The daily routines of creative minds



How do creative geniuses and brilliant intellectuals spend their typical workday?

If you’ve ever wondered how great writers, artists, philosophers, scientists and other creators of art and knowledge greet their mornings and beyond, Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (2013) is a pleasing, easy way to find out.

Early in life, Currey became deeply interested in the daily rituals of creative people, and it led him to write this book of short profiles describing the routines of the likes of Ernest Hemingway, George Gershwin, Joyce Carol Oates, Carl Jung, Maya Angelou, Albert Einstein, Ayn Rand, Truman Capote, Charles Darwin, Toni Morrison, and some 150 others. (Demographically speaking, the group is heavier on white males, but it’s an eclectic assemblage nonetheless.)

Browsing through these profiles, it’s clear that there’s no single way to be productive, creatively speaking. One’s idiosyncrasies also play a big role in how the day is spent. As NPR’s John Wilhol said in a segment about Daily Rituals last year:

The book makes one thing abundantly clear: There’s no such thing as the way to create good work, but all greats have their way. And some of those ways are spectacularly weird.

If that last line doesn’t pique your interest, then nothing will! (That said, Currey commendably writes to inform and entertain, not to titillate. Those looking for the juicy details on the “secret lives” of great creatives will be disappointed.)

Individual quirks notwithstanding, The Guardian‘s Oliver Burkeman did sift through the book and identified some core habits that seemed to pop up more often than others. He presented his findings in a full-blooded review essay:

  • “Be a morning person”
  • “Don’t give up the day job”
  • “Take lots of walks”
  • “Stick to a schedule”
  • “Practise strategic substance abuse” (Even here the point is pretty tame: “But there’s only one [chemical aid] that has been championed near-universally down the centuries: coffee.”)
  • “Learn to work anywhere”

Of course, despite Burkeman’s prodigious mustering, there are many exceptions to each of these points. Also, the short, individual profiles are a delight to read; the essence of the book cannot be appreciated from a review.

Most of those profiled come from the World Before The Internet. I wonder if Currey has a followup volume in mind on how today’s creatives are navigating the online world in terms of productivity and resources.

In the meantime, I’ll hit “Publish” for this blog post and refill my coffee mug.

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