Daily Rituals: How Artists Work was the final book I read in 2013. The collection of over two hundred rituals from artists of all mediums was filled with quirks for a variety of creative types. My favorite nuance was that Benjamin Franklin preferred air baths to water ones. Among the artists quirks, there were some patterns that came through, walking for one.
Many of the artists featured in the book took walks, mostly after lunch. Beethoven would walk with a pencil and “a couple of sheets of music paper to record chance thoughts.” Soren Kierkegaard would get ideas on his walk and need to hurry home to record the thoughts before they escaped him. Charles Dickens wrote that during walks he was, “searching for some pictures I wanted to build upon.”
The artists knew too, that focus during their post productive hours was paramount. For most of them this meant work after breakfast and it meant no distractions. Thomas Mann closed the door to his study and forbid his children to make any noise until noon. William Faulkner chose to work in a library with no lock, so instead he simply removed the doorknob and took it with him. Dickens had an extra door installed to block out noise.
There is also a theme that the artists need their routines. Twyla Tharp wrote in her book, The Creative Habit, that routines and rituals allow us not to think about things and devote our energies to pro-creative thoughts. Stephen King wrote that when he’s not working he feels at odds with himself. Tolstoy too, “I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine.”
A smaller idea that circulates among the modern writers included in this book is that little bits add up. Joseph Heller wrote, “If I write a page or two a day, five days a week, that’s 300 pages a year and it does add up.” Though Heller did give up on writing Catch-22 once to start watching television with his wife, but television drove him back to Catch-22. Joyce Carol Oates too praises small steps, “if I retain only a single page from a full day’s work, it is a single page, and these pages add up.”
The waking habits and hours of the artists vary, but this suggestion on waking from James Boswell stood out.
As soon as I am awake, I remember my duty, and like a brisk mariner I give the lash to indolence and bounce up with as much vivacity as if a pretty girl, amorous and willing, were waiting for me.
There were many features I skipped entirely, either not recognizing the artist or not being drawn in by the first line of the profile.