Monday, February 3, 2014

Does Routine Unleash Creativity?

I 've been wondering if there is some way to enhance creativity. To free your mind so that it can imagine endless scenarios and ideas that would make plotting easier.


Easier? That's funny. I'm old enough to know nothing, absolutely nothing, in life is easy.

(Well, maybe for some people but I'm just talking about most of us under the bell curve here.)

I've been given the suggestions of mind-altering drugs, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, yoga, journaling, or meditation, but I'm not sure there is an easy answer.

Twyla Tharp, in her classic book The Creative Habit, gives us some clues to the dilemma of creative work when she says, "If art is the bridge between what you see in your mind and why the world sees, then skill is how you build that bridge."

And skill is learnable. But it's hard work.

We have a saying in my family. "Hard work trumps talent unless talent works hard."

This is optimistic. It means that if you are not born with Supertalents, you can still succeed.

So none of us knows how good we can be, how far we can go. All we can do is give it our all every day and stick to our routines and keep working.

Tharp expounds the benefits of routine, hard work, determination, commitment, and constant hard work in any artistic profession where you first must find out what problem you are going to solve and then set about figuring out how you are going to solve it.

She feels that routine is as much of the creative process or even more than the lightning bolt of inspiration that may or may not come, or comes as it may. But it's a lot more likely to come if we sit in our chairs and keep struggling.

The uncertainty of the creative process often leads to living in a state of constant anxiety which many famous writers have used mind-altering substances to relieve.

So we don't want to go there. But I love Tharp's optimism, that with hard work and passion we can go forward, bold and fearless, to accomplish despite the presence of fear.

So does this mean that creativity get released, paradoxically, when we build the strictest of routines to house it?

It reminds me of something my mom and dad used to say a lot. "Just do your best." And I'll add something that was circulating on Facebook a while ago, "and try not to suck."

Twyla Tharp. The Creative Habit:  Learn It and Use It for Life. Simon and Shuster, 2003.


  1. I think that practice makes perfect. And that means hard work. So, sure there are days when I pull my hair out, but there are days when the ideas flow like marvelous bubbly Prosecco out through my fingertips. (Had to get the Prosecco in!) Those are the days that keep me coming back.
    Writing is a job and jobs require dedication -- if you want to succeed. And I know you have that dedication! Hang in there!

  2. Great post, Miranda! I know that the words seem to flow more freely (like Prosecco!) when I work on the pages every day instead of when I feel like it. ;)

    1. Um, could I maybe have a few of your Cabana boys as well. You know, just to help as I'm sitting here suffering :) Thanks for coming by!

  3. Hi Nan! Oh, for more of those Porsecco days! Thanks for the encouragement and for stopping by.

  4. For sure, the words come easier when I'm in the routine of writing. Also, I've yet to try Prosecco...Must correct that soon!

  5. Hi Sandy. I think you've got this routine thing all figured out. And I just realized I put "Porsecco" up there. New variety of Prosecco, maybe?

  6. Great post Miranda, I think you just need to sit down and do your best and keep plugging away, even if it seems slow and tedeous. You have to stay with the characters day in and day out. Not to say you can't escape for a day or two to refresh and bring something new back to your writing. Thanks for this reminder. Slow and steady

  7. I like what you said, staying with the characters day after day. It takes a lot to get to really know who they are! All great advice, Barb. See you in Jules' workshop!