Go Ahead, Scratch the Same Place Twice

Twyla Tharp,
Twyla Tharp, “The Creative Habit”

My reading of Twyla Tharp’s “The Creative Habit” continues. I am loving this book. Tharp has an approachable writing style and loads of good exercises for stretching your creativity. It’s also fun to read about creativity from the perspective of a field that is not my own. (Do I need to mention that Twyla Tharp is a world-renowned dancer and choreographer?)

As I read through the book, I am getting new ideas on ways to boost my creativity, which is the whole point of my Year of Creative Reading. With that said, along with my sincere appreciation for this book, I hope Ms. Tharp will not be offended if I disagree with her on a point.

In the chapter called Scratching, which is about ways to generate small ideas that lead to larger ideas, Tharp says “Never Scratch the Same Place Twice” because “you gain no new information if you retrace your steps over already familiar land.” (pg. 107)

I believe you can revisit familiar land many, many times and keep scratching up new ideas. It’s all in how you approach the familiar land. For instance, I walk my dog twice a day using the same few routes. Every walk is different even though the routes are familiar. The weather is different, the traffic is different, my mood is different, the dog’s mood is different, we run into different people, dogs, bikes, and squirrels … each day is an adventure, with new things to discover. Dog walking is highly productive creative time for me, even though I’m retracing my steps.

I think creative people are forever returning to familiar land in terms of the ideas they become obsessed with. What makes them creative is that they find ways to go deeper into the material or altered ways of looking at it. Tharp indicates that she is always trying to shake herself loose of old habits, saying, “If you scratch the same way all the time, you’ll end up in the same place with the same old ideas.” (pg. 107) Yes, if you continually bring the same mindset to the exact same conditions, this is true, but not if you change something, anything, however minor.

I believe that a creative person can retrace the same path and come up with new ideas. It’s all in the perspective that’s brought to the retracing. It’s about making one’s self aware of the new and different, taking in details one day and the larger context another day. Changing your physical perspective (What would I see if I crawled during the dog walks?) or mental perspective. That, of course, makes the familiar land unfamiliar.

So, go ahead, scratch the same place twice, thrice, infinite times, but do as Tharp suggests and change something about the experience in order to garner new ideas.

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