Showers, coffee, walking, taking a nap — when it comes to stoking creativity, just about anything goes, according to Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, an intriguing new book by Mason Currey. While ferreting out the work rituals and patterns of writers, artists, and composers can’t have been easy, it does seem that a few common threads emerged from all the creative chaos:
Consistency reigns supreme: People worked different at different times of the day and for periods: Gertrude Stein, for example, only worked for 30 minutes daily. Other writers found that two to three hours a day works well for them, but anything beyond that makes them stale for the next day. But even so, they worked at the same time every day, regardless of what else was going on in their life. It’s the consistency: staying with the same pattern every day that seemed to be most important in inducing a creative state.
Breaks are beneficial: Whether it’s writing, composing, or painting, it’s impossible to work nonstop on activities that require intense focus and creative energy. That’s why taking breaks is so important. Taking naps, drinking coffee, walking, even showers — all these are ways to re-energize by giving your mind a rest.
But, here’s the beauty of this: even though you turn your mind to something else, it’s still engaged with your work on some deeper level. It’s in the spaces between the work, the pauses — that creative problems are often solved.
Day jobs can actually support creativity: While we often think that other kinds of work get in the way of our writing, some writers find the opposite to be true. Joseph Heller, for example, wrote his bestselling classic Catch 22 for two to three hours every evening after his day job as an advertising executive. He enjoyed both writing magazine campaigns and writing his novel. Even after he left his job to devote himself full time to his fiction, he continued to work on this novels for only two-to-three hours a day.
Daily Rituals sounds like an inspiring book, doesn’t it? The snippets I’ve read about it underscore the fact that pursuing the writing life isn’t an impossible dream. It’s available to all of us if we can carve out some time every day and find the discipline to commit to it — and if we are willing to work intensely and then give ourselves refreshing breaks to refuel. Sounds doable, doesn’t it? Write on!