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Authors: Mason Currey

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Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

BOOK: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
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Copyright © 2013 by Mason Currey

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada, Limited, Toronto.

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

This page
constitutes an extension of this page.
A brief essay is included herein by Oliver Sacks,
copyright © 2013 by Oliver Sacks.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Currey, Mason.
Daily rituals: how artists work / by Mason Currey.—First edition.
pages cm
eISBN: 978-0-307-96237-9
1. Artists—Psychology.   I. Currey, Mason.   II. Title.
87 2013 700.92′2—dc23 2012036279

Jacket design by Jason Booher




Who can unravel the essence, the stamp of the artistic temperament! Who can grasp the deep, instinctual fusion of discipline and dissipation on which it rests!

Death in Venice


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 of the past four hundred years 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. By writing about the admittedly mundane details of my subjects’ daily lives—when they slept and ate and worked and worried—I hoped to provide a novel angle on their personalities and careers, to sketch entertaining, small-bore portraits of the artist as a creature of habit. “
Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are,” the French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once wrote. I say, tell me what time you eat, and whether you take a nap afterward.

In that sense, this is a superficial book. It’s about the circumstances of creative activity, not the product; it deals with manufacturing rather than meaning. But it’s also, inevitably, personal. (John Cheever thought that you couldn’t even type a business letter without revealing something of your inner self—isn’t that the truth?) My underlying concerns in the book are issues that I struggle with in my own life: How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living? Is it better to devote
yourself wholly to a project or to set aside a small portion of each day? And when there doesn’t seem to be enough time for all you hope to accomplish, must you give things up (sleep, income, a clean house), or can you learn to condense activities, to do more in less time, to “work smarter, not harder,” as my dad is always telling me? More broadly, are comfort and creativity incompatible, or is the opposite true: Is finding a basic level of daily comfort a prerequisite for sustained creative work?

I don’t pretend to answer these questions in the following pages—probably some of them can’t be answered, or can be resolved only individually, in shaky personal compromises—but I have tried to provide examples of how a variety of brilliant and successful people have confronted many of the same challenges. I wanted to show how grand creative visions translate to small daily increments; how one’s working habits influence the work itself, and vice versa.

The book’s title is
Daily Rituals
, but my focus in writing it was really people’s
. 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, optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods. This was one of William James’s favorite subjects. He thought you
to put part of your life on autopilot; by forming good habits, he said, we can “
free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action.”
Ironically, James himself was a chronic procrastinator and could never stick to a regular schedule (see
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BOOK: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
7.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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