“The blank space can be humbling. But I’ve faced it my whole professional life. It’s my job. It’s also my calling.”
Choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about the challenges of this “blank space” or “blank page” experience that most artists have to face in her book “The Creative Habit”:
“My dancers expect me to deliver because my choreography represents their livelihood. The presenters in Los Angeles expect the same because they’ve sold a lot of tickets to people with the promise that they’ll see something new and interesting from me.
“The theater owner (without really thinking about it) expects it as well; if I don’t show up, his theater will be empty for a week. That’s a lot of people, many of whom I’ve never met, counting on me to be creative.
“To some people, this empty room symbolizes something profound, mysterious, and terrifying: the task of starting with nothing and working your way toward creating something whole and beautiful and satisfying.
“It’s no different for a writer rolling a fresh sheet of paper into his typewriter (or more likely firing up the blank screen on his computer), or a painter confronting a virginal canvas, a sculptor staring at a raw chunk of stone, a composer at the piano with his fingers hovering just above the keys.
“Some people find this moment — the moment before creativity begins — so painful that they simply cannot deal with it. They get up and walk away from the computer, the canvas, the keyboard; they take a nap or go shopping or fix lunch or do chores around the house. They procrastinate. In its most extreme form, this terror totally paralyzes people.
“The blank space can be humbling. But I’ve faced it my whole professional life. It’s my job. It’s also my calling. Bottom line: Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.”
In an interview for Fast Company magazine she was asked: “The empty studio. Is that terrifying to you or thrilling?”
Tharp explained her viewpoint on this creative “terror”:
“It’s both. It’s a matter of discipline, of not distilling exhilaration from terror. Because terror, loathsome as it is, is very energizing. To channel that, to call it excitement, enthusiasm, curiosity, maybe that’s not a bad thing.”
From article 60 Seconds With Twyla Tharp by Fast Company Staff, July 30, 2012, fastcompany.com.
Relating to fear and anxiety
Creativity coach and author Eric Maisel notes it can sometimes be hard to distinguish nervous tension from anxiety or fear:
“Part of the confusion is that ‘life energy’ in the form of hormones like adrenaline are necessary, so it is easy to confuse ‘enthusiasm’ with ‘anxiety,’ since both have a real (and similar) hormonal edge to them.”
From my article Living and Creating: Fear Is Not A Disease.
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp – book review by Brian Johnson
Brian Johnson is “the Philosopher + CEO of en*theos — a company that’s all about inspiring and empowering people to optimize their lives so we can change the world together… In his past lives, he raised $8 million to finance the creation of eteamz + Zaadz after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA (where he studied Psychology + Business).”
Learn more about his other videos and classes:
Optimal Living 101
~ ~ ~
The discipline of creating
Professor of psychology Keith Sawyer has commented that “creativity is a numbers game. Work hard, and take frequent breaks, but stay with it over time. Do what you love, because creative breakthroughs take years of hard work.”
Twyla Tharp would probably agree with Sawyer, and writes in her book that discipline and routine are “as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more.”
From my post What Inspires Our Creative Work?
Twyla Tharp “has choreographed more than one hundred sixty works: one hundred twenty-nine dances, twelve television specials, six Hollywood movies, four full-length ballets, four Broadway shows and two figure skating routines.
“She received one Tony Award, two Emmy Awards, nineteen honorary doctorates, the Vietnam Veterans of America President’s Award, the 2004 National Medal of the Arts, the 2008 Jerome Robbins Prize, and a 2008 Kennedy Center Honor. Her many grants include the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship.” [twylatharp.org bio]
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp.