The Key to Creativity…

March 31, 2009

Photo by Allison at

Photo by Allison at

I read an article recently that had a tremendous impact on me.  It was written by Mary Lou Johns and was published in the Country Register (  I learned a lot from it, so I wanted to share it with you. Enjoy! 

The Key to creativity: Making it a Habit

All it takes to make creativity a part of your life is the willingness to make it a habit.

We have to establish habits for our creative pursuits or the work will not get done and the creativity will have no place to manifest.  This is the theme of the book by American dance master Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit, Learn It and Use It for Life.

Tharp was recently honored at the Kennedy Center for her lifetime contribution and achievement in dance.  Her body of work is astonishing: She has created 135 dances so far, choreographed five movies, written two best-selling books, won a Tony Award and a couple of Emmy’s, received 19 honorary doctorates, the Vietnam Veterans of America President’s Award, a MacArthur fellowhip, the 2004 National Medal of the Arts and the 2008 Jerome Robbins Award.  She founded her own company, Twyla Tharp Dance, fresh from college in 1965, and she has choreographed for her own dancers and for many other companies, including the American Ballet Theatre, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, New York City Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance and the Martha Graham Dance company.

How does she do it?  And keep doing it? Approaching 70, Tharp still dances with her dancers and choreographs by physically moving.  This amazingly creative and prolific icon is a living icon to the power of establishing habits.

What does it mean to establish habits for our creative pursuits?  Aren’t we just supposed to let the creativity flow when the ideas come to us? No! Routines are what support our creativity.  Routines get us to the drawing board, to the rehearsal hall, the laboratory.  Routines give our brains the message, “This is the time and place; get busy.  Now!”

Tharp tells us, “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 routines 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 – 1500 words or stay at their desk until noon – but the real secret is that they do this every day.  They do not waiver.  After a while it becomes a habit.

And the habit of  showing up at the workplace kicks the ideas into action.  You start producing because this is what you do.  Write 1500 words, sketch three thumbnails of possible paintings, begin dancing.  At first, the quality of the work doesn’t matter.  Just get started.  Later you can edit, revise, and delete.

There is no mystery in the prolific creativity of writer Stephen King, of choreographer Twyla Tharp, or inventor Thomas Edison.  The secret is none other than the habit of work.  King writes every day, all morning.  Tharp goes to the gym every day.  Edison worked in his lab almost constantly.

Tharp tells us that “the routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightening 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.”

It’s a new year, a perfect time to decide to maximize your creative expression. (By creative expression, I mean problem solving, being innovative at work, good parenting, and etc., as well as artistic expression.) So, what habits will you establish?

I formed a group of fellow watercolor artists who meet every Monday morning to paing.

I also enrolled in an art course at the local  community college.  Both of these get me thinking about art and making art on a regular basis.  I know that these habits will lead to improvement and productivity.

All it takes to make creativity a part of your life is the willingness to make it a habit.

Mary Lou Johns is a certified Life Coach.  She works with creative people to build their business, unblock their genius, and experience work/leisure balance.  She expresses creatively through watercolor, knitting and writing.  Her website is


%d bloggers like this: