“Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” by Mason Currey

Daily Rituals
Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore.

What is your daily routine?

Me? I wake up and get dressed while listening to NPR then dash out the door to race up the street to catch the bus (I’m usually running late). Then I read or play a game (Lumosity to improve my memory) while riding the bus to the train. Once on the train, I read or catch up on any vestiges of sleep I missed when I jumped out my bed at the ring of my fifth alarm.

I grab breakfast on my way to work (bagel and hot chocolate, or, if I’m in the mood to be nice to myself, French toast) and eat while working. Break for lunch at 2 or 3, read while eating, then back to work. The afternoons are for pleasing myself, which may consist of hanging with a friend, visiting a bookstore or museum, walking and musing to myself, or more reading while travelling. My nights are spent trolling the internet or bingeing on Netflix before turning in to bed.

The weekends aren’t much different the exception being that I don’t move around as much. I wake late, read in bed, and binge on Netflix all day. I may take a walk/hike or call a friend and, if the inspiration hits, write. Otherwise I spend the day prone with my eyes glued to my laptop, numbing my brain.

My writing routine starts with me sitting (or lying in bed) in front of my laptop, staring at the screen, trying to prevent myself from distracting myself by going on the internet. It’s a difficult thing to do because I am not disciplined. Slowly, my fingers creep to the keyboard. They hover as I think of what to write, omitting whatever pops in my mind as too stupid until I get so frustrated I just plunge in and type without thinking. I get swept away by the process, the thoughts flowing easily with few pauses to wrangle images or words out of my memory.

About the book:

We learn of similar routines in Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. The book began as a blog, called Daily Routines, that Currey started one afternoon during a bout of procrastination: He was supposed to be working on a story but he was doing everything else instead. To make himself feel better, he began searching the internet for other writer’s routines. It was then that the idea came to him to start the blog.

Daily Rituals describes the daily routines of noted creatives and intellectuals—writers, artists, psychologists, scientists, etc. Currey describes each in a matter-of-fact way. If he does include an authorial statement, it’s to clarify a fact. He mostly sticks to the subject’s daily routine although sometimes he includes a bit more biographical information if it helps to clarify the routine or round out the subject.

The entries provide some insight on these figures and humanize them a bit. I think we sometimes place these figures on too high of a pedestal in terms of how they crafted their work and how they became “geniuses”. It’s easy for us to do this since we do not see the process; we only engage with the product. But to read of how they go about their day or wrangle with projects that seem on the point of failure or how they too procrastinate helps to ease our worries a bit and sometimes provide an excuse for us to not be so hard on ourselves. It helps to assure us that it’s okay to have faults (as long as we learn from them).

Which is why I read this book in the first place: I wanted to see if any of these figures’ routines mirrored my own (were they like me?); or, if I could somehow match my routine to theirs in order to reach a similar level of success (silly, I know, but I couldn’t help myself). Of course, I could have read a biography on these people or look them up on Wikipedia but the benefit of Daily Rituals is having that particular information already compiled.

“It is a danger to wait around for an idea to occur to you. You have to find the idea.” – Gerhard Richter

Another benefit is being able to read of these routines back-to-back to easily note the similarities—none awaited inspiration to hit or relied on it much. Most engaged in some physical activity, usually walking; and, of utmost importance, was the chance to get away to work by oneself like the late Maya Angelou who often rented a hotel room in which to write. Also, when tired, take a rest. It’s foolish to keep on working.

Carl Jung: “I’ve realized that somebody who’s tired and needs a rest, and goes on working all the same is a fool.”

Some believe in sticking to a regular routine while others do not. The same goes for working in the morning. Some believe that the artist should rise early and work but others prefer to work under the cover of night. Really, it all came down to preferences.

Of course, what really stood out are the odd routines, superstitions, and methods. Saul Bellow, for instance, stood on his head to restore concentration. Because he was so tall, Thomas Wolfe usually wrote standing up, using the top of a refrigerator as a desk. He also found inspiration while standing naked at a window, fondling his genitals. There are others who found sexual arousal essential to their routine.

Famous Writer’s Sleep Habits vs. Literary Production
Famous Writer’s Sleep Habits vs. Literary Production

While the book is great, I found the blog to be better. The book doesn’t seem to be organized in any particular order but the blog is categorized by occupation and habits (exercisers, drug users, nap takers, procrastinators, etc.). It also has a search box. So if you are searching for something specific, I recommend the blog. But if you would simply like to have the routines of noted figures on hand for inspiration, or to make yourself feel better about procrastinating (which I think is the most popular reason), then definitely buy the book. I recommend both the book and the blog to writers and readers. Writers, so they don’t feel like a failure while battling to create something and readers, so they can see another side to those whom they revere.

Also of note: Check out Maria Popova’s infographic, Famous Writer’s Sleep Habits vs. Literary Production. Maria Popova is creator of Brain Pickings, a website and newsletter that provides a wealth of information on a variety of topics and disciplines. The title of the infographic is self-explanatory. It includes the writer’s wake-up time, awards they have won, the types of work they produced (poetry, nonfiction, etc.), and the dates of birth and death. It’s a pretty cool infographic. What I noticed is that 6am is the most popular time for getting out of bed and those who woke earlier tended to win more awards (“the early bird gets the worm”). I’ve included a small version of it above but it links to Popova’s site that allows you to zoom in. It is also for sale as a poster on Society 6.

Quotes from the book:

“Sooner or later the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.” — V.S. Pritchett

“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” — W.H. Auden

“A writer can do everything by himself—but he needs discipline.” — Federico Fellini

“I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.” “Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.” — Haruki Murakami

“Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process.” — Toni Morrison

“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” — Chuck Close

“I’ve found over the years that any momentary change stimulates a fresh burst of mental energy.” — Woody Allen

“A writer must be hard to live with: when not working he is miserable, and when he is working he is obsessed.” — Edward Abbey

“Discipline is an ideal for the self. If you have to discipline yourself to achieve art, you discipline yourself.” — Bernard Malamud

See more quotes here.


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