reading: the creative habit

i just finished twyla tharp’s the creative habit and sady i’m just not feeling it. i should be fair and say that, for the record, i don’t much care for books about creativity and how to improve one’s process. most of the books by big names don’t actually give solid tips and pointers but instead focus on how the author works. from time to time there is a nugget of wisdom tucked away in there that makes for a useful addition to one’s creative tool chest but more often than not it’s a collection of personal quirks that seem to work for the person talking about it. something like…

did you know that when i sit down to compose i make sure that my coffee mug is to my left so that i have maximum movement available to my right hand with which i hold my pen? did you care? will that help you?

another fine point is that talking about the creative process generally sucks. it’s all about telling other people about how you work. creative processes are very personal and no creative person really cares about any one else’s more than talking about his own. what i’m trying to say is that when someone brings up the topic of the creative process it’s to allow that person to go on and on about their personal method. and that is pretty sucky conversation material. it’s more like dueling monologues.

i know that the intent of these books and the reason that people buy them is to find that one little trick that can be transferred as if a way of doing creative work could really be stolen. i liken this to the GTD method of organizing tasks. at the end of the day you can use all of the note cards and folder tricks in the world but it all boils down to “do the work.” don’t make excuses. don’t copy someone else’s rituals. simply start where you need to start and end when you’re done.

the master luthier wayne henderson says that he builds a guitar by taking some wood and carving away the parts that aren’t a guitar. that? that’s a great discussion of a creative process. he does the work. does it get simpler than that?

the creative habit isn’t a bad example of creativity books. it feels to me like all of the others. maybe i’m put off by the discussion of famous people. or that the examples in the book are recycled so frequently. yes, we all know that mozart and bach were geniuses. great. leonardo was cool too. the half-hearted attempts to make the book relevant to the business types who read this kind of book to gain an edge and get out of their well worn section of barnes & noble were sad. again, i’ve seen that done elsewhere but here it really stood out. painfully so.

i wanted to like this book. people i generally trust to filter this kind of thing for me really enjoyed it and seemed to take a lot away from it. it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that i’m thick and didn’t get it. but i didn’t. get it, that is.

  1. I think I understand your experience. I get the same feeling when watching an interview with an actor/actress. The interview always wants to “how did you do it” and the actor doesn’t have much to say “oh, you know, you read a little bit, try some stuff, work at it….” There’s just not much substantive to say or extremely self-important/righteous.

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