Photo by a.drian
I discovered a fantastic blog at the weekend — Daily Routines: How writers, artists, and other interesting people organize their days (via Undead Pixel). It contains what it says on the tin: first-hand accounts of how famous people optimise their daily routines for creative work.
For example, here’s Haruki Murakami‘s typical working day:
When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. 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. But to hold to such repetition for so long — six months to a year — requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.
With a collection including Vladimir Nabokov, Benjamin Franklin, Jasper Johns, Franz Kafka and Ingmar Bergman, the site is an Aladdin’s Cave for students of creativity and productivity. The entries are categorised both by occupations (Architects, Artists, Filmmakers, Musicians and Composers etc) and by habits. So you can browse to your hearts content through Drinkers, Drug Users, Early Risers, Exercisers, Nap Takers, Night Owls, Procrastinators and Smokers.
“There are certain things I do if I sit down to write,” he said. “I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning,” he explained. “I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.
Or this one from fellow novelist Will Self:
Rituals. Smoking–pipes, cigars, special brands, accessories, the whole bollocks. Coffee, tea, strange infusions–I have a stove on my desk. Fetishising typewriters, pens, etc.
Part of the fun of Daily Routines is that you could use it as an excuse for all kinds of bad behaviour in the cause of creativity. How do you fancy a whisky at 11am, followed by a three-course lunch with Champagne, Port, brandy and cigars; then another whisky at 5 PM to set you up for a large dinner washed down with lashings of booze? If it worked for Winston Churchill, it could work for you! Can’t be bothered to mow your lawn? Tell your partner you’re only following in the footsteps of German artist Gerhard Richter. Don’t see why you should stop smoking in bed? Neither did Gustave Flaubert. Unwilling to interrupt your work just because it’s your wedding day? Willem de Kooning would have sympathised.
Immanuel Kant is famous for having a daily routine so regular that his neighbours set their watches by his morning walks, but it turns out even he bent the rules a bit:
Apparently, Kant had formulated the maxim for himself that he would smoke only one pipe, but it is reported that the bowls of his pipes increased considerably in size as the years went on.
The only major disappointment is the Drug Users category, which consists of a single entry — the mathematician Paul Erdös, who wrote mathematical formulae under the influence of ‘Benzedrine or Ritalin, strong espresso, and caffeine tablets’. No harm to him, but it’s not very rock ‘n’ roll is it? Where are the poets on absinthe and opium, the musicians on LSD? Or is that kind of thing not very conducive to a daily routine?
Plus there aren’t many women featured on the site — they mostly appear in the background, as the wives of blokes like de Kooning and Darwin, whose lives were evidently arranged around their husbands’ routines.
Reading through the collection and seeing so many recurrent themes, it’s tempting to draw generalisations about the importance of routine in creativity. But of course the nature of Daily Routines means that it attracts accounts of creators like Flaubert, whose ‘Days were as unvaried as the notes of the cuckoo’. If your creative ‘process’ is a chaotic round of accidents, binges, coincidences, arguments and crises, you’re not likely to be submitted to the site. But don’t let that hold you back from the pleasures of a cup of cold chocolate for breakfast and a lethal martini at 6 pm — if you’re serious about your creativity and productivity, you’ll want to subscribe to Daily Routines.
What’s Your Daily Routine?
Do you have a daily creative routine? If so, what is it?
What are your favourite examples of famous creators’ routines? The more eccentric or plain boring the better!
Can you think of any counterexamples? i.e. creative people whose lives were ruled by chaos? You can include yourself if you like. 🙂
About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a free 25-week guide to success as a creative professional, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.