Creativity According to Twyla

Creativity Twyla Tharp“I walk into a large white room. It’s a dance studio in midtown Manhattan. I’m wearing a sweatshirt, faded jeans, and Nike cross-trainers. The room is lined with eight-foot-high mirrors. There’s a boom box in the corner. The floor is clean, virtually spotless if you don’t count the thousands of skid marks and footprints left there by dancers rehearsing. Other than the mirror, the boom box, the skid marks, and me, the room is empty.”

Everyone who creates must begin here; the environment and your tools. For the woodworker there is the wood and your edge tools. The writer begins with a blank screen and the keyboard, the photographer with a lens and unexposed film, and the teacher with knowledge and a course schedule.  The process of creating something from nothing is difficult, challenging work that often finds you bumping up against a variety of blocks. Preparation to create is the key to climbing over these obstacles to mine the creative gold that lies on the other side.

The renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp shares the core elements that she relies upon to create new dances over and over throughout the decades of her storied career. Key to the process of creating is to prepare yourself to create. You will not run a marathon without having trained yourself to go that distance. A table will not be created from that expensive walnut without your having learned find it in the wood. Why do we expect creativity to simply flow without having trained ourselves to be prepared to harvest the flow?

Tharp’s theme throughout is to emphasize the habits that the truly creative people develop. She relates her own rituals as well as those of other creatives to point you toward finding your own set of habits that will prepare and arrange you in the place where your mind and soul are prepared to create. Be at your keyboard, with your camera, in your workshop and your brain will automatically know that it is time to create.

But I’m not creative, you say. Twyla would say nonsense! You simply have not prepared yourself to create. You have not identified your specific creative spark, you have not developed a process (The Box), you have put yourself in a place to scratch, you have not identified the core of the work (The Spine), and you have not put the time into the basics (Skill) that must be second nature so that creativity can put them to use in new forms.

Tharp’s book is not a manual but rather, an inspiration. She is not telling you to follow her method step by step. Instead Twyla practically demands that you find your personal method, strengthen it and make it tough, and then put yourself in a position of letting it work for you. Savor the book; get a pencil and make it your own.

Now, get out and create something.


Pastors and other ministry leaders might look at a book like this and wonder what it might have to offer them. In reality, is there any more demanding job than preparing to speak God’s word each week? God is a Creative Entity and he has placed this in you. Train yourself to be creative, know your skills (scripture and theology), and let that creativity color the work you produce each week.

Merlin turned me on to this book and many of us can benefit from the new direction he has taken 43 Folders. The language and humor can be a little coarse so be aware but check out what he has to say and who he links to if you want to continue to grow in your creativity.

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