Tharp discussing her process of how she researches ideas through her method called “scratching.” Scratching is the collection of the ideas all around one, the ideas one might find walking into a rock quarry. Ideas are everywhere. It is the focus of one’s attention to looking for them. Ideas take on many forms. There are good and bad ideas, as well as ideas that are large and small. And the growth of the idea depends upon the person who propagates. Big ideas seems to be self-contained and self-defining adventures, taking the reader hopefully toward something sustaining and enduring. Scratching is improvising with the data one is given, and can sometime expand into knowing the direction of the idea is taking. She shares the story of Robert Pirsig with his student’s frustration of writing a 500 word essay on the United States. Unable to find a start she returned several times with nothing to turn in. He gave her a small suggestion of “narrow it down,” to the brick on a building in the town she was from. Easily she returned with her assignment complete. Through improvising, one may not know the direction, yet to follow the flow of where the idea may lead one. Tharp shares other ideas for scratching, such as reading, having conversations with others, review other people’s work, or reflection on one’s mentor or hero for some ideas. Mostly, nature is a good start. Just as Pirsig did with sitting across from the building she described, scratching allows the identification to become clearer. Scratching is not a linear process. And it may take more time than one believed it would. Stay alert to new places to look for ideas, and as the author shares, “never scratch the same place twice,” as one may end up with the same ideas as the first time. Above all, keep going to be available to ideas that bouncy into one’s path. She has several exercises that support and develop her method of scratching. One is to take a field trip to some place you might not ever go. Maybe on a walk in nature, or to a museum. Observe the people, the architecture, look for information you may need. Have a clear purpose in mind.
I encourage you to buy a copy of The Creativity Habit for a better understanding of your own creative process. Whether you're a master artist or beginning artist, this is an excellent book.