The Creative Habit Book Review


I borrowed Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life from my mother, who said “that book is rich; I felt too inspired!” From the book’s jacket: “creativity is not a gift from the gods… it is the product of preparation and effort, and it’s within reach of everyone.” The Creative Habit is half narrative about various skills or elements of creativity and half exercises. Twyla has a clear and fundamental understanding of creativity and has blessed us (those of us interested in any creative pursuit) with this guide.


I had two personal favorite elements of this book. First is the way Twyla gives each creative lesson in the form of stories from her career. One of my favorites is the explanation of a tool she uses: the cardboard file box. Each project begins with one box, she titles its outside, adds an index card with the goal written down, and from there fills the box (and more if needed) with notes, mementos, and reference materials. She illustrates this while telling about the creation of her musical Movin’ Out, based on the music of Billy Joel. The box anchors her during a project and serves as an archive for after. Some other lessons in the book came from Twyla’s experiences with Mozart, George Balanchine, and Jerome Robbins.

The second highlight is the exercises concluding each chapter. They are varied. She asks you to move, to write, to observe and visualize, to plan, to remove (behaviors, people, and skills), to reflect, and to explore. Although this may seem like a scattered approach, like throwing many things at a wall to see what will stick, I see it more as a wide menu to select a few options from. It can cater to many peoples’ different tastes.

Influence on Me

  • Scratching: a process of roving for inspiration. I found Twyla’s interpretation of it to work better for me than artist dates. I wrote about that more here.
  • Twyla’s work ethic is bar none. She continually strives for improvement and actively seeks challenges. For example, not taking notes while watching a rehearsal and simply (ha!) remembering all the notes she wants to give the dancers at the end.

Why You Should Read It

The Creative Habit is full of pragmatic ideas for boosting your creativity. If you read The Artist’s Way and found it too woo-woo, this is similar but more down-to-earth. Twyla has thoughts and suggestions about routines, practicing, organization, etc. As an added bonus if you have some interest in dance and/or classical music, her stories on those two topics will draw you in.

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