The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life

Author: Twyla Tharp, with Mark Reiter

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2003

Pages: 243

Rating: *** ½


Famous dance choreographer Twyla Tharp says there is a “perennial debate, born in the Romantic era, between the beliefs that all creative acts are born of (a) some transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration, a kiss from God on your brow that allows you to give the world The Magic Flute, or (b) hard work.”


Tharp comes “down on the side of hard work” and thinks “creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.”


According to Tharp, the film Amadeus “dramatizes and romanticizes the divine origins of creative genius. Antonio Salieri, representing the talented hack, is cursed to live in the time of Mozart, the gifted and undisciplined genius who writes as though touched by the hand of God.” 


“Of course, this is hogwash,” Tharp says, “There are no ‘natural’ geniuses.” Mozart’s “first good fortune was to have a father who was a composer and a virtuoso on the violin, who could approach keyboard instruments with skill,” and then Tharp tells the reader that “nobody worked hard than Mozart. By the time he was twenty-eight years old, his hands were deformed because of all the hours he had spent practicing, performing, and gripping a quill pen to compose. That’s the missing element in the popular portrait of Mozart.”


Building on this reassuring theme, Tharp leads the reader through the trials of every artist, discussing such topics as:


Rituals of Preparation

Before You Can Think out of the Box, You Have to Start with a Box


Accidents Will Happen

Ruts and Grooves

An “A” in Failure

The Long Run


Reading about Twyla Tharp’s work habits, successes, and failures was reassuring and inspiring for me. If creating is difficult for even the most successful artists, then suddenly hard work seems meaningful and do-able.

2 thoughts on “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life

  1. Wow! I love that this book addresses one of those things that make me especially grumpy — namely, the belief that creativity is the result of divine inspiration, rather than hard work.

    Of course, I do believe in creative inspiration, but some people think that’s all it takes. And that belief is probably preventing them from creating anything at all!

    • I loved that too. Especially since she doesn’t mince words about it, is successful, and is quite honest about her mistakes and failures and doesn’t let them get her down. She just learns from them and then works harder.

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