I read this book in 2013 just before I started my creative compliance training business, Create Training. In answer to the silent question - what’s a lawyer/compliance specialist doing reading a book written by a choreographer? Well, firstly I am inspired by anyone who does not have two left feet (rather like mine). But, more importantly, I was curious to understand the habits and discipline of people who were creatively professionally.
At the time, I did not truly understand that we are all creative professionals at heart and did not fully comprehend the importance of studying great artists habits as well as their work. This is something that, thanks to this book, I now do routinely.
“I read for growth, firmly believing that what you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.” ― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
The interesting thing about this book for me was not that it was written by a dancer and choreographer but that it was written by a dancer and choreographer at the top of their game. Hence, not only are the creative and disciplinary principles applicable to any form of creativity, it is applicable to those of us that strive to be the best in what they do. For me, writing, producing and delivering successful training and culture programs is no different to Twyla choreographing a full-length ballet for the New York City Ballet. Where there is an audience there is a creative process.
If you want to see an example of Twyla’s work, take a look at the amazing, seamless choreography in the Billy Joel show, ‘Moving out’ - www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hgzw5spUxc
A Starting Ritual
Twyler shares a number of different lessons to inspire, motivate and most importantly keep your creative daily habit. But for me, my greatest takeaway was all about the process and the daily habits. She calls it a ‘starting ritual for your creative process.’ For Twyler it was getting out of bed early, hailing a cab (the actual habit) and then going to her gym for her morning workout. For me, it is taking my 1-year old son for an hour’s walk along the water at 5.30am each morning. For whatever reason it is, this daily ritual sets up my day and without it I am definitely less energised and definitely less creative.
The Project Box
It was this book that inspired me to create the production process that I use in all of the work I produce. And reading this book again more recently, it was this book that reminded me of the importance of actually regularly producing work for the process rather than the outcome.
Whilst undertaking a diploma in art 10 years ago at the tender age of 35, I had a regular practice of producing art so I could learn, experiment, improve and track my process. As a result, I produced masses of paintings, filled sketch books and also my garage with creative endeavours. That was on top of normal work, starting a new business and settling into a new country. But as the years have gone by and kids have appeared, I slowly drifted back into work for outcomes, and usually someone else’s outcomes, rather than work for work’s sake.
Re-reading this book has reminded me of the joy and the necessity of regularly writing, drawing, planning concepts, brain storming and working on projects with others where we let them take their own form. Essentially, it is the genius that only comes when we produce something that is outside of or in addition to our daily ‘work’. This all came back to me with one of my other favourite concepts Twyer talks about, which is using a project box to prepare your work and ground yourself.
As Twyla explains:
“I start every dance with a box. 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 box makes me feel organized, that I have my act together even when I don’t know where I’m going yet. It also represents a commitment. The simple act of writing a project name on the box means I’ve started work. The box makes me feel connected to a project. It is my soil. I feel this even when I’ve back-burnered a project: I may have put the box away on a shelf, but I know it’s there. The project name on the box in bold black lettering is a constant reminder that I had an idea once and may come back to it very soon. Most important, though, the box means I never have to worry about forgetting. One of the biggest fears for a creative person is that some brilliant idea will get lost because you didn’t write it down and put it in a safe place.”
I love this concept. My personal box is slightly differently configured. It is a dropbox folder with numerous files (conversations, images, videos, footage etc). In order to keep my box active, I use people, deadlines and calendar entries. I find that as soon as you have a partner who is contributing to the box then suddenly the box is not just heavier in content, but it is also more pressing and seems to jump to the top of the ‘to do’ list queue.
End right in the middle of work
Finally, and this is a concept I shall use for this piece, Twyler recommends that we should always end right in the middle of work for an easy entry the next day. It is now 11pm so I shall do this tonight and start afresh tomorrow morning.
It is now the next morning. I spent the morning whilst walking my son at 5.30 thinking about this piece. I spent breakfast time with the kids pondering about it and washing up reflecting on it. The simple acts of sleeping, waking and doing allowed my brain to process and work even when I was not at my laptop.
It is a habit that I often use because it keeps me stimulated, engaged and excited. Rather like watching a Netflix series one episode at a time so that we are excited about the next episode rather than binge watching, which leaves us all feeling pretty exhausted and drained.
I hope I have inspired and motivated you to either read or listen to this book or to simply consider your own rituals, motivations and inspirations and how they can apply to making your own work outside of work.
Written by Nicole Rose, Founder and Director of Create Training