“How do the brightest creative minds consistently put out great work?”
I asked this question many times when I began writing. To me creativity felt like a mystical process. The artist a divine figure, blessed with a supernatural ability to turn the mundane into magic. I wanted in on the action.
Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work seemed like an answer to my prayers. The book divulged the daily habits of everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Nikola Tesla. It dug deep in their personal and professional lives, revealing facts like what time they woke up, what they ate, and how they organized their working hours.
I naively believed the book might provide a blueprint for success — a trade secret passed amongst the creative elite.
Worse case scenario, I thought I could swipe the specific routine of one of my favorite writers. Perhaps through copying their daily practices, some of their talent might rub off on me.
I was disappointed on all fronts.
The book offered no elixirs, only a scattered picture of individual artist’s earnest (and often strange) attempts to produce meaningful work.
A few were conventional.
Author Haruki Murakami wakes up early, writes for 4–6 hours, exercises, then goes to bed.
Others rather peculiar:
Thomas Wolfe believed fondling himself helped “stoke creative energy.”
Some contradicted one another:
William Faulkner claims to “write when the spirit moves him”. While Chuck Close says “inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
On first read, the book frustrated me. It offered no prescription for my creative woes.
But after a second glance, I realized that was never the point.
All the rituals in the book — even the most indulgent and impractical- worked for their practitioners:
Francis Bacon gorged himself and drank merrily, but still found time to spark England’s Scientific Revolution.
The specifics of these rituals are unimportant to everyone outside the individual. They are not ours to understand. They are a product of that person’s unique craft, circumstances, and (of course) neuroses.
If you have, willingly, chosen the formidable task of doing creative work, you too have neuroses you must wrestle with. Your job is to find strategies to temper, tame, and possibly harness them to your advantage.
I, for one, do some of my best writing on the toilet. Something about a locked door and my pants hanging below the knees quiets the inner critic.
Is this crazy? Yes it is! But it’s MY crazy.
Find your crazy. Flirt with the unconventional. Or be a good ol’ guy or gal and follow the rules. Do whatever you have to do.
Should you find something that works, stick with it. Polite society be damned! The work ahead of you is maddening and messy, perhaps your method should follow suit.