Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

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Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey

If it’s not obvious from everyone’s favorite column here on MegBiram.com — GSD — (it means get shit done if you’re new around here), I am obsessed with people’s rituals and routines. I love to know how other people organize their time, how they plan their days, how they motivate themselves to get to work. I think it’s because I’m always trying to refine my routine and be more efficient in my work. Seriously I read a ton of books and articles on this topic.

So when I found out about this book — daily rituals and routines of ARTISTS — I couldn’t order it fast enough. It was beyond interesting, but I kept wanting more. I didn’t want it to end. I loved reading about each person — famous novelists, mathematicians, playwrights, painters, scientists, philosophers! Guess I’ll just need to go find all of their biographies!

My one critique about this book was the order. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the order the people were featured in. I thought that was a little odd. Maybe there was an order and I just couldn’t figure it out? Not sure.

What is fascinating, or maybe shouldn’t be, was that it seemed like there were two different types of people for each major observation — morning people, and not morning people. Schedule people, and not schedule people. Social people, and not social people. Both types of these people were successful. Some would work diligently all day, some would work in spurts of just a few hours and then spend the rest of the day partying, drinking and sleeping.

There were a ton of similarities among the different types of artists (spoiler alert for the book):

  1. Have a routine. Many of them had the same routine each day.
  2. Coffee or tea. Frequently.
  3. Lots of self-medicating. Pills, alcohol, you name it. I’m not sure how some of these people lived very long! And how did they not have a terrible hangover every day?!?
  4. Speaking of alcohol. Many of them where HUGE drinkers.
  5. Smoking. Lots of smokers too.
  6. Insomnia.
  7. Eating the same food every day.
  8. Having maids or someone prepare and serve them food, or going out to lunch/dinner.
  9. Long walks. Many of them would take a walk every day. Long walks, multiple walks.
  10. Work in the same place every day. Same table. Same room.
  11. Some got up really really early every day, others were night owls.
  12. Some just created in shorter bursts of intense work.
  13. Silence.
  14. Reading. Many of them read a lot.
  15. Dinner with friends.
  16. Considered their work time sacred.
  17. Many writers stop writing when they know what is coming next so they can start there the next morning.
  18. Many chose to not have much of a social life.
  19. Isolation.
  20. Some had helpers or servants.
  21. Many writers felt they needed to write every single day.
  22. Several had OCD or superstitions.
  23. Daily exercise (many in the form of walking).

Fascinating right? Especially all the bad habits, the major drinkers and party-goers — I was thinking how did these people live!?! If I have three drinks and not enough water I’m donezo for 24 hours.

Maybe what is more interesting are the people who were so disciplined and chose to not be social, be very isolated, and follow a strict routine. Having also recently read Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit (review coming on that soon) it’s so interesting to see how extreme some artists are to keep their routines and rituals to keep their creativity flowing and work coming out.

This topic is something I’ve always thought a lot about in my life, but particularly recently for two reasons. One, I’m writing a mega GSD workbook for my workshop, and also because I’m about to get studio space so I can actually paint regularly! I have a plan in mind of certain days I’ll go from my office to the studio to paint, and I’m just very eager to see how everything will all work out. I don’t think I’ll take up a massive drinking, smoking, and substance abuse habit, but a lot of the other habits I think are great things to keep in mind.