If you’ve been following along on my blog posts, you’ll have noticed that I prefer to keep most of them short and sweet with little snippets of my journals, quotes, projects, etc.
Occasionally though, I’ll be mixing it up with an essay of sorts that I spend a little more time crafting based on things I’m reading and researching. As a way to process and solidify what I’ve read.
Today’s essay will be pertaining to a book I read last year entitled Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. I flew through it. It was such a breathe of fresh air because I was personally struggling with many of the things these famous artists, writers, and scientists strugged with in their daily routine.
Enjoy my synopsis and I hope you’ll consider reading the book. Seriously, it’s so good.
Mason Currey has compiled an addicting collection of the most seemingly mundane parts of life: the daily routine. With extensive research, direct quotes and interesting anecdotes from some of the world’s most renowned creative geniuses, he has painted a lively, inspiring picture of how these people ritualized (is that a word?) their lives in order to enhance their creative productivity as much as possible. Writers, composers, painters, choreographers, playwrights, poets, philosophers, sculptors, filmmakers, scientists. Somehow, though all different and unique in their life’s work, they are all the same in their need to do the work. They didn’t just talk about it, they did what they needed to to get it done—many times to the detriment of their health, sanity, and relationships.
I am now fascinated by the mundane things of an artist’s life. Like when and how they wake, eat, nap, visit, read and do it all over again. Here is an example of what I’m talking about.
Benjamin Franklin wrote out his ideal daily schedule in his autobiography and Currey shared it in his book:
5am-8am: Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness! Contrive day’s business, and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study, and breakfast.
12pm-2pm: Read, or look over my accounts, and dine.
6pm-9pm: Put things in their places. Supper. Music or diversion, or conversation. Examination of the day.
My top three takeaways:
1. Don’t be afraid to step out of the 8-5 working hours rule or break the myth that you must work 8 hours a day minimum to be productive. I worked 8-5 jobs for a few years after college and that schedule never really worked for me but I couldn’t do anything about it. Now I can.
For example, Anthony Trollope, was quoted as saying, “All those I think who have lived as literary men,—working daily as literary labourers,—will agree with me that three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.”
But then Currey goes on to explain how Trollope makes the most of those three hours. He requires 250 words every 15 minutes and maintains intense focus throughout. Currey also says, “If he completed the novel before his three hours were up, Trollope would take out a fresh sheet of paper and immediately begin the next one.”
2. I was encouraged by all the creative geniuses that did very well for themselves, though plagued their whole life with the inability to keep a regular routine. I have never been able to keep a regular routine but am working constantly on developing more discipline regardless of my routine rebellion.
3. As inspiring as all the crazy hard work, the hours, and the focus of these artists is, I’m not interested in giving my entire self over to the demands of this lifestyle. I’d like to try out some of their ideas for focus or inspiration but my priorities are more upward and outward-focused. Specifically in loving God and loving people, which is where true joy and satisfaction are found. The most striking thing about people like Francis Bacon or Virginia Woolf (based on what I read) is that they weren’t actually happy. Their full purpose and meaning in life was based on their work, so when it wasn’t going well, they were devastated. And of course there’s that constant pressure to get it right because what are you worth beyond what you create? I’m going to fight against this perspective. Working hard doesn’t have to be all-consuming. My life doesn’t have to be one big to-do list. There is more to it.
Habits I’d like to attempt to build:
1. Regular walks for inspiration, focus, exercise and a different perspective. Beethoven took walks aiding his creativity. His productivity was generally higher during warmer months. Kierkegaard’s day was dominated by writing and walking. He walked through Copenhagen every day at noon and got his best ideas at that time. Before becoming so famous strangers recognized him on the street, Woody Allen took walks when needing to think through a plot. Tchaikovsky was religious about taking his two-hour walks. He considered them essential to his creativity. Just a few examples of how walks have affected creativity. I want to give it a try!
2. Embrace my body’s unique rhythm and don’t force myself to conform to the rest of the world. As long as I get what I need to done, who cares if I work at night and then have to take naps sometimes? Learn when I’m the most productive and seize that time. For example, Thomas Wolfe wrote from midnight to dawn and then again from 11-5. Worked out fine for him. Voltaire himself worked in bed till noon.
There were a million other inspiring or interesting anecdotes that I just can’t touch on here. If any of my takeaways or comments have inspired you, go read this book!
“The most interesting thing about artists is how they live.” Marcel Duchamp