Sure, there are times when everyone has sudden bursts of effortless creativity. But there are just as many times when a seemingly insignificant creation was preceded by hours, even months or years, of grinding hard work and hair-tearing angst.
Ever curious, I’m always interested in the work habits of other creatives and one of my favorite books on the subject is The Creative Habit by international choreographer Twyla Tharp. “Creativity is not a gift from the gods,” she says, “ … it is the product of preparation and effort.”
When we first toy with a new idea or project, sensory intake increases dramatically as we consider feasibility and play with various viewpoints, forms, media, visuals, and other possibilities.
Tharp says that during this phase, she wants to place herself in a bubble of "monomaniacal absorption" where she’s fully invested in nothing but the task at hand.
She’s turned this process into a ritual she calls subtraction. “I list the biggest distractions in my life and make a pact, to myself, to do without them for a week.”
Her subtraction list includes:
Movies, multitasking (no reading on the StairMaster or eating while working), anything related to numbers such as contracts, bank statements, bathroom scales etc., and background music.
The first time I read this I thought, brilliant! Obvious, but brilliant. So at the start of my next project, I cut out several of my biggest distractions and, of course, thought more clearly and accomplished much more in a shorter period of time.
And then, being human, I forgot all about the ritual of subtraction until I recently re-read her book.
Timing was perfect. About to begin pre-production on an important project I decided that a little subtraction would work well this week. For me, this isn’t a hardship or applied discipline or forced structure. I genuinely find that subtracting for a week, or sometimes even just a day or two, really helps to put me in a different zone.
My subtraction list includes:
Television & radio.
Personal email, snailmail, phone calls.
Shopping of any kind ( … so I need to get milk and cookies in!)
As well as subtracting, I also add a few simple things that feed my soul such as nightly bubble baths, evening candlelight versus electric light, extended walks on the beach, and music.
What creative rituals or processes work well for you? Do you add or subtract things from your life? What are your distractions?