“The Creative Habit” Quotes

I recently finished reading The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. Here’s the quotes I found useful.

“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.” (7)

“Destiny, quite often, is a determined parent.” (8)

“Whether or not God has kissed your brow, you still have to work. Without learning and preparation, you won’t know how to harness the power of that kiss.” (8)

“Nobody worked harder 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.” (8)

“By making the start of the sequence automatic, they replace doubt and fear with comfort and routine.” (18)

“A Manhattan writer I know never leaves his apartment without reminding himself to “come back with a face.” Whether he’s walking down the street or sitting on a park bench or riding the subway or standing on a checkout line, he looks for a compelling face and works up a rich description of it in his mind. When he has a moment, he writes it all down in his notebook.” (30)

“Solitude is an unavoidable part of creativity. Self-reliance is a happy by-product.” (31)

“Doing is better than not doing, and if you do something badly you’ll learn to do it better.” (32)

“The golfer Ben Hogan said, “Every day you don’t practice you’re one day further from being good.” If it’s something you want to do, make the time.” (32)

“Make it your priority. Work around it. Once your basic needs are taken care of, money is there to be used. What better investment than in yourself?” (32)

“Immerse yourself in the details of the work. Commit yourself to mastering every aspect. At the same time, step back to see if the work scans, if it’s intelligible to an unwashed audience. Don’t get so involved that you lose what you’re trying to say.” (41)

“Traveling the paths of greatness, even in someone else’s footprints, is a vital means to acquiring skill.” (66)

“Every young person grows up with an overwhelming sense of possibility, and how life, in some ways, is just a series of incidents in which that possibility is either enlarged or smacked out of you. How you adapt is your choice.” (77)

“Never save for two meetings what you can accomplish in one.” (84)

“There’s a difference between a work’s beginning and starting to work.” (91)

“You don’t have a really good idea until you combine two little ideas.” (97)

“Art is not about minimizing risk and delivering work that is guaranteed to please. Artists have bigger goals. If being an artist means pushing the envelope, you don’t want to stuff your material in someone else’s envelope. You don’t want to know the envelope has been invented.” (105)

“Ideas will come to you more quickly if you’ve been putting in the time at your chosen craft.” (105)

“Mark Twain said, “the man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” (110)

“What you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.” (110)

“When you stimulate your body, your brain comes alive in ways you can’t simulate in a sedentary position.” (113)

“Giving yourself a handicap to overcome will force you to think in a new and slightly different way.” (114)

“A plan is like the scaffolding around a building. When you’re putting up the exterior shell, the scaffolding is vital. But once the shell is in place and you start work on the interior, the scaffolding disappears.” (119)

“In creative endeavors luck is a skill.” (120)

“The more you are in the room working, experimenting, banging away at your objective, the more luck has a chance of biting you on the nose.” (121)

“It’s vital to know the difference between good planning and too much planning.” (122)

“Give me a writer who thinks he has all the time in the world and I’ll show you a writer who never delivers.” (126)

“It’s tempting to believe that the quantity and quality of our creative productivity would increase exponentially if only we could afford everything we’ve imagined, but I’ve seen too many artists dry up the moment they had enough money in the bank.” (126)

“Obligation is not the same as commitment, and it’s certainly not an acceptable reason to stick with something that isn’t working.” (127)

“You only need one good reason to commit to an idea, not four hundred. But if you have four hundred reasons to say yes and one reason to say no, the answer is probably no.” (128)

“Obligation is a flimsy base for creativity, way down the list behind passion, courage, instinct, and the desire to do something great.” (128)

“Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources.” (129)

“You can’t overthink when you don’t have time to think at all.” (132)

“Too much planning implies you’ve got it all under control. That’s boring, unrealistic, and dangerous. It lulls you into a complacency that removes one of the artist’s most valuable conditions: being pissed.” (133)

“Art is competitive with yourself, with the past, with the future.” (133)

“Creativity is an act of defiance. You’re challenging the status quo. You’re questioning accepted truths and principles. You’re asking three universal questions that mock conventional wisdom:
“Why do I have to obey the rules?”
“Why can’t I be different?”
“Why can’t I do it my way?”” (133)

“To force change, you have to attack the work with outrage and violence.” (135)

“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?” (136)

“How to be lucky: Be generous. Generosity is luck going in the opposite direction, away from you.” (136)

“New collaborators bring new vectors of energy into your static world – and they can be combustible.” (137)

“Every work of art needs a spine – an underlying theme, a motive for coming into existence. It doesn’t have to be apparent to the audience. But you need it at the start of the creative process to guide you and keep you going.” (144)

