Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Creativity and Habit

I recently read Henry Miller’s Daily Schedule on one of my favorite websites, I’m copying it here:

If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.
If in fine fettle, write.
Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.
See friends. Read in cafés.
Explore unfamiliar sections – on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.
Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.
Paint if empty or tired.
Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.
Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.
Isn’t that wonderful? Not only the schedule itself, but the fact that Henry Miller needed to write it out for himself. I’ve been reading Twyla Tharp’s wonderful book The Creative Habit. In it, she states, “Creativity is a habit. And the best creativity is the result of good work habits.” She goes on to debunk the idea of the genius who has sloppy work habits, but goes on to create great works of art. She cites Mozart as an example, “By the time he was twenty-eight years old, his hands were deformed because of all of the hours he had spent practicing, performing, and gripping a quill pen to compose.”
I recently finished Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which asserts basically the same thing. He cites a study of pianists in which it was revealed, somewhat unsurprisingly, that the most successful were those who worked the hardest: “The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any ‘naturals,’ musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any ‘grinds,’ people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break top ranks.” So what Thomas Edison said is true. 1% Inspiration; 99% Perspiration.
But that doesn’t really fit the romantic ideal. We want to think that artists are “inspired;” that they take dictation direct from God. And maybe they do. But they don’t if they fail to sit down at their desks or arrive at the studio ready to work. Here is a great TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on the subject: Don’t let her bad hair distract you—what she says is true.
Remember that the next time you feel the urge to put off your creative work. It is only through the habit of work that your will make your best art.

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