I am obsessed with other writers’ routines. While it’s possible to fall into a “everything must be productive” industrial trap, reading about other people’s strategies and disciplines has liberated me to create my own. The discipline has been a backdoor into taking my work, and myself, more seriously. Can’t wait to read this book.
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
“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.”
“A modern stoic knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.”
An addictive read—just 1-3 page summaries of the routines of various artists, scientists, etc. It’s fun to go through and get ideas for your own work, but mostly it’s just fascinating to hear about how people work(ed). (cf. Studs Turkel’s Working.)
Here are a few bits that rang true to my own experience:
A little bit of work every day adds up.
Anthony Trollope: “three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.”
Martin Amis: “Two hours. I think most writers would be very happy with two hours of concentrated work.”
Gertrude Stein: “If you write a half hour a day it makes a lot of writing year by year.”
Read your work aloud.
Simply reading your work aloud gives you enough distance from it that you can hear what’s really going on. Mark Twain would read his day’s work aloud to his family after dinner. Maya Angelou would read her stuff to her husband, but not invite him to comment. (Quentin Tarantino does the same—he reads scripts to his friends, but doesn’t invite feedback. “I don’t want your input, heavens forbid…”)
Eat a good breakfast.
I’d like to adopt Carl Jung’s breakfast: “coffee, salami, fruits, bread and butter.”
A little procrastination can go a long way.
Gerhard Richter: “I love making plans. I could spend my life arranging things. Weeks go by, and I don’t paint until I can’t stand it any longer…perhaps I create these little crises as a kind of secret strategy to push myself.”
Joseph Heller: “Television drove me back to Catch-22. I couldn’t imagine what Americans did at night when they weren’t writing novels.”
Pressure makes you get the work done.
Edward Abbey: “I hate commitments, obligations and working under pressure. But on the other hand, I like getting paid in advance and I only work under pressure.”
Go for walks.
Charles Dickens took a 3-hour walks every day at 2PM, “searching for some pictures I wanted to build upon.”
Wallace Stevens commuted on foot three or four miles in between his house and his day job, and took an hour long walk at lunch. He composed his poems on these walks, scribbling on envelopes he had stuffed in his pockets.
Here are some other random bits I found interesting:
- Francis Bacon would read cookbooks in bed to fall asleep.
- Morton Feldman on what John Cage taught him: “He said that it’s a very good idea that after you write a little bit, stop and then copy it. Because while you’re copying it, you’re thinking about it, and it’s giving you other ideas. And that’s the way I work. And it’s marvelous, just wonderful, the relationship between working and copying.”
Here are some great quotes:
- Gustave Flaubert: “It’s no easy business to be simple.“
- Woody Allen: “I think in the cracks all the time. I never stop.”
- Glenn Gould: “I don’t approve of people who watch television, but I am one of them.”
- Phillip Roth: “I’m like a doctor and it’s an emergency room. And I’m the emergency.”
- Stephen Jay Gould: “It’s not work, it’s my life. It’s what I do. It’s what I like to do.”
- Bernard Malamud: “The real mystery to crack is you
Funny enough, out of all the routines, I thought Georgia O’Keefe’s was the most lovely. She lived out in the New Mexico desert and got up every morning to watch the sun come up…
I do wonder about the book’s structure. At first, I could see the way Currey was DJing, the juxtapositions he was trying to make, but later on things got a little random. One thing I liked about his blog was that you could click tags to read about artists with different habits: procrastinators, early risers, nap takers, etc. But that’s the nature of the beast when you translate an essentially non-linear, fluid database into a linear, fixed form like a book…
Anyways, it’s a fun read.
Filed under: routine, my reading year 2013