When You’re Stuck, You Need An IDEA – Insight from Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

TheCreativeHabitThe first steps of a creative act are like groping in the dark: random and chaotic, feverish and fearful, a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight. There is nothing yet to research. For me, these moments are not pretty. I look like a desperate woman, tortured by the simple message thumping away in my head: “You need an idea.”
You need a tangible idea to get you going. The idea, however miniscule, is what turns the verb into a noun – paint into a painting, sculpt into sculpture, write into writing, dance into a dance.

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit


So, I’ve had some experience with this.

And, I’ve heard others describe their agony over this.

You don’t quite know what to do – what to work on. Maybe you’re depressed. Maybe you’re stuck – you need to market, or make sales calls, but you don’t know where to start.

For the work life, there may be nothing more debilitating than not knowing what to do; thus not having something to do.

You’ve got to find something to do, so that you will have something to do.

And, for that to happen, sometimes you.need.an.IDEA.

When the idea hits, it is… energizing. “Now, I know what I’m going to do.”

But, getting that idea is no easy task.

For Twyla Tharp, she has created rituals to find that next idea. From her book:

Even though I look desperate, I don’t feel desperate, because I have a habitual routine to keep me going.
I call it scratching. You know how you scratch away at a lottery ticket to see if you’ve won. That’s what I’m doing when I begin a piece. I’m digging through everything to find something. It’s like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward
The unshakeable rule: you don’t have a really good idea until you combine two little ideas.
When you’re in scratching mode, the tiniest microcell of an idea will get you going. Musicians know this because compositions rarely come to them whole and complete. They call their morsels of inspiration lines or riffs or hooks or licks. That’s what they look for when they scratch for an idea.

So, when you’re stuck, just go through stuff – lots of stuff – and look for some tiny morsels, and combine a couple of ideas, until the energizing IDEA hits.

And when it hits, get to work. Don’t waste another moment. Let it energize you! You’ve got your IDEA, now go for it.


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