Twyla Tharp’s Creative Habit

There are plenty of opportunities to see great dance and theater performances in San Diego. I miss a lot due to inattention and lack of planning, but I managed to get tickets for Come Fly Away, the Broadway musical choreographed and directed by Twyla Tharp. A live big band performs onstage with one vocalist and the voice of Frank Sinatra while a cast of dancers tell the story through the choreography. Sounds like heaven to me.

I’ve long admired Tharp’s work and I loved Movin’ Out, the 2003 Tony winner for Best Choreography, also directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp. Movin’ Out was a similar format, with a singer/pianist and a band performing the music of Billy Joel on a raised platform while dancers performed onstage.

Tharp also wrote one of my favorite books on creativity, The Creative Habit.

There are twelve chapters densely packed with practical advice based on her more than forty years of creative productivity. She shares what she’s learned, how she figured it out, and offers thirty-two exercises to help artists of every genre build their own creative rituals and habits.

Two of my favorite chapters are Spine, about finding the central idea, the meaning behind your story; and Skill, the reminder that talent does exist, but that hard work, study and practicing to build the skills we lack give us the foundation for our creativity.

Tharp says that “the best creativity is a result of good work habits.” I’ve found that I’m happiest with my work when I stick with the habits I’ve built for myself. I’m so grateful for what I’ve learned from her book and delighted that I’ll have another chance to see the result of her creative habits when I watch Come Fly Away.


Filed under Art, Books, Creativity, Dance, Writing

20 responses to “Twyla Tharp’s Creative Habit

  1. I find the creative process fascinating, and books about it inspiring. I’m a fan of Julia Cameron — The Artist’s Way, Vein of Gold — but have never been able to maintain her journaling schedule for any real length of time. Still, I enjoy her books, especially the quotes in the margins. Also Heather Sellers, Page by Page and Chapter by Chapter. When I’m stuck or blocked, little helps more than books like these.

    • I love Julia Cameron’s books, too. I agree that her journaling schedule is tough. I do like to write daily, but not the very first thing in the morning and I’d rather freewrite than journal. I haven’t read anything by Heather Sellers so I’ll look for her books. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. I don’t know much about the process behind dance, but I love to watch dancers. It amazes me the way they tell a story through movement.

    • Dance is amazing and beautiful to watch. Reading Twyla Tharp’s book reveals that her creative process isn’t so different from a writer’s, a composer’s or a painter’s. I think that most art begins with a story no matter what medium the artist uses to tell it.

  3. anita

    Ooh, thanks for the tip on Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit. I will get a copy. Also – thanks for the tip about the concert, which I will check out.
    Creativity is creativity, whatever the medium – whether it’s writing, singing, dancing….the list is forever.

  4. It would be so much fun to see Come Fly Away. I hope you blog about it after you’ve seen it.

  5. I love Billy Joel’s music but never got to see a performance of Movin’ Out. I hope it returns to San Diego one day. That would be awesome. 🙂

  6. Funny because I was at the Civic Center / Golden Hall yesterday and I saw the poster for Come Fly Away and I wondered what it was about. I had no idea of the back story. Sounds interesting too.

    • I’ve loved Broadway musicals since I was a kid watching summer theater in my home town. I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like, but when there’s a musical that’s heavy on dance, I just have to see it.

  7. Shary, I hope you enjoy “Come Fly Away.” If it’s anything like the description you’ve given of Twyla Tharp’s book, then it sounds like you’re in for a real treat! I hope you will write a blog post telling us about the musical!

  8. It’s sure to be a great performance. Can’t wait!

  9. I envy all the artsy people. They can create something so beautiful and make our lives so much more interesting. Enjoy the show!

  10. I think I need to get Tharp’s book on creativity and read and reread the chapter on skill being a function of your ability to work hard. I need a good kick in the pants about that.

  11. That sounds like a great book, thanks for the suggestion! I love Tharp, Movin’ Out and really anything related to live theater productions, especially musicals and dance. One of my favorite moments is when the lights go out and the orchestra begins the overture. You know you still have the whole performance ahead of you! I’ll have to look into Come Fly Away, I was not familiar with it.