Developing the Creative Habit

The Creative HabitI am currently reading Twyla Tharp’s ‘The Creative Habit’ and I think of it as my own personal creativity coach.  Twyla Tharp, of course, is a dancer and choreographer, but her principles and suggested exercises are applicable across a wide range of creative disciplines.  And here we have that key word ‘discipline’, which perhaps only a dancer truly understands.  But let me use Ms. Tharp’s own words:

‘It is the perennial debate, born in the Romantic era, between the beliefs that all creative acts are born of (a) some transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration, a kiss from God on  your brow that allow you to give the world The Magic Flute, or (b) hard work.  … I come down on the side of hard work…. Creativity is a habit and the best creativity is a result of good work habits…. In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative.’

In other words, in order to reach the highest pinnacles of achievement that you are capable of, you need to do your warming up exercises.  You need to put in the practice and talent will find you (and she gives Mozart as an example, the hours and hours of practice and study that he put in as a child, the 24 symphonies that he wrote almost as a ‘draft’ before he finally wrote a good one).

For a long time, I was of the opposite school of thought.  Because I had moments in my teens when I was suddenly struck by flashes of inspiration, I thought that all I needed was a quiet place and enough time to commune with my Muse.  Inspiration would come again.  Some automatic dictation would occur.  But as I grew up and life got more complicated, the opportunities for introspection became limited, as did the time I could dedicate to creative writing.  I fell silent for far too many years, waiting for that flash of elusive inspiration.

Still, still, I stubbornly clung to the belief that an hour or ten minutes or 500 words or whatever daily routine I would try to establish could have no value.  Me?  Write without being inspired?  Good heavens and all evidence to the contrary, no!  And then I found my teen-age diaries and began to realise that my ‘moments of genius’ (as I thought of them back then, no matter how my overblown poetry makes me cringe now) were surrounded by utmost focus on literature.  I was reading huge amounts daily (and really analysing texts, too), I was writing for hours in my diary, letters, book reviews, prose and poetry.  I was learning new things every day and exploring them through my writing.  I am astonished at just how productive and hard-working the 15 year old Marina was.

So I have now converted to Twyla Tharp’s school of thought about hard work.  Yes, I now have a lot more obligations and preoccupations than a fifteen year old, but I still have to do a vast amount of practice, whether I like the results of those training sessions or not.  I have to make creativity a daily habit.

Or, as Pablo Picasso put it even more succinctly: ‘Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.’

Who Is It For?

I will be honest with you.  I started this blog without any thought that anybody would actually read it.  I only told two people about it (or that I was thinking about it).  It was more like an online diary, a place for experimentation, a means of holding myself accountable for writing every day.  I would not post every day, because some things take longer to write, but I would know if I was working or not.

It was to be a place of searing honesty.  Somewhere where I wouldn’t be able to hide behing my professional mask, my deadlines, my other multiple roles.  It was to be me vs. myself in the ring, two sumo wrestlers trying to outface each other. Only the opponent counted.

And then I discovered that I was being watched, that there are people reading this.  Complete strangers, some of them.  Who take the time to comment or ‘like’ my outpourings.  I had never dared share my writing before.  I had always been afraid of … being told that I can’t write, shouldn’t write, should stick to the day job etc. etc.  I feel raw as a newly hatched chick, I shiver a little in anticipation.  I am honoured and humbled.  Thank you, dear readers.

How do you find time to write?

As you might have guessed from the title of this blog, finding time to write anything other than To Do lists and professional reports can be a bit of a personal challenge for me.  So, for a fun Friday activity, I thought I would compile a few of my favourite writing tips from well-known and respected writers.  Those who have ‘cracked’ the dilemma of ‘but I don’t have the time…’.  Here’s to hoping it will give me wings for the weekend, although most of them sound quite stern.

Work according to the program, not according to the mood! (Henry Miller)

Nobody’s making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine! (Margaret Atwood)

Write.  Put one word after another.  Find the right word, put it down. (Neil Gaiman)

Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom. (Jeanette Winterson)

Don’t keep waiting for the right moment or you’ll wait forever, but accept that there are some stages in life when it’s next to impossible to pull off a book. (Kate White)

The way to write a book is to actually write a book.  A pen is useful, typing is also good…. The first twelve years are the worst.  (Anne Enright)

It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction. (Jonathan Franzen)

Here are three somewhat kinder ones:

Defend yourself.  Find out what keeps you happy, motivated and creative. (AL Kennedy)

Decide when in the day (or night) it best suits you to write, and organise your life accordingly. (Andrew Motion)

Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It’s research. (Roddy Doyle)

Oh, that’s all right then…  No, hang on a minute!

 

Have Words, Will Write

This is my space where I can be cosy, curl up with a book or a pen and a notebook.

This is where I can talk about the things I love most in the world: words, language, books, stories, poems, inspiration.

This is where I can experiment, fly and crash, without further comment or panic or fear.

This is where I can be myself, not a mother, not a daughter, not a wife, not a businesswoman.  And not a scribbler, but most definitely a writer.

This is me, distilled, 100% pure.