How to be Creative

by elizabeth | June 10th, 2010

Recently, I read a great book on creativity by choreographer Twyla Tharp:

Twyla Tharp - book cover

The book discusses many aspects of creativity. Tharp argues that you need to work really hard and show up every day to produce the raw material. She documents her improvisations, throws out 97% of what she creates, and then uses that rare 3% of sparking material to build a piece.

It’s an interesting read, not least because of the exercises she includes. One is called “Play Twenty Questions,” and her example questions for painting a landscape are as follows:

1. From what direction is the light coming?
2. What is the elevation?
3. What trees are native to the area?
4. Where is the nearest source of water?
5. What animals are likely to be in view?
6. What season is it?
7. What’s the weather?
8. Are you looking down, across, or up?
9. What crops are being cultivated, if any?
10. Are there towns or villages or cities in view?
11. Why are you there?
12. What is attractive about the setting?
13. Is the wind blowing?
14. How much sky can you see?
15. What’s behind you that might affect the view?
16. What color predominates in your mind’s eye?
17. How many shades of that color do you see in the region?
18. Are other people a part of the image? Who?
19. Are you imagining it today, or at some past or future time?
20. What is the frame of the image?

I love this set of questions! It makes me imagine such wonderful details.

I think that this tool is a great one for songwriting. How do you set the scene? First you imagine details like these, and then from this rich imagining, distill the essence into a few choice words to create a lyric.

What do you use to get you going?

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elizabeth! is a vocalist, trombonist, and songwriter working in NYC and Los Angeles. Originally from Vermont, she studied neuroscience at Harvard before moving to NYC to play, tour, and record with jazz musicians, indie rockers, pop stars and more. Her new album of original jazzy pop tunes was just released on Canopy Jazz!

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