I recently read Twyla Tharp’sCreative Habit, and she starts the book with this line: “I walk into a large white room.” She then explains how she’s expected to create something beautiful out of nothing.
All dancers have to do this, walk into a white room and create something out of nothing. There is no exception.
I haven’t mentioned this before, but I trained as a dancer in Chicago for four years, and in New York for three. I went to NYU on a dance scholarship, and trained with some of the foremost minds in the New York City scene.
Then I started working in magazines–because it was easier to sit at a computer and play with photos? Regardless of how my career progressed, the training in dance that I’ve received has had a profound effect on the way I interpret the world.
Dance is very hard. After reading Twyla’s book on creativity, it’s so apparent why her book gets so close to the root of where creative energy comes from. She’s writing it from the perspective of a creative person who has to engage on a daily level with one of the hardest creative mediums on the planet.
Every day is a challenge when you’re work is pulling art out of a group of people in a blank white space. But at least it’s a fresh and exciting challenge.
It’s impossible to create work in a cluttered space. This is why Twyla works in a blank white room. It’s hard to come up with any decent work to put on a dancer if you’re working in a room full of crap. They could trip and fall.
I think we could do well to apply this theory to every creative field, maybe to everyday life.
Ideas don’t appear in clutter. They don’t magically manifest in chaos. Ideas need space to first generate, and then be executed.
1, It’s impossible to come up with ideas when your constantly moving. A lot of people lead lives where they’re constantly moving, doing things, and just keeping endless busy. They feel like they’re being productive, but this is far from being in a creative mindset. They’re just endlessly turning the wheels and meanwhile they’re not doing anything useful.
2, When you find space the ideas will come. I find that most of my good ideas stem from boredom. I’ll have everything that I need to have done, all of my work is out of the way, all of the paychecks are on their way, and then ideas will just start hitting me one and after the other. Then the only challenge is just getting them down and executing them.
3, Empty space has openness. When you create an idea in an empty space, there is nothing else to judge it. There are no other ideas to interact with that idea poorly. When you create ideas in relation to other ideas there is a tendency to shoot one idea after the next down because you feel that they won’t work. Any idea can work in empty space, so you can work on the idea without pressure for it to perform. Then, of course, you execute the idea, if to doesn’t show results you know it’s bad, but at least didn’t give up on it before you started.
How to create space for ideas to flourish.
You’re probably wondering how to create space for ideas to begin to form. This is of course a challenge. Here are a few ideas that I try to focus on when I’m having trouble coming up with new ideas.
1, Stop moving so fast. As I said above, ideas are impossible to create if you’re keeping endlessly busy with busywork. Stop moving. Sit yourself down in that empty room, or at that empty desk and just breathe. The ideas will come. When they do, write them down.
2, Trust yourself. It’s important not to second guess everything that you do. If you kill every idea before it gets out of the starting gate you might as well not have thought of any ideas at all. Even if an idea sounds like it’s impossible to achieve initially, try to implement it anyway. Maybe impossible is not nearly as hard as you originally thought? Or maybe your idea isn’t impossible after all.
3, Don’t worry about being perfect. Nothing is perfect. Even most of Einstein’s theories have been proven wrong, or built upon after they were initially written down. Everything is imperfect and there is always something that can be improved upon. But if you spend five years tweaking idea, that’s five years that you’ve waited to publish that idea. Just get it out there, and revise it later.
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