After sitting on my bookshelf for more than a year (maybe even two), I finally finished reading Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals. A compilation of the routines and habits–both peculiar and mundane–of writers, composers, choreographers, painters, architects, etc. it provides insight into how artists and creatives have navigated through issues that plague artists on the daily: How can you create while also earning a living? Do you wait for inspiration to strike? Or is establishing a set routine and having the basic comforts of life a prerequisite to create?
Here’s what stuck with me from my first reading:
- Lots of alcohol, coffee, or drugs involved. Maybe even all three.
- Walking provides a break and can inspire ideas.
- Peculiar habits–we all have them.
- Naps. Naps are good.
- After breakfast until noon tends to be a productive time.
- Savor the time alone in the mornings before the work starts.
- Keep regular hours in order to cultivate a daily creative rhythm.
- Write whenever possible–at lunch; on walks; during work; when family is asleep; when no one else is awake, not even the world.
- A lot of the artists in the book were men, and at a certain point, it became increasingly clear that they had the privilege of either having servants, or a wife to take care of the house, the children, and their meals.
- Every body is on a different clock.
- You can accomplish a lot if you don’t watch TV or check/update social media.
- Some think you can force creativity/good work; others think you can’t. But I’d say most would agree that sometimes, you can only really get about 2-3 hours of concentrated work per day. But that adds up.
Ultimately, as the book suggests, it’s up to each artist to figure out what works for them: Writing standing up. Only writing when on holidays. No distractions or interruptions, not even for a meal. The same breakfast every day. And loads and loads of coffee.
It got me thinking about my daily rituals and habits, if any. I only recently started writing more consistently again, so I’m in the midst of establishing some sort of rhythm. I wish I could say I was an early (and consistent) riser, and that by 9:00 am, I’d be at my desk with a strong cup of coffee (probably the second cup). I’d work for three hours, break for lunch, answer emails and make calls, then work for 3 more hours at a cafe or library, then go off to dinner and socialize with friends. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
But in reality, I think I’m more like Francine Prose: “When the writing is going well, I can work all day. When it’s not, I spend a lot of time gardening and standing in front of the refrigerator.” (Minus the gardening part; plants tend to die on me.)
Only recently have I finally embraced that as appealing as a set routine may be, it’s just not how I’m wired. However, after reading Daily Rituals, there is something to following a regular schedule even if the work produced isn’t necessarily “good” work. I like how the composer, John Adams, maintains a regular schedule but tries to keep unstructured freedom in his daily life so that he can be open to ideas as they come. That seems to be a happy compromise.