Tuesday 5 January 2021

CREATIVE SELF-HELP THREE WAYS: Daily Rituals: Women at Work by Mason Currey; Ten Things About Writing by Joanne Harris and The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. Reviews by Penny Dolan.

One day, I will set aside my addiction to books about writing and creativity but for now, I'm dabbling in:and among this trio.

Daily Rituals: Women at Work - Pan Macmillan AU


After a friend mentioned reading a few pages of "Daily Rituals" each morning, when I came across what seemed the title on Audible, I downloaded it. Unfortunately, the longer I Iistened, the less fond I felt if Currey's American accent, and the more annoyed with example after example of another male writer, artist, philosopher or so on lounging in their bath or secluded in their library or off on solitary walks while servants and wives brought coffee and meals and kept children quiet and out of the way. 

I was still quiet cross when I spotted Currey's more recent title displayed in my local independent bookshop: Daily Rituals: Women at Work.. This was the book my friend had mentioned.

 Currey begins with a long, extremely apologetic chapter about the lack of  women in his first book, He has also created new classifications for his wide-ranging examples, using titles like The Vortex; Pure Neglect; A Subtle and Well Ordered Plan, Deadly Determination. Some names I knew - again, often chosen from a US perspective - but others I did not. For example, in the last chapter, From Rage To Despair and Back Again, along with Djuna Barnes, Jean Rhys, Doris Lessing, Natalia Ginsberg he offers three fairly names: the artist Kathe Kollwitz, the playright Lorraine Hansberry and the poet Gwendolyn Brooks.

Currey's three hundred or so women are spread across time, place and race. He offers glimpses of creative practice and habits, from painters, sculptors, writers, photographers, fashion designers through to musicians and scientists and more. Many seem just as focused on getting their work done as the men in the earlier book, and, so far, are not necessarily kinder to their servants or lovers.

At the moment, as I'm unable to go anywhere, Daily Rituals: Women at Work does give glimpses of other working lives, some more interesting than others. It is very much a printed book to dip into, a title to feel nosey and curious about and to have on a bedside shelf for a moment's reading when insomnia starts nagging. 

The double straplines are How Great Women Make Time and Find Inspiration and Get to Work. I am not sure that I'd follow any of the life examples I've read so far, but the women within these pages do make an interesting company.

Buy Ten Things About Writing 9781912836598 by Joanne ...


I have this title on my kindle, but the book - now published - looks boldly attractive, practical and accessible. "Build Your Story One Word at a Time" is the strap line.

Six years ago, in response to questions about writing, Harris posted occasional hashtagged threads on Twitter: Ten Tweets about this or that particular aspect of writing, noted down in the hope she might "help, encourage or motivate" people eager to improve their writing skills

TEN THINGS . . . is that advice, collected together in book form as requested by her many tweetlings, where the prose, though expanded, retains its succinct, easy "Ten Things" style. Harris moves swiftly through a range of topics: writing habits and headspace; the essentials of creating a story; the deeper issues of structure and pacing as well as advice on the whole editing, agenting and publishing scenario, together with a valuable final section for the times when things don't go right.

This is what I'd call an encouraging book. Harris writes in a friendly and positive tone, but there is a sound teacherly structure and purpose to her suggestions. Though there was little that was new or surprising,TEN THINGS . . .  felt the kind of book to open when one is in need of a bit of brisk chat with a writing chum and there isn't a real-world one to hand. 

 "Every act of creation brings hope; every little thing you build lifts you a little higher." 

The Creative Habit | Book by Twyla Tharp | Official ...

 THE CREATIVE HABIT: Learn to Use It For Life by Twyla Tharp.

"An exuberant, philosophically ambitious self-help book for the creatively challenged."

I cannot dance or play musical instruments or pot, or paint beautifully but I have always been fascinated by the creative life of artists. In this title, the dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp offers a rigorous analysis of what the making of art needs and demands.

I heard the book as audio first too, but this time all was perfectly matched. Tharp's brisk determined American voice left one in no doubt as to the material being covered, the contemporary examples she referred to, nor her own work-ethic and intentions. Nor, as Ilstened, was I left in much doubt as to the kind of task master she would be to anyone involved in her productions. I'm sure I stood up straighter as I listened to Tharp's voice. 

THE CREATIVE HABIT is an attractive and spacious book that makes stylish use of layout, typography and white and grey pages. (Just riffling through the pages, one feels a little more artistic!)  

The chapters have intriguing titles like "I Walk into A White Room", "Rituals of Preparation";"Harness Your Memory"; "Before You Can Think out of the Box, You Have to Start with the Box" or "Ruts and Grooves."

Within these, Tharp offers accounts of her own and other artist's practice - musicians, photographers, painters and so on - but she interweaves these examples with questions, inviting the reader to try out some thoughtful exercises and examine their own practice and behaviour.  An early task is the writing of one's own creative autobiography, answering such questions as What was the first creative moment you had? Was anyone there to witness or appreciate it? How do you begin your day? What are your habits? What patterns do you repeat?"  and so on. Throughout her book,Twyla Tharp suggests that the knowledge and the use of sound, creative habits can support an artist during good and difficult times and into the future. 

As an awkward non-dancer, I'd worried that Tharp's thoughts would be irrelevant to my writing self. However, turning the pages and hearing someone speaking so strongly from within a different creative tradition and practice was both refreshing and inspiring. 

Good luck with your own year ahead.

Penny Dolan



Sue Purkiss said...

Interesting. Am tempted by the Joanne Harris one.

Nicky said...

Yes. I'm not very good with this kind of book. I probably should read more of this kind of thing. Thanks for the insights.

Anne Booth said...

That's really interesting!

Penny Dolan said...

Re-reading my post, I must add that I have read lots of other books as well, in all sorts of genres. Also, any creative crisis here - if it exists beyond general curiosity -is at a fairly low-level.

Good wishes for the new year.