My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Whereas many books on creativity are trying to get one started, this one emphasizes keeping going.
Tharp did touch on getting started. The book began “ho hum” but it had been highly recommended, so I kept reading. And really the “ho hum” was twofold. Much I had read before, and some rejected before. I have always rejected the need for a writing ritual–a certain pencil, pad of paper, chair, and this book beginning with the need for ritual tapped into that. Tharp’s chapter on Starting with a Box reminded me of suggestions that an artist keep a journal. Her chapter on “Scratching” reminded me of the techniques of free writing and brainstorming, both of some use as starters, but not the whole picture.
Tharp is a dancer/choreographer/director, and of course her examples reflect that. There are a few examples from writers, musicians and artists, very few. But the anecdotes from her career to illustrate various points make it read like a topical memoir, interesting for the vignettes. And the principles and attitudes are transferable.
For me the book began to pick up at “Accidents Will Happen,” where Tharp talked about the need for planning but also the need to remain flexible both in the face of unexpected limits and unexpected opportunity. My interest was further engaged with “Spine,” where she talked of an underlying something that guided revision (related to but different from theme and story). Here too I was bringing examples from writing and art: make an outline but don’t be afraid to change it; an art quilt needs an underlying structure. I was particularly intrigued by her saying that “Spine” could be her secret; she didn’t have to tell the audience, but she had to know it. This resonated with my recent awareness that the viewer did not always need to know the origin of a quilt idea. Still not learning anything new, I was now enjoying her examples from her dance life and I had my concept enriched beyond my chosen fields to include hers. And the refresher course didn’t do any harm.
The new information for me appeared in the last three chapters where Tharp talks of ways to recognize a rut, ways to get out of it into a groove–her term for seemingly effortless success–and ways to deal with failure, ways to learn from it and move on.
Each chapter has exercises for those inclined to use them. At this reading, I did not.
How useful you would find the book depends on how much you have already read and on how much you enjoy personal illustrative stories.