daily rituals: the ways artists work by mason currey, review

dailyritualsDaily Rituals is a compendium of brief descriptions taken from interviews, biographers, and the artists themselves, of the nitty gritty of the daily life of an impressive array of creative people.  It’s based on Mason Currey’s blog of the same title, but goes further, and includes more folks.  From Mozart, Flaubert, and de Beauviore, to Matisse, Hemingway, and Freud, people long dead and people still living, painters, composers, and writers of all kinds, all revealed through their oh, so specific routines—routines that help/ed them get through the day, and more importantly, get through their work.

As a writer with a long time interest in creative process (see my author interview series on same), it will come as no surprise that I love this book.  I’ve been listening to the Audible version the last few days and have found it funny but also nourishing and delicious.

Firstly, it’s so wonderful how they are all so different! Early risers, late night owls.  Those who need uppers—lots of coffee in this book!—and those who need downers—lots of liquor, too.  Hedonists, vs those with monk-like lives.  Those surrounded by family and friends, vs. loners.  Work in bed, work in the perfect chair, work in cafes, work in the family room surrounded by chatter, work in isolation in a stone hut in the woods.

Human beings have created things in every conceivable configuration.

Listening to this book soundly dismisses the idea that there is a right way to be an artist.  It also routes the idea that “getting my shit together” is what will help with my writing.  A huge number of these people are neurotic messes, either falling apart, or holding it together through iron precision.  The great masterpieces of the world have not been created because their authors had their shit together!  On the contrary!  Life is a mess, a disaster, and we create along the way as best we can.

This comforts me.

Workaholics and procrastinators, clockwork schedulers and the absence of any structure whatsoever, the rich with servants, the destitute with no resources at all…all interspersed with sometimes bizarre rituals that have been found to support that particular person’s process—Beethoven’s 60 beans of coffee each day come to mind, but there are many, many.  I don’t want to spoil it for you.

How many times, in listening, have thought, “I do that, too!” or, even more frequently, “Maybe I should try that…?”

Small complaint: I wish there were more women.  I’m glad every time a woman is mentioned. I don’t know that this is a failing of Mr. Curry, or, more likely, that the Big Name Creators have been 99% men for the much of human history.  There are more women as the dates become more and more recent, for which I’m glad.  I crave the women’s voices.

Best quote so far: Joyce Carol Oates.  “Getting the first draft finished is like pushing a very dirty peanut across the floor with your nose

I know!!!

The biggest takeaway: there is no right path!  There is no Answer!  There is only doing your work in whatever way you can manage.

Read this book for solace, laughs, insight, and support.  I feel like I’ve just discovered that I’m part of an army of humans who have been struggling with these same questions—how can I work? how can I make it happen in the midst of all the things that block it? (Jobs, family, money concerns, health issues, anxiety, writers block, boredom, depression, business, distraction, ETC, everyone has had their share.)

So many cobbled together solutions have been put into play by so many of the greats.  I love hearing about them all, from the noble to the perverse.

We all do the best we can to muddle through.  Highly recommended.

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