Book Review: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

When I heard about this book I had to have it.  I’m fascinated by the creative processes of others, one main reason being I have so much trouble with my own.  The temptation to compare is impossible to resist, but I have to say that though I might pick up a few tips from a book like this, I am not tempted  to change the way I do things just because famous author so-and-so does it that way.

Anyway, this book is interesting but it is not all I had hoped.  It is not an in-depth look at how artists work; it is rather a large number of very short clips, almost like mini blog posts, describing the routines of creative people.  It is kind of like sitting down to what you had hoped would be a big full meal and being served a lot of snacks.  It’s a small book too; I was disappointed when it arrived and I saw the size of it.  It only takes a couple of days to get through even with moderate reading.

Nevertheless, it is interesting.  Writers and other artists are a strange group of people.  Too many of the examples in this book detail dependence on drugs or alcohol or bizarre rituals or habits to sustain their creativity.  Some almost made me laugh out loud, but certainly didn’t cause me to want to emulate them.  There are some sad, sad stories here.

Most artists, however, seem to keep to a more or less steady schedule, and treat their work as a job, not waiting for some sort of magic burst of inspiration, but rather keeping at it day after day, thus allowing their creativity to flow in a steady stream.  The consensus seems to be that the morning is best, and the majority of artists keep a morning schedule during which they do their freshest, best work.

This is how I have come to work as well.  I have tried different approaches.  When I was intensely into teaching in Greece I tried writing a few hundred words when I got home late at night, and I got a few good stories out of it.  But I like it best when I can approach my writing at the beginning of the day when my mind is fresh and unencumbered with whatever else besets me in the course of the day.  I find that if I keep to a steady schedule and a set minimum word count that my subconscious cooperates and gives me material with which to compose.  I set as a minimum 1000 words, and often surpass it.  How long it takes varies, but generally about an hour and a half does the trick.  If the writing were my full-time job, which I hope happens soon, I would possibly take a break, exercise a bit, walk around to stretch and get the blood flowing through my system, and then get back to it for another thousand words or so.  As it is now after the first thousand words multitudes of things to be done, among them writing hack Internet articles to support my family, intrude and I have to jump away from whatever fantasy world in which I am ensconced into the realities of the day.

I love the maxim, “Two or three hours in the morning and the rest of the day to oneself.”  I think Henry Miller said it, but it may not have been original with him.  In an ideal world I would compose my couple of thousand words, take care of necessary household or business affairs, have lunch, take a nap, and then in the afternoon do business related to writing and publishing, and whatever else needs to be done, including a nice long walk or exercise period.

I would also spend a good part of the year traveling and write as I traveled, alternating between spending time at home base and venturing off into lands explored and unexplored.  High on my list of places to revisit are India and Europe.  In India I have specific locations in mind to which I want to return and stay for extended periods of time.  Europe, though, I would like to re-explore in a camper, wandering here and there as the urge took me.

Still, throughout the travels, I believe that a regular schedule or routine would be important.  That’s how you get work done.  If I could do my world wandering again, that’s one thing I would be sure of, that I took time every day to maintain a steady output of writing.

Back to the book.  It’s interesting and I would recommend it to other writers and artists, but be aware that it is very rudimentary, very short, and because of that overpriced for what you are getting.  You will arrive at the chapter for an artist you might be very interested in (in my case Henry Miller), read the short paragraph and then exclaim, “Huh?  Is that all?”  I would have much preferred Currey had covered half the amount of artists and doubled or tripled the content for each one.  But, then, it’s his book, not mine.

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