Derek Sivers

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work - by Mason Currey

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work - by Mason Currey

ISBN: 0307273601
Date read: 2014-08-15
How strongly I recommend it: 5/10
(See my list of 320+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Collections of the creative routines of famous writers, artists, musicians, and scientists. Some interesting insights, but mostly reinforcing proof that it's important to keep a daily routine to put aside time for your creative work.

my notes

A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.

Put part of your life on autopilot. By forming good habits, we can free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action.

The importance of keeping regular hours in order to cultivate a daily creative rhythm.

The more of the details of our daily 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 lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.

The great men never stop working. They never lose a minute. All of them made the time to get their work done.

To discipline passion, decide what you ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.

There were no parties, no bourgeois values. We completely avoided all that. There was the presence only of essentials. It was an uncluttered kind of life, a simplicity deliberately constructed so that she could do her work.

Three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.

I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next.

I don’t believe in draining the reservoir. I believe in getting away from the typewriter while I still have things to say.

I keep to this routine every day without variation.

The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.

One drawback to this self-made schedule is that it doesn’t allow for much of a social life. “People are offended when you repeatedly turn down their invitations.” But he decided that the indispensable relationship in his life was with his readers. “My readers would welcome whatever life style I chose, as long as I made sure each new work was an improvement over the last.”

I have acquired the reputation over the years of being prolix when in fact I am measured against people who simply don’t work as hard or as long.

Literary success has made literary productivity increasingly difficult. The world, it seems, will pay me to do anything BUT write!

With daily routines, the useful thing is to have one that feels new. It can almost be arbitrary. You know, you could say to yourself, ‘From now on, I’m only going to write on the back porch in flip flops starting at four o’clock in the afternoon.’ And if that feels novel and fresh, it will have a placebo effect and it will help you work.

I certainly have a routine, but the most important thing, when I look back over my career, has been the ability to change routines.

I liked the feeling of getting up really early. The mind is newly cleansed but it’s also befuddled and you’re still just plain sleepy. I found that I wrote differently then.

I usually wake up for an hour or so during the night. I am not an insomniac. I enjoy that nightly hour and make good use of it. I sleep alone.

His timer now rang four times a day: at midnight, 1:00 A.M., 5:00 A.M., and 7:00 A.M., for one hour of nocturnal composition in addition to his usual two hours at dawn. He followed this routine seven days a week, holidays included, until only a few days before his death.

Character, for Kant, is a rationally chosen way of organizing one’s life, based on years of varied experience - indeed, he believed that one does not really develop a character until age forty. And at the core of one’s character, he thought, were maxims - a handful of essential rules for living that, once formulated, should be followed for the rest of one’s life.

Proust made a conscious decision in 1910 to withdraw from society, spending almost all his time in the famous cork-lined bedroom of his Paris apartment, sleeping during the day, working at night, and going out only when he needed to gather facts and impressions for his all-consuming work of fiction.

I have never been able to compose unless sure that no one could hear me.

Picasso wanted a lifestyle which would permit him to work in peace without material worries - ‘like a pauper, but with lots of money.’

Given his inherited income, one may wonder why Green bothered going in to the office at all - he certainly didn’t need the money. Though he occasionally spoke to his friends about giving up Pontifex and living off his unearned income in order to do nothing but write, he was beginning to find that the office routines of Henry Yorke were useful, even essential, to the imaginative work of Henry Green. He feared his own volatility and often referred to his need for habitual routines to keep him sane. The job gave him day-to-day stability as well as experiences that he could use in his writing.

“Having a job is one of the best things in the world that could happen to me. It introduces discipline and regularity into one’s life. I am just as free as I want to be and of course I have nothing to worry about about money.”

He would get a start on the day’s work before he even sat down at his desk, thinking of the first two sentences he wanted to write while soaking in the bath.

Between work and home he walked, a distance of three or four miles each way. Most days, he took an additional hour-long walk on his lunch break. It was on these walks that he composed his poetry, stopping now and then to scribble lines

I’ve found over the years that any momentary change stimulates a fresh burst of mental energy. So if I’m in this room and then I go into the other room, it helps me. If I go outside to the street, it’s a huge help. If I go up and take a shower it’s a big help.

