Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
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Franz Kafka, frustrated with his living quarters and day job, wrote in a letter to Felice Bauer in 1912, “time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”
Kafka is one of 161 inspired—and inspiring—minds, among them, novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians, who describe how they subtly maneuver the many (self-inflicted) obstacles and (self-imposed) daily rituals to get done the work they love to do, whether by waking early or staying up late; whether by self-medicating with doughnuts or bathing, drinking vast quantities of coffee, or taking long daily walks. Thomas Wolfe wrote standing up in the kitchen, the top of the refrigerator as his desk, dreamily fondling his “male configurations”. . . Jean-Paul Sartre chewed on Corydrane tablets (a mix of amphetamine and aspirin), ingesting ten times the recommended dose each day . . . Descartes liked to linger in bed, his mind wandering in sleep through woods, gardens, and enchanted palaces where he experienced “every pleasure imaginable.”
Here are: Anthony Trollope, who demanded of himself that each morning he write three thousand words (250 words every fifteen minutes for three hours) before going off to his job at the postal service, which he kept for thirty-three years during the writing of more than two dozen books . . . Karl Marx . . . Woody Allen . . . Agatha Christie . . . George Balanchine, who did most of his work while ironing . . . Leo Tolstoy . . . Charles Dickens . . . Pablo Picasso . . . George Gershwin, who, said his brother Ira, worked for twelve hours a day from late morning to midnight, composing at the piano in pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers . . .
Here also are the daily rituals of Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, John Updike, Twyla Tharp, Benjamin Franklin, William Faulkner, Jane Austen, Anne Rice, and Igor Stravinsky (he was never able to compose unless he was sure no one could hear him and, when blocked, stood on his head to “clear the brain”).
Brilliantly compiled and edited, and filled with detail and anecdote, Daily Rituals is irresistible, addictive, magically inspiring.
dozens, even hundreds, of times until they were just right. Bouilhet’s suggestions and encouragement bolstered Flaubert’s confidence and helped calm his frazzled nerves for another week of slow, torturous composition. This monotonous daily struggle continued, with few breaks, until June 1856, when, after nearly five years of labor, Flaubert finally mailed the manuscript to his publisher. And yet, as difficult as the writing was, it was in many ways an ideal life for Flaubert. “After all,” as he
up, and sometimes I wouldn’t get started writing until about two-thirty in the afternoon.” It took another day job to force him into more consistent habits. From 1999 until 2004, Baker and his wife found themselves running the American Newspaper Repository, a nonprofit dedicated to saving a collection of newspapers that would otherwise have been destroyed (one of the subjects of Baker’s 2001 nonfiction book, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper). Since he was busy during the day,
all the way to the bathroom; he kept a bucket by the bed for just these occasions. Martin Amis (b. 1949) Unlike his father, Martin Amis does not approach his writing with a feeling of dread: “I seldom have that kind of squeamishness,” he told The Paris Review in 1998. Amis said that he writes every weekday, driving himself to an office less than a mile from his London apartment. He keeps business hours but generally writes for only a small portion of that time. “Everyone assumes I’m a
only about two hundred or three hundred words. At 8:00 he would join his family and friends for cocktails and dinner, after which he would drink, smoke, read, and listen to music until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. Styron never drank while writing, but he thought that alcohol was a valuable tool for relaxing the mind and inviting “certain visionary moments” when thinking about the work. An interviewer once asked Styron if he found that his comfortable, upper-middle-class lifestyle—he lived with
that work of yours of which I am so proud and yet so jealous, for I know it has stolen from me part of my husband’s heart, for where his thoughts and interests lie, there must his heart be.” Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) “Today again from seven o’clock in the morning till six in the evening I worked without stirring except to take some food a step or two away,” van Gogh wrote in an 1888 letter to his brother, Theo, adding, “I have no thought of fatigue, I shall do another picture this very