Developing the Creative Habit

wbCreative Habit
Wednesday, January-22-14

By Dave Hood

Creative people have developed the habit of creativity. For instance, Jackson Pollock expressed this habit when he made abstract expressionism art. Philip Glass relies on this habit to compose minimalist music on his piano. Mary Oliver has developed the habit in writing her poetry. Twyla Tharp, in her book, “The Creative Habit,” writes: “all it takes to make creativity a part of your life is the willingness to make it a habit.” And so, anyone who is motivated can acquire the habits of creative people. What are these habits?

The first step you must take is to develop a few creative routines, which you complete on a daily basis.  For instance, begin reading about your creative pursuit, or begin keeping a writing journal, or start drawing in a sketchbook. Initially, you will have to make a conscious effort to complete these routines. In a few weeks, these routines will become habits, something your do automatically.

Charles Duhigg, in his book, “The Power of Habit,” explains how a routine becomes a habit. He calls it the “Habit Loop.” This loop has three steps. First, there is a cue, which triggers the brain to go into automatic mode. Secondly, there is a physical or mental routine. Thirdly, there is some reward for completing the routine. By completing the routine over and over, the routine becomes a habit.

And yet, many people fail to establish creative routines, and so they don’t take the required steps to make creativity a habit. What prevents us from developing the creative habit? People make many excuses. Here are a few:

  • I don’t have time.
  • I am afraid to make a mistake.
  • I’m not creative.
  • I have no inspiration.
  • Creativity if for creative types.

These excuses create bad habits, especially procrastination and perfectionism. To eliminate a bad habit, you must replace it with a desirable habit.  For instance, to stop procrastinating, do the following: Each day, create a To-Do List. At the top of the list, write down something important that will move your closer to accomplishing a creative project. During the day, complete this item on your To-Do List. You should also set realistic and meaningful goals, and establish a plan of action for achieving each goal. As well, break goals into steps. Reward yourself whenever you achieve one of your goals.

Perfectionist thinking is often the most powerful type of self-defeating behavior, and is another reason why people are not creative. It is a mental habit, a mindset learned from personal experience. The “Perfectionist Thinker” established unrealistic standards, believing that he or she must be the best and that a mistake is failure. Many people refuse to engage in a creative pursuit because they fear making a mistake or not being the best.  The best way to overcome perfectionist thinking is to recognize that it is an unhealthy way to think. Begin by replacing unrealistic goals, those that overwhelm you, with realistic goals. These are goals you can achieve with your existing knowledge, skills, and expertise.  Next, challenge your perfectionist thinking. Tell yourself:  “No one can be perfect all the time. No one can be the best at everything. I will do my best, and will learn from my mistakes. I will use the feedback to improve.” Thirdly, use affirmations, such as “I am a creative person who does not have to be a perfectionist.” Affirmations will remind you to stop thinking as a perfectionist.


Most experts on creativity, such as Twyla Tharp, will tell you that everyone can learn to become creative and express their creative spirit. They must be motivated. In “The Creative Habit,” Tharp suggests that there is no one condition for creativity to flourish. What works for some people doesn’t work for others.

She writes: “Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn’t scare you, doesn’t shut you down….To get the creative habit, you need a working environment that is habit forming.”

Next, she shares some useful advice on developing the habit of creativity: Begin by keeping distractions to a minimum, including multitasking, background music, and other commitments.

Don’t allow fear of failure paralyze you. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Develop some rituals of preparation, such as establishing a creative space, working on your creative projects, spending time in solitude. For instance, if you are a writer, always carry a pen and notebook. If you are photographer, always carry a camera. If you are an artist, carry a sketchbook.

Use a journal or idea file to collect things that are inspirational, such as newspaper clippings, poetry, quotations, and photographs. When you begin a project, conduct research, and save your work. Use a file box to hold stuff. It will help you organize and look back on past creative projects.

Find inspiration by mining your memory, especially sensory memory. For instance, ask the questions: What is the most beautify thing you have seen? What is smells do you love? What smells do you detest? What feels the best? What is a beautify sound? What sound do you detest?

Discover your “Creative DNA” and express it in some creative pursuit, such as writing, painting, photography, and dance. Discover your “Creative DNA” by writing your creative autobiography, which is based on a set of 33 questions, including:

  1. What is the first creative moment you remember?
  2. What is your creative ambition?
  3. Which artists do you admire most?
  4. What is your ideal creative activity?
  5. What is your idea of mastery?
  6. What is your greatest dream?

Learn to create metaphors with words and pictures. She writes, “A metaphor is the lifeblood of all art.”

Scratch for ideas in different locations.  Study the masters. Visit nature. Spend time in solitude. Read widely and deeply. Take a field trip. Immerse yourself in popular culture. When you find an idea that inspires you, do additional research. Become an expert on the topic.

Learn to see creativity as an act of defiance—and challenge the status quo. Ask yourself:

  1. Why must I obey the rules?
  2. Why can’t I be different?
  3. Why can’t I do it my own way?

Prepare to “be lucky.” Begin by planning—only to a point. Discover something by serendipity.

Eliminate the need to be perfect. Be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them.

Find ways to play, experiment, and innovate. But always use the right materials for your creative project. Otherwise you will waste time. That is why researching a project is so important. Begin by finding out what others have done. Start by reading memoirs or biographies of the master artists and other creative people who have impacted society with their creative achievements.

Find ideas by reading widely and deeply—creative ideas come from everywhere, and reading is a powerful way of finding ideas. When you uncover an idea in your reading, one that you can transform into some object of creativity, conduct additional research.

When you find an idea, you must then discover a theme for your idea. Tharp writes: “I believe that every work of art needs a spine—-an underlying theme, a motive for coming into existence. It doesn’t have to be apparent to the audience. But you need it at the start of the creative process to guide you and keep you going.”

Master the knowledge and skills of the creative domain that you are passionate about. This requires that you study and practise. The best poets, such as Charles Simic or Mary Oliver, practise writing poetry. So, if you want to become a writer, learn grammar, spelling punctuation, and mechanics. Learn how to write various types of sentences, such as an intentional fragment and cumulative sentence. Read books on poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction—and then read as a writer, by analyzing the writer’s style. Practise what you learn by writing each day. Take courses, join a writing community, and submit your work to contests or publication.

Analyze your creative skills and focus on practising those skills that require improvement. Mastery will make you confident.

Creativity is not bestowed on you by some supreme power. It is not only for creative geniuses. You don’t have to wait for the muse. Anyone who is motivated can develop the habit of creativity. It is a craft that you can learn and practise and master.  The more you practise, the better you will become. Begin by discovering your creative dreams, writing down a few important creative projects, and then establish creative routines that you will complete each day to accomplish your creative projects.

To learn more, read the following:

  • The Creative Habit: Learn and Use it For Life by Twyla Tharp
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.

About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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