Book Review: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

by Jodi Wiley

Twyla Tharp is a renowned American choreographer who has created more than one hundred dances for her own company as well as prestigious dance and ballet companies worldwide. She’s had a long, successful career, won many awards and obviously knows her stuff in the field of dance. But she also knows a thing or two about creativity. This book is not about dance, although Tharp does use many personal examples from her own life’s work. The Creative Habit: learn it and use it for life is about creativity in every field and Tharp draws her examples not only from the performing arts but she also references visual arts, writing, composing and even business.

It took me a while to read this book because I wasn’t sure, at first, exactly how to interpret it. It’s not a conventional ‘self-help’ or ‘how to’ book. It takes a more philosophical approach and the exercises at the end of each chapter aren’t always directives for action but are sometimes just food for thought. The book crept up on me though and after a while I started to really enjoy Tharp’s engaging voice and understand her innovative ideas a little better. The Creative Habit has more complexity and depth than your regular self-help title and I know I will want to re-read it again someday after I’ve allowed this first reading to settle.

Tharp writes about creative ritual and harnessing memory. Her thoughts on how to research a project and ‘scratch’ around for ideas are relevant to every creative field. There is a chapter about how to get out of a rut and into a groove. One about how to avoid over-planning and the need to accept failure as an important part of the creative process.

At one point she writes about the fallacy of needing the perfect conditions in which to create. I like what she has to say about this: ‘My perfect world does not exist, but it’s there as a goal. What are the conditions of your perfect world? Which of them are essential, and which can you work around? You may discover you are not that far from heaven’.

The Creative Habit: learn it and use it for life is an inspiring read for anyone with an interest in the creative life. It’s published by Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

Jodi Wiley is an artist, writer, teacher and blogger. She has written freelance articles and book reviews for magazines and newspapers, as well as education curriculum. She has won awards for her artwork and been a finalist for several art and illustration prizes. Jodi is currently on maternity leave from high school teaching and is on a (quite frankly deranged) quest to update her blog daily: