Book review: The Creative Habit


Whether from laziness, lack of inspiration or the youthful conditioning that made me the cheapskate I am today, it’s rare that I will mark up a book.

Unless the book is choreographer Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit and you are me over the past two weeks. If my first pass was any indication, I’m going to need to bust out the box of 64 for subsequent reads. Of which there will be many. Many.

It would almost be disrespectful not to mark up a book like this: a staggeringly juicy and well-crafted manual/bible/first aid kit, bursting with tools and inspiration for creative types, served up in every possible way to serve every possible style of learner.

There are concepts, laid out clearly and logically and in an order that makes perfect sense, and that would be a jumble of chaos in the hands of lesser wranglers*.

There are stories to illuminate and illustrate the concepts, both from Tharp’s career and those of the great artistic legends of our time and beyond.

There are pictures, there are (praise be!) lists, there are pull-quotes.

And there are exercises, 32 glorious, immediately executable exercises, that I guarantee you will be all over like white on rice.

One minor quibble? The bulk of the book is rather unfortunately set in Bodoni, a lovely title case, but a bit hard on the eyes as a text case**. On the other hand, it slows you down, which is probably a good thing: I quite often found myself racing through parts, my greedy brain screaming for more, and faster. This is a book to be devoured and savored, and marked up, and discussed, and grabbed for in moments of creative crisis. Of which…well, you know.

Honestly, I don’t care who you buy this from. But buy it. It’s not a loaner. Not unless you have an extremely understanding librarian.

And then, when you get it, don’t put it on your “to read” stack: put your ass in the chair, get a big, old writing implement and commence to reading***.

You can write and thank me later


Image by laffy4K via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

*The author credits go to Tharp and Mark Reiter, Tharp’s literary agent and a frickity-frackin’ Renaissance one at that, he’s collaborated on eleven other books! That’s the kind of agent I want, dammit.

**Merlin likened it to “reading a 250-page poster for a freshman poetry series.” Maybe unkindly, but brother, it’s the truth.

***Thank you, Julien. You were 100% right, and I totally owe you a beverage of choice.


  1. All that exists on earth and was not created by us is of real value everything we “create” ultimately is profane and desturctive – more noise, more representation, more abstraction and cofusion, more self centered humanism – while our insane need to “create” is depeleting, destroying and debasing natural enivrons which are profound, prolific, nurturing to life in all its forms. I am a cermaic artist and am the worst culprit of all of us creative types because my chosen medium is so energy consumprive and produces objects that have the potential for littering the earth forever – think of what remains of ancient cultures.

  2. this is a great review of a great book i am now re-reading due to you mentioning it to me recently!

    what i REALLY love about the theme of the book is that it makes creativity a “habit” and Twyla has so many examples of this in the book not just from her personal habits but those of Mozart, Rembrandt and Beethoven. it is my FIRM BELIEF that creativity is a LEARNED SKILL like any other; after all, one must master using the tools of the trade before creating amazing things with those tools…i’d also like to add that as a dancer i love reading about her own creative process.

    hope you don’t mind if i link this review to my blog this week! you review it better than i could =-) i’m so glad you discovered this book so i could re-discover it!

  3. PP – Yup, that was me. And you’ll love this one, too—it’s a totally different animal, although you can still use it sort of in the way you use the other. Enjoy!

    Nay Sayer – A philosophical stance that I can’t begin to address within the scope of this little comments section. Or anywhere, maybe, without adding noise, which is your point. And your noise. :-)

    Monica – I think that we need many more words for “creativity,” like the Eskimos have for snow (or whoever the people are who have a word for it). I guess that’s to say that I both agree (that creativity is of little use without strong, flexible systems and skills and tools to support it) and don’t (that creativity is learned). I think the habit of keeping your creative house in order is absolutely learned, and I think that creative impulses are quashed in the young. I also think that some people are just naturally better at some stuff than they are at other stuff—dancing, for example, or math, or what have you.

    Affinities, maybe. We have affinities and they’re all fueled by creativity and in that sense, yeah, creativity is learned.

    Okay—we’re back on the same page!

  4. boy, are you right on the need for more words for “creativity”!! and yes, there are some things that people are better at than others (dance, sports, math) and i love how you phrase the need for “strong, flexible systems and skills and tools to support it”…
    yes, again, to the fact that ‘creativity’ is quashed in the young, at least in this American culture, from what i’ve observed over the years =-( we’ve got to find a way to stop that!!…but how?

    thanks for responding to the comments!

  5. This book had been on my list for a long time, and your tweet about it had me rushing to the bookstore. I am in love! Thank you! The only thing I don’t like is the blurb on the front from the Times review that says it is for the ‘creatively challenged’. Of course, everyone is or can be creatively challenged, but the phrasing seems to suggest something negative. So I sharpied it out. All better. I’m a working artist who adores books on creativity, and this one is definitely one of my new favorites.

    Thank you!

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