Twyla Tharp, master choreographer of the past 40 years, has written a guide to developing one's creativity that teaches largely by example. She and her collaborator Mark Reiter divide the work into twelve chapters, in which she explains her own working methods and dissects some of her successes and failures. For instance, Tharp uses cheap, sturdy cardboard file transfer boxes to collect all physical documentation of and inspirations for a dance in progress: videotapes, index cards, photographs. She summarizes the less-than-successful results of her first collaboration with New York City Ballet: "Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources."
Interlaced with the chapters are 32 "exercises" towards nurturing a creative life. A few comprise physicalization, like #13, A Dozen Eggs, while others are deskwork, like #11, Chaos and Coins. Still many more are ways of life and habit, like #1, Where's Your "Pencil"? The student is enjoined to always have one's creative tools at hand.
A Manhattan writer I know never leaves his apartment without reminding himself to "come back with a face." Whether he's walking down the street or sitting on a park bench or riding the subway or standing on a checkout line, he looks for a compelling face and works up a rich description of it in his mind.
When he has a moment, he writes it all down in his notebook.
Not only does the exercise warm up his descriptive powers, but studying the crags, lines, and bumps of a stranger's face forces him to imagine that individual's life. Sometimes, if he's lucky, the writer attaches a complete biography to the face, and then a name, and then a narrative.
The chapter text, set in a friendly Bookman, jumps into oversized red type every once in while to stress a point.
Followers of dance will appreciate the opportunity to read some of Tharp's war stories.
Creators of many stripes will take inspiration from this book.