll be judged by the final product.
The worst failure is of nerve. You have everything going for you except the guts to support your idea and explore the concept fully.… All I have is the certainty of experience that looking foolish is good for you. It nourishes the spirit.…
There’s failure through repetition.…Repetition is a problem if it forces us to cling to our past successes.
Finally, and most profoundly, there is failure that comes from denial.… Denial becomes a liability when you see that something is not working and you refuse to deal with it.… Change-changing the work and how we work-is the unpleasant task of dealing with that which we have been denying.
…fix the things you know how to fix. (a blessing, a reprieve, a miracle shot at getting a second chance.)