“Skill gives you the wherewithal to execute whatever occurs to you. Without it, you are just a font of unfulfilled ideas. Skill is how you close the gap between what you can see in your mind’s eye and what you can produce; the more skill you have, the more sophisticated and accomplished your ideas can be. With absolute skill comes absolute confidence, allowing you to dare to be simple.” (163)

“Never worry that rote exercises aimed at developing skills will suffocate creativity. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that demonstrating great technique is not the same as being creative.” (164)

“Learn to do for yourself. It’s the only way to broaden your skills.” (165)

“Personality is a skill.” (165)

“One of her skills, and a great deal of her charm, was this built-in sense of humility. The greatest dancers have that.” (165)

“Confidence is a trait that has to be earned honestly and refreshed constantly; you have to work as hard to protect your skills as you did to develop them.” (165)

“Perfect practice makes perfect.” (165)

“The great ones never take fundamentals for granted.” (166)

“Practice without purpose, however, is nothing more than exercise. Too many people practice what they’re already good at and neglect the skills that need more work.” (167)

“The great ones shelve the perfected skills for a while and concentrate on their imperfections.” (167)

“The golfer Davis Love III was taught by his father to think of practice as a huge circle, like a clock. You work on a skill until you master it, and then you move on to the next one. When you’ve mastered that, you move on to the next, and the next, and the next, and eventually you’ll come full circle to the task that you began with, which will now need remedial work because of all the time you’ve spent on other things.” (167)

“Switching genres was Beethoven’s way of maintaining his inexperience, and as a result, enlarging his art.” (168)

“Analyze your own skill set. See where you’re strong and where you need dramatic improvement, and tackle those lagging skills first.” (169)

“Japanese sword fighter Miyamoto Musashi counseled, “Never have a favorite weapon.” (169)

“We need this breadth and passion if we’re going ot keep perfecting our craft, whether or not there is approval, validation, or money coming from it.” (173)

“Without passion, all the skill in the world won’t lift you above craft. Without skill, all the passion in the world will leave you eager but floundering. Combining the two is the essence of the creative life.” (173)

“The willingness to take directions is a skill noticed mostly when absent.” (175)

“The more you know, the better you can imagine.” (177)

““We’ve always done it this way” is not a good enough reason to keep doing it if it isn’t working.” (186)

“When you’re in a rut, you have to question everything except your ability to get out of it.” (187)

“You’ve got two minutes to come up with sixty uses for the stool. A lot of interesting things happen when you set an aggressive quota, even with ideas. People’s competitive juices are stirred. Instead of panicking they focus, and with that comes an increased fluency and agility of mind. People are forced to suspend critical thinking. To meet the quota, they put their internal critic on hold and let everything out. They’re no longer choking off good impulses.” (191)

“Sometimes you can’t identify a good idea until you’ve considered and discarded the bad ones.” (192)

“If you’re in a creative rut, the easiest way to challenge assumptions is to switch things around them and make the switch work. The process goes like this:

  1. Identify the concept that isn’t working.
  2. Write down your assumptions about it.
  3. Challenge the assumptions.
  4. Act on the challenge.” (193)

“Jerry Robbins made a point of going to see everything because he could find something useful in even the worst productions. He’d sit there, viewing the catastrophe onstage, and imagine how he would have done it differently. A bad evening at the theater for everyone else was a creative workout for him.” (195)

“There’s no point in analyzing it. If you could figure out how you get into a groove you could figure out how to maintain it. That’s not going to happen. The best you can hope for is the wisdom and good fortune to occasionally fall into a groove.” (196)

“Knowing when to stop is almost as critical as knowing how to start.” (207)

“There comes a point where you have to let your creation out into the world or it isn’t worth a tinkerer’s damn.” (208)

“You can’t be stoic and strong about everything. Some things in life are just meant to be enjoyed simply because you enjoy them. They are their own rationale.” (209)

“You do your best work after your biggest disasters.” (214)

“It’s vital to be able to forget the pain of failure while retaining the lessons from it.” (214)

“You won’t get very far relying on your audience’s ignorance.” (218)

“If you don’t have a broad base of skills, you’re limiting the number of problems you can solve when trouble hits.” (222)

“When people who have demonstrated talent fizzle out or disappear after early creative success, it’s not because their gifts, that famous “one percent inspiration,” abandoned them; more likely they abandoned their gift through a failure of perspiration.” (233)

“An artist’s ultimate goal is the achievement of mastery.” (240)

“Every time you set out to create something new, you have to prove to yourself you can still do it at least as well as, if not better than, you did it before. You can not rest on your creative laurels.” (241)

As always, if you find these quotes useful, please buy the full book here.

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