Home: “I try to keep home very pretty, and I can’t work in a pretty surrounding. It throws me.” As a result, she has always worked in hotel or motel rooms, the more anonymous the better.

I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down.

My moods are more or less inversely related to the clarity of the sky.

The French philosopher liked to sleep until mid-morning, then linger in bed, thinking and writing, until 11:00 or so. “Here I sleep ten hours every night. And after my mind has wandered in sleep through woods, gardens, and enchanted palaces where I experience every pleasure imaginable, I awake to mingle the reveries of the night with those of the day.”

At noon Hugo headed downstairs for lunch. These were the days when prominent men were expected to have opening hours like museums. Hugo welcomed almost everyone. As the clock struck twelve, he would appear and conduct his guests to the dining-room.

It’s the hardest work in the world to try not to work!

My pleasant disposition likes the world with nobody in it.

Her beloved countryside. “When I think of death,” she once said, “I only regret that I will not be able to see this beautiful country anymore.”

The pleasures of not writing are so great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again.

He was careful to give at least three hours a day to the writing project at hand; otherwise, he said, there was a risk he might forget what it’s about. A solid routine, he added, “saves you from giving up.”

Writing interests me more than anything else. If I made a chore of it, my enthusiasm would die. I make it an adventure every day. I get more entertainment from it than any I could buy.

When beginning a new book, she tends to slip into a routine naturally, without any conscious planning. And once she’s adopted a writing schedule, she doesn’t need to force herself to work. But she does have to be strict about avoiding social engagements and other outside entanglements. “Because you won’t get those four hours if you’re spending most of the day worried about getting to an appointment and back,” she says. “What you have to do is clear all distraction.”

He followed a regular writing routine only when the work was going badly.

The ritual is a friendly reminder that I’m doing the right thing.

This schedule does not allow for a particularly sociable life. It’s actively anti-social. On the other hand, it is pro-creative.

A creative life has the nourishing power we normally associate with food, love, and faith.

Make yourself ready to dream just as you make yourself ready to sleep by going to bed at roughly the same time each night and following the same ritual as you go. In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives.

You couldn’t even type a business letter without revealing something of your inner self.


For over fifty years I have not stopped working for an instant. From nine o’clock to noon, first sitting. I have lunch. Then I have a little nap and take up my brushes again at two in the afternoon until the evening.

[A]t six o’clock he got up, washed and had coffee and a few slices of bread for breakfast; at seven he went into the studio and worked non-stop until twelve, when he stopped to do an hour of energetic exercise, like boxing or running; at one o’clock he sat down for a frugal but well-prepared lunch,

A nap, but for just five minutes; at two he would receive a friend, deal with business matters or write letters; at three he returned to the studio, where he stayed until dinner time at eight o’clock; after dinner he would read for a while or listen to music.

Started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon.

Sit down at nine o’clock in the morning and work straight through the morning until lunchtime, then in the afternoon letters - or, rather more important, is that I go for a walk, where I plan out what I’m going to write in the next period at my desk. I then come back. After tea, up to my studio and work through until about eight o’clock. After dinner I usually find I’m too sleepy to do much more than read a little bit, and then go to bed rather early.

I would get up around four, four-thirty. And I write some. Make coffee sometimes, or not. I write for maybe an hour and a half. But then I get really sleepy. So I go back to sleep and then I wake up at around eight-thirty.” After waking for the second time, Baker talks with his wife, drinks another cup of coffee, eats a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and goes back to his writing, this time focusing on “daylight kind of work,” like typing up notes for a nonfiction piece, transcribing an interview, or editing

When Balzac was working, his writing schedule was brutal: He ate a light dinner at 6:00 P.M., then went to bed. At 1:00 A.M. he rose and sat down at his writing table for a seven-hour stretch of work. At 8:00 A.M. he allowed himself a ninety-minute nap; then, from 9:30 to 4:00, he resumed. At 4:00 P.M. Balzac took a walk, had a bath, and received visitors until 6:00, when the cycle started all over again.

Dickens’s working hours: was in his study by 9:00. He stayed there until 2:00. Promptly at 2:00, Dickens left his desk for a vigorous three-hour walk through the countryside or the streets of London, continuing to think of his story and, as he described it, “searching for some pictures I wanted to build upon.”