The Importance of Daily Rituals

I’ve read a lot of books in the past year – some good, some not so good. I want to highlight a book published in 2013 that I came late to: ‘Daily Rituals – How Artists Work’ by @masoncurrey. This book is an absolute delight from start to finish. It really is enthralling.

How do artists work? The 161 artists highlighted lead routine lives of sleep, lots of walking, lots of coffee, lesser amounts of tea, some occasionally lots of alcohol, and many of the older generation smoke like chimneys. The have enormous amounts of discipline, turning up and sitting down and working every day, and doing so generally without fail. They have low short-run expectations (a page or two/day), high long-run expectations (a page a day every day becomes a big book over the course of a year).

None of them wait for inspiration – none. Get working, and inspiration follows. The hardest thing of all seems to be getting a solid, uninterrupted 2 – 3 hour block of writing time, and doing that every day, instead of doing busy stuff. Some of them despair over their lack of productivity – but somehow use the despair as a goad to productivity – getting bits written, here there and everywhere. The Kafka quote on the flyleaf is brilliant: “time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”

I was particularly struck by how important long daily walks were for creative production – something I discuss in my forthcoming book, ‘In Praise of Walking‘. Ingmar Bergman took a daily hour’s walk at lunchtime to recharge; Beethoven used his walks to write music; Kierkegaard walked everyday, using the walk to turbocharge his writing; so many others do likewise.

Sleep is also highlighted as utterly central to the creative process – a mysterious but wondrous source that refills creative wells every night. Chronotypes vary: some are early risers (sometimes of necessity); others are late night workers; others take early afternoon naps. All of them insist on the importance of sleep for recharging their creativity; sleep solves intractable problems of text, plotting, and the like. Marilynne Robinson describes herself as having a ‘benevolent insomnia’, waking in the middle of the night, not being able to sleep, but being driven to write in the quiet and dark.

As I said, ‘Daily Rituals‘ is an absolute delight – if you’re interested in the logistics of how artists do what they do, rather than their creative output, you’ll love this book.

And if you’re interested in walking and creativity, you can pre-order ‘In Praise of Walking‘.

(The above is adapted from a Twitter Thread)

(PS: here’s a books podcast I did on five books that I have particularly adored over the years for NewsTalk FM)

Author: Shane O'Mara

Neuroscientist

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