Book:  Daily Rituals

Author:  Mason Currey

Purchase:  PrinteBook | Audiobook

Citation:   Currey, M. & Currey, M. (2013). Daily rituals : how artists work. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Three Big Takeaways:

  • Nearly every weekday morning for a year and a half, I got up at 5:30, brushed my teeth, made a cup of coffee, and sat down to write about how some of the greatest minds approached this exact same task - that is, how they made the time each day to do their best work, how they organized their schedules in order to be creative and productive. The book's title is Daily Rituals, but my focus in writing it was really people's routines. The word connotes ordinariness and even a lack of thought; to follow a routine is to be on autopilot. But one's daily routine is also a choice, or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, and optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one's mental energies and helps starve off the tyranny of moods. (pg. xiii)

  • Ingmar Bergman followed the same schedule for decades: up at 8:00, writing from 9:00 to noon, then a meal. "He constantly eats the same lunch." After lunch, Bergman worked again from 1:00 to 3:00, then slept for an hour. In the late afternoon he went for a walk or took a ferry to a neighboring island to pick up the newspapers and the mail. (pg. 13)

  • Henry Miller started working from breakfast to lunch, taking a nap, then writing again through the afternoon and sometimes into the night. As he got older, though, he found that anything after noon was unnecessary and even counterproductive. Two or three hours in the morning were enough for him, although he stressed the importance of keeping regular hours in order to cultivate a daily creative rhythm. "I know that to sustain these true moments of insight one has to be highly disciplined." (pg. 53)

Other Key Ideas:

  • Soren Kierkegaard's day was dominated by two pursuits: writing and walking. Typically, he wrote in the morning, set off on a long walk through Copenhagen at noon, and then returned to his writing for the rest of the day and into the evening. The walks were where he had his best ideas, and sometimes he would be in such a hurry to get them down that, returning home, he would write standing up before his desk, still wearing his hat and gripping his walking stick or umbrella. (pg. 19)

  • Anthony Trollope said that "All those I think who have lived as literary means, - working daily as literary labourers, - will agree with me that three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write." (pg. 24)

  • Thomas Mann's prime writing hours were between 9:00am and noon. It was then when his mind was the freshest, and Mann placed tremendous pressure on himself to get things down during that time. Anything that didn't come by noon would have to wait until the next day, so he forced himself to "clench the teeth and take one slow step at a time." He then say on the sofa and read newspapers, periodicals, and books until 4:00pm, when he returned to bed for an hour-long nap. Finally, he took. walk before dinner. (pg. 35)

  • The more details of our life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are the subjects of express volitional deliberation. (pg. 80)

  • Igor Starvinsky said, "Generally, three hours of composition were the most I could manage in a day, although I would do less demanding tasks - writing letters, copying scores - in the afternoon." (pg. 92)

  • Charles Darwin maintained a quiet, monkish life, with his day structured around a few concentrated bursts of work, broken up by set periods of walking, napping, reading, and letter writing. (pg. 163)

  • Twyla Tharp said, "I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30am, put on my workout clothes. I walk outside, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the gym where I workout for two hours. By automatically getting up and getting into the cab every morning, I avoid the question of whether or not I feel like going to the gym; the ritual is one less thing for her to think about. I repeat the wake-up, the workout, the quick shower, the breakfast of three hard boiled egg whites and coffee, etc. That's my day, every day. A dancer's life is all about repetition. It's an actively anti-social life, but on the other hand its pro-creative." (pg. 222)

  • Georges Simenon's typical schedule was to wake up at 6:00am, make coffee, and write from 6:30 to 9:30. Then he would go for a long walk, eat lunch at 12:30, and take a one-hour nap. In the afternoon he spent time with his children and took another walk before dinner, television, and bed at 10:00. (pg. 230)

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