Blogger Mason Currey’s book ‘Daily Rituals: How Artists Work’ has been written about on
numerous sites and quoted widely. I, too, couldn’t resist sharing some gems from this amazing work, more a thought-candy than a book. For several years, Currey studied daily routines of the great minds and looked at how their strict or, on the contrary, loose schedules influenced their tremendous achievements.
One of my favourite authors, Vladimir Nabokov, wrote on Index cards, often imaging the whole novel before writing it:
The Russian-born novelist’s writing habits were famously peculiar. Beginning in 1950, he composed first drafts in pencil on ruled index cards, which he stored in long file boxes. Since, Nabokov claimed, he pictured an entire novel in complete form before he began writing it, this method allowed him to compose passages out of sequence, in whatever order he pleased; by shuffling the cards around, he could quickly rearrange paragraphs, chapters, and whole swathes of the book.
One of his masterpieces, Lolita, was written on a road trip across America. Nabokov would usually write it in the backseat of his parked car. In later years, Nabokov settled in a six-room apartment on the top floor of the Palace Hotel, in Montreux, Switzerland, where he stuck to a rigid daily schedule:
I awake around seven in winter: my alarm clock is an Alpine chough—big, glossy, black thing with big yellow beak—which visits the balcony and emits a most melodious chuckle. For a while I lie in bed mentally revising and planning things. Around eight: shave, breakfast, enthroned meditation, and bath—in that order. Then I work till lunch in my study, taking time out for a short stroll with my wife along the lake. . . . We lunch around one P.M., and I am back at my desk by half-past one and work steadily till half-past six. Then a stroll to a newsstand for the English papers, and dinner at seven. No work after dinner. And bed around nine. I read till half-past eleven, and then tussle with insomnia till one A.M.
Another legendary artist, Andy Warhol, would always start his day by phoning his friend:
Every weekday morning from 1976 until his death in 1987, Warhol spoke on the phone to his longtime friend and writing collaborator Pat Hackett and related the events of the previous twenty-four hours—the people he’d seen, the money he’d spent, the gossip he’d heard, the parties he’d attended. Hackett took notes during the calls, which typically lasted one to two hours, and then typed up the accounts in diary form. The diary was initially kept for tax purposes—Warhol detailed all of his cash expenditures, and the typed pages were later stapled to his weekly receipts—but it became something more, an intimate portrait of an artist rarely given to intimacy.
Not all great aritsts were early risers – Marcel Proust, for example, would wake in the afternoon and start his day by smoking some opium:
To give his full attention to the work, Proust made a conscious decision in 1910 to withdraw from society, spending almost all his time in the famous cork-lined bedroom of his Paris apartment, sleeping during the day, working at night, and going out only when he needed to gather facts and impressions for his all-consuming work of fiction. Upon waking in the late afternoon—typically about 3:00 or 4:00 P.M., although sometimes not until as late as 6:00—Proust first lit a batch of the opium-based Legras powders that he used to relieve his chronic asthma. Sometimes he lit just a few pinches; other times he “smoked” for hours, until the entire bedroom was thick with fumes. Then he would ring for his longtime housekeeper and confidante, Celeste, to serve the coffee.
Currey delights the reader with fascinating little facts: flicking through the book you really feel like you’re being handed a bowl of sweets or popcorn. You just can’t stop (and you shouldn’t!).