“Start with a box.” Or, the best advice I’ve ever read on organizing creative ideas.

The Creative Habit

The following is an excerpt from The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp’s amazing book on creativity:

 

Everyone has his or her own organizational system. Mine is a box, the kind you can buy at Office Depot for transferring files. I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.

[…]

There are separate boxes for everything I’ve ever done. If you want a glimpse into how I think and work, you could do worse than to start with my boxes.

The box makes me feel organized, that I have my act together even when I don’t know where I’m going yet.

It also represents a commitment. The simple act of writing a project name on the box means I’ve started work.

The box makes me feel connected to a project. It is my soil. I feel this even when I’ve back-burnered a project: I may have put the box away on a shelf, but I know it’s there. The project name on the box in bold black lettering is a constant reminder that I had an idea once and may come back to it very soon.

Most important, though, the box means I never have to worry about forgetting. One of the biggest fears for a creative person is that some brilliant idea will get lost because you didn’t write it down and put it in a safe place. I don’t worry about that because I know where to find it. It’s all in the box…”

 
I first read The Creative Habit back in 2008 and have been following her advice to “start with a box” ever since. My ideas for new products, features, conference speakers, and blog posts all go in “boxes”, which are Basecamp projects for me. I know my ideas are safe and sound in the box, out of my head so I can focus on the work at hand.

When it is time to start working on that product, feature, conference, or post, I always look forward to opening up the box, because by then I’ve completely forgotten the notes I put inside.

One of the benefits of this approach is that when I do eventually open up the box, I get to enjoy the idea all over again. (Assuming it is good. If not, I get a good laugh from the fact I ever thought the idea was worth writing down.)

I was in the process of filing ideas for a new product into a box when I decided to share this. I hope you found it useful and consider reading The Creative Habit.

You won’t regret it.

Posted: May 7th, 2014 | Filed under: General, Quotable | Comments Off on “Start with a box.” Or, the best advice I’ve ever read on organizing creative ideas.

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