Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work offers delightful glances into the habits of a widely diverse group of artists, scientists, musicians, philosophers and writers. The book grew out of Currey’s blog, Daily Routines, that he started as a way to catalog these short descriptions of artist’s habits. The blog gives brief descriptions, often from an interview or article. The book goes a little deeper into the background of each subject to give the daily ritual some context. However, the strength of the book is that Currey uses the artist’s own words as much as possible. When that’s not available, he often uses a description written by a friend, family member or biographer who knew the subject well.
There’s something for everyone here. Did you know P. G. Wodehouse was a dedicated fan of The Edge of the Night soap opera, never missing an episode? Or Truman Capote preferred to only write lying down? Or Freud’s wife (that phrase right there gave me lots to ponder on….Freud’s wife) did everything for him freeing him up to work? Everything included putting toothpaste on his toothbrush, a task apparently to taxing for the great man.
The most interesting thing to me about the book was that there is really no one right way to be an artist. There are the “sit down and write (or paint, or compose) for x number of hours a day” people. Stephen King falls into this group. Highly disciplined, he views writing as his work and sits down daily to write 2000 words a day. On the other end of the spectrum is Marilynne Robinson who says that she can’t write if she doesn’t feel inspired about what she is writing. Some are morning people, some are night owls. Some are solitary, some manage to schedule in their writing or art around a family life or day job. As different as the lives of these highly varied individuals are, there are also patterns of similarities that emerged as I read the book. For example, it was amazing to me how many spoke of taking some kind of scheduled walk every day, either as a way of starting the day or as a needed break in the middle of work.
I’ll end with three of my favorite quotes from the book:
Joseph Heller: ” I spent two or three nights on it for eight years. I gave up once and started watching television with my wife. Television drew me back to Catch-22. I couldn’t imagine what Americans did at night when they weren’t writing novels. ”
Friedrich Schiller: “We have failed to recognize our great asset: time. A conscientious use of it could make us into something quite amazing.”
Bernard Malmud: ” There’s no one way- there’s too much drivel on the subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place- you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time- not steal it- and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you. “