The creative habit: use it or lose it

I made one of my crazy 24-hour whirlwind visits to NYC last weekend. Among other things (some of which I’ll probably write about here, eventually), my friends and I went to the Body & Soul dance party at Webster Hall. This photo sucks (I lifted my iPhone up and snapped into the darkness) but you get the idea:

Dancing is one of life’s true joys. It’s a necessity for me. I’ll never pass up the chance to shake it out on the dance floor.

On the way back to Boston, I started thinking about dancing and about the act of letting go and just being creative. Children do this naturally: they dance, move, draw and act when urge strikes. As adults, we fear it after our bosses or life squashes it down, often for good.

Don’t let this happen to you. Promise me!

Thanks in large part to this blog, I just started a new gig at a big, vibrant ad agency. One huge difference I’ve noticed right away from my typical corporate clients: the place embraces idea generation and the creative thought process. Everyone has a say, and as a result, ideas flourish. Stuff gets created–tons of it–and it’s good!

Being creative is about being disciplined and dedicated, passionate and productive.

If you want to be creative, don’t let yourself get distracted by bullshit. When I want to write, I won’t be stopped. I don’t want to scoop cat litter or throw in just one more load of laundry before I sit down in front of the keyboard. I’m a busy woman. Any time that I get to write what I want is precious. I once read that the average American watches 34 hours of TV a week. That’s a lot of creativity down the drain. I don’t watch TV that often; I’d rather write. And read. The best writers are prolific readers.

I never know when an idea will strike. I have a notebook in my purse and one by my bed with bits of ideas and sentences, snippets of random things here and there. I’m constantly making lists and carrying them around in my coat pockets so I can add to them. That way I won’t lose anything. Ideas are insidious. They work their way into my life, often onto things like mundane grocery lists–in fact I’m laughing now as I write this because there’s one right here to my left:

Bananas, cereal, cat food (can & dry), tampons, housing/real estate, email Laurie, creativity: use it or lose it, burn the burqua, RISING UP, x-urban skiing (Reservoir)

Crazy, right? But this system, if you can call it that, works for me. Some of this I’ll use (and do, and buy!); and some I won’t. But the fact that I have it written down somewhere is comforting to me.

Creativity does require talent in the sense that having talent in your chosen field will keep propelling you forward when times are financially and creatively lean. Talent helps you enjoy your calling. But talent isn’t enough, honey.

The act of being creative is like knowing a foreign language. You’ve got to speak it often, otherwise it fades and gets flabby. True creativity comes when I feel most balanced: my ideal is when I get outdoors to exercise (usually a long run or cross-country ski) in nature alone (my form of meditation). My idea of the most splendid luxury would be to go running everyday, and then go home and write whatever I want. Stick my ass in a cubicle and I’m toast. I need to be out in the world, experiencing both life and solitude. I need time to observe and reflect in order to create.

The great choreographer (and fellow Barnard graduate) Twyla Tharp wrote a book that I like to read. It’s called The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life. Here she is, in all her fabulous dancing glory:

Twyla twirl (

And here’s Twyla writing about creativity from the back cover of her book:

“Being creative is not a once-in-a-while sort of thing. Being creative is an everyday thing, a job with its own routines. That’s why writers, for example, like to establish a routine for themselves. The most productive ones get started early in the morning when the phones aren’t ringing and their minds are rested and not yet polluted by other people’s words. They might set a goal–1,500 words or stay at their desk until noon–but the real secret is that they do this every day. They do not waver. After a while it becomes a habit.

This is no different for any creative individual whether it’s a painter finding his way to the easel or a medical researcher returning to the laboratory. The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration (perhaps more). And it is available to everyone. If creativity is a habit, then the best creativity is a result of good work habits. They are the nuts and bolts of dreaming.”

Try to make creativity your habit, and see what happens.