If you asked me what my daily writing routine was, I'd be hard pressed to tell you. There are patterns, familiar loops I run through, but hardly an everyday schedule. Sometimes I'm writing first thing in the morning; other times I'm running off to teach or interview. Sometimes I drink coffee; other times tea. Sometimes I set up shop at a cafe, other times on my little porch, or desk, or at a self-manufactured standing table, or corner of a couch, or the floor. I like the variation, adapting to my moods and what presses on my workday. And yet, there are times when I think that tightening the daily routine some would be good for me: by ridding myself of the choices about how to do what I do each day, I can put forth more energy into creative choices.
For The Christian Science Monitor, I reviewed Mason Currey's collection of the working habits of 161 creative people, including novelists, composers, scientists, poets, psychologists, filmmakers, and philosophers. I might take insperation from their stories, though one can't help but notice how many of them have servants, wives, sisters, mothers, cooks, mistresses, girlfriends, and other women in their life who are dedicated to facilitating their work. Memorably, even Gertrude Stein has Alice B. Toklas out in the field, positioning a cow in such a way that Stein can look upon an idyllic and symmetrial rural landscape as she writes.
Here's an excerpt of my review:
Ernest Hemingway rose by 6 o’clock in the morning, no matter what escapades had taken place the night before, and he wrote his first drafts in pencil on onionskin typewriter paper. He tracked his daily word count on a chart – so as not to fool himself, he said.
Nikola Tesla the inventor and scientist, arrived at his office at noon and lowered the blinds; he worked best in the dark.
Maya Angelou can’t concentrate on her writing at home, so she leaves each day by 7 in the morning to work in hotel or motel rooms – “a tiny, mean room with just a bed, and sometimes, if I can find it, a face basin.”
... Collected here are patterns that are both idiosyncratic and predictable: Coffee, unsurprisingly, was an essential part of the day for everyone from Ludwig van Beethoven to Thomas Mann to Flannery O'Connor.
(One) surprising disparity: the number of women versus men. Of the 161 creators featured in “Daily Rituals,” a mere 26 are women. That’s about 16 percent. Some of this, of course, may be because female creators have had less opportunity to do their work throughout much of history. And even if that hadn’t been the case, few observers might have thought female artists important enough to bother to record their work habits for posterity. Even so, there are many 20th- and 21st-century women Currey could have included but did not.