the box [the creative habit]

September 22, 2009

This post is the last of an ongoing series of reflections on my reading of The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp.

Today, our seven month, irregularly recurring series on The Creative Habit comes to an end. But, in the interest of being trite, last certainly does not mean least. I think I’ve saved the best for last. And since this one is really about getting started, perhaps the last should have been first.

Okay…I’m done, I promise.

The box, as Twyla Tharp describes it, is the starting point for a creative project. In her case, it is a literal box. As she begins a new project, she begins to toss fragments of inspiration in the box. Notes, images, videos — anything that will fit. As her collection grows, the interplay between these items begin to form the inspiration. As she describes it:

The drawer, in effect, contains the editor’s pre-ideas — those intriguing little tickles at the corners of your brain that tell you when something is interesting to you without your quite knowing why.

I’ve long seen the value of collecting ideas. But all these ideas I’ve collected over the years are not the same as a box. They are more of a pre-box, a repository of interesting notions and thoughts waiting to be rooted through — (almost) always with me and readily available.

But the box serves as inspiration for a project that already has some direction. When a project begins to form, then the box specific to that project comes in to play. In my case, I can sort through the quotes, images and ideas I’ve stored with a simple search through Yojimbo. The ones that stand out get dumped into Scrivener or tagged in Yojimbo for a non-writing project. This is the box.

The beauty of the box is that what you need is right there waiting for you as you create:

A writer with a good storage and retrieval system can write faster. He isn’t spending a lot of time looking things up, scouring his papers, and patrolling other rooms at home wondering where he left that perfect quote. It’s in the box.

This is what I appreciate about Scrivener with the Research and Clippings folders. What I need is right there. If I steal away to Safari or Email to look something up, the chances of being distracted are about 98.74% (give or take 1.26%). But if I don’t even have to leave the app I’m in, my work can continue.

Of course, the box is an easy way to get started, with the keyword being easy! And it gives you one small step toward the work of actual creating. But that next step is still a doozy. And Tharp reminds us that while the box is a start, it is only a start:

The box is not a substitute for creating.

Sadly, some people never get beyond the box stage in their creative life.

I hate how important those two sentences are for me to hear. I love to collect. And I love to have created. But it’s that step from pulling ideas and inspiration together to doing the creative work where I always find resistance. And that brings me to the drawn-out, irregularly recurring series I’ll be starting next: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Look for that sometime soon…ish. I’m collecting ideas for it now.

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