Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What began as Mason Currey’s blog, which began as a way to procrastinate writing projects, Daily Rituals is a compilation of the rituals and routines that creatives in various fields follow (or followed) to get their work done. The contents of the book are gleaned from the reports of biographers, friends and family, or from the reports of the authors, composers, artists, and scientists themselves.  It would be easy to read this an entry or two at a time, but I gleefully went from entry to entry and read the book straight through.

This book has been a comfort to me on so many levels. The biggest help it’s offered is to show me that there are really a ton of different routines productive creatives follow. Some get up at dawn and work all day, some get up at dusk and work all night. Some work for two hours a day, every single day. Some work non-stop for a week or a month and then don’t write/compose/paint for weeks or months.

The commonalities were interesting to me. Many of the artists went for walks. I especially enjoyed the ones who woke up and then took “the first walk of the day,” usually a short walk which was then followed up by a long walk (two hours or more) later in the day. I especially loved the composer (I can’t remember who it was and can’t seem to find him now, one of the negative side effects of reading the book straight through) who moved to a suburb but then commuted on foot the six miles into Paris in the morning and then back home in the evening, composing as he went and pausing under street lamps to jot down notes to himself.

Other inspiring individuals:

-Immanuel Kant, who thought that people don’t develop a character until age forty. I find this both interesting and hopeful, since I feel very much afloat, character-wise, and it gives me something to look forward to in the two-plus years before I turn forty.

-Samuel Beckett, who struggled with his depression until he accepted it and made it a source of creative inspiration.

-Alice Munro, who wrote in the snippets of time she could steal as a mother of two young children and took nearly two decades to complete her first collection.

-Haruki Murakami, who wakes early, works only in the morning, and goes to bed early, a routine to which I aspire.

-Joseph Heller, who professed an ambition, but never a compulsion or a drive to write (which is comforting to me because so often I hear about the writers who can’t help but write, and that’s just not me. I enjoy expressing myself through writing, but I can not write for long periods of time, too).

Overall, the lessons seem to be:

-Don’t worry about being anti-social. Many of the most productive creatives were only productive once they set aside social obligations. This suits my temperament, and I’m pleased to have an excuse to eschew social gatherings.

-Get a wife. So many stories involved men whose wives managed their lives so that they could focus on nothing but work. I could get a heck of a lot of writing done if I had someone to fix me breakfast and keep the children quiet for hours while I worked.

or if you can’t get a wife…

-Get some servants. I smiled each time there was a story that involved someone waking at whatever hour and “ringing for breakfast.” I could certainly try “ringing for breakfast,” but I doubt anything much is going to happen.

-Drink, but not too much. Alcoholism seems to hurt productivity, but many creatives make use of moderate alcohol consumption. I’ve been enjoying one small, very dry martini before dinner the past two evenings, using the excuse that “I’m a writer!” It’s not helped my writing yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

-Get some 1950s amphetamines. These people on Benzedrine were really, really productive. If it weren’t a) illegal, b) harmful, c) addictive, d) too much like cheating, and e) likely to send my already high-strung personality into a tailspin, I might be tempted. As it is, I’ll stick with my decaf coffee and early-to-bed, early-to-rise ethic.

-Try, try again. Bernard Malamud wrote consistently for eight years without publishing a single story. That could be disheartening, but for now at least, I find it encouraging.

The biggest benefit this book offers me is summed up by Malamud:

“How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help…Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.”

And so here I am yet again back at the wisdom I heard and then ignored from my college writing courses: There’s no magic to it. Writing happens because you write and for no other reason.

I checked out this book from the library, but I think I might purchase a copy to keep on my shelf for those times when I just need a little encouragement.

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