Do you have a creative routine or ritual?

If you’re creative, work in the creative field, or simply find yourself a slave to routine or ritual, read this book: Daily Rituals. How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. You’ll feel better about it all — your procrastination, your late-night working habit, the note pad beside your bed on which you jot things down when you wake at 3 a.m., the odd, quirky things you do that help you get creative and the odd, quirky things you do when you’re just not feeling it!

“An encouraging read for creative types, and a delightful peek into that world for the rest of us.”
 – NPR’s Morning Edition

A quirky little gem

My girls were shopping in Toronto not long ago and found this quirky little gem in a Queen Street bookstore. To me, it’s not a book you read once, then pass on to a friend; although I’ve recommended it to many people. It’s not a book I store on my bookshelf. I leave it out, so that I can pick it up whenever I need to remind myself that, just like anyone who earns a living in a creative field or as a freelance, some kind of schedule to your days is imperative, deadlines are (mostly) immutable and like the rest of us, even the great ones  grappled (and still grapple) with the universal issues of time and productivity.

It’s not a book about how to be creative, it’s a book about how some of the most brilliant creative minds of the last 400 years found the time, energy and willpower to be creative on a (mostly) day-to-day basis, through their own routine or ritual.

Creative Routine or Ritual

As Currey conveys in his Introduction: This book is “about the circumstances of creative activity, not the product; it deals with manufacturing, rather than meaning. But it’s also, inevitably, personal … I wanted to show how grand creative visions translate to small daily increments; how one’s working habits influence the work itself, and vice versa … The book’s title is Daily Rituals, but my focus in writing it was really people’s routines.”

Igor Stravinsky only composed music when no one was around to listen. When creatively blocked, he had the routine of standing on his head!

A few teasers to tempt you to go out and buy (or borrow) this little gem …

According to Currey, Stephen King has the daily routine of setting himself a quota of 2,000 words to write. He writes every day of the year! Frank Lloyd Wright never made a single sketch until the entire project was completely worked out in his head. Andy Warhol kept “everything” that was sent or given to him in what he called his “time capsule,” a brown cardboard box. James Joyce kept to no schedule at all and often entertained people, including his tailor, from his bed. Playwright Henry Miller wrote all night long and then one day, discovered he was really a morning person. Thomas Wolfe stood up while writing, using the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Truman Capote did all his writing in bed and wouldn’t start or finish a project on a Friday. In the early days, Alice Munro kept her writing a secret from everyone but those closest to her. Glenn Gould ate one meal a day and on the days he was recording, ate nothing at all. His routine was to go to bed at an hour when most of us are just getting up.

Daily Rituals is a fascinating glimpse into the artists’ private lives, personal habits and unique routine preferences — some of them peculiar, others downright bizarre (I won’t spoil the read by telling you more here) — peppered with sometimes astonishing quotes from the artists, unearthed during Currey’s extensive research. The excesses — smoking, drinking, drugs, food, sexual proclivities — are revealed, as is the other side of routine excess, as in Joan Miró’s inflexible commitment to vigorous exercise and Woody Allen’s obsessive need to shower in order to invoke the creative muse.

Fresh and Fascinating

Perhaps the most delicious aspect of the book is that you don’t have to read it beginning to end, as you would a novel, because it’s not.

Currey’s book is series of vignettes, colourful snapshots of the artists if you will, written in a style that flows effortlessly to and fro. You can start at the beginning and read through to the end; read when you have a moment, one or two accounts at a time; start at the end and work backwards; or pick up anywhere in between. It’s that kind of book.

In some ways, this is a “How To” book, a ‘ ways to manage your time’ manual, written from a completely fresh and fascinating perspective that reveals how those famous “others” did it. It reminds us that, in the end, we’re all human and it’s often our idiosyncracies that make us interesting and unique. It’s part motivational, part inspirational, and all of it is a darned good read.

Daily Rituals. How Artists Work by Mason Currey.

Mason Currey Website