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Daily Rituals: How Artists Work Hardcover – April 23, 2013
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Writers and artists are always asked about their process, including the crucial question, “How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living?” Currey set out to amass as much information as he could find about the routines “brilliant and successful” creators adopted and followed, and the result is a zestful survey of the working habits of “some of the greatest minds of the last four hundred years.” This zealous and judicious volume brims with quotes and fascinating disclosures about the vagaries of the creative life. Currey outs the habits of nearly 200 choreographers, comedians, composers, caricaturists, filmmakers, philosophers, playwrights, painters, poets, scientists, sculptors, and writers in a dizzying array that includes Benjamin Franklin, Henri Matisse, Nikola Tesla, Stephen King, Twyla Tharp, Federico Fellini, Ann Beattie, Gustav Mahler, and Toni Morrison. Here are early birds and night owls, the phenomenally rigorous and the nearly dysfunctional. George Balanchine thought things out while ironing. Maya Angelou writes sequestered in a “tiny, mean” hotel room. Marilynne Robinson confesses, “I really am incapable of discipline.” Currey’s compendium is elucidating and delectable. --Donna Seaman
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is a hard one to review because of what it is. This is a meticulously researched work on the work habits of writers, composers, artists and other creative types. He pulls this information from existing sources, biographies, autobiographies and personal journals. If you are looking for this type of detailed information, than this book easily could merit a five star review. Currey does a great job presenting this information, presumably sifting through mounds of notes, interviews and books to capture the essence of the artists work habits. There are almost 30 pages of footnotes for this book. I took a lot of notes while reading this book and I will post the writing life tidbits out on my twitter feed as #authorfacts in the next few weeks.
In a purely unscientific assessment of these habits, I can present to you a summary of what I learned here:
Artists work first thing in the morning to get it out of the way early so they can go about their day. 113 out of the 161 artists profiled (or 70.2% of them) began work in the morning, and many of the the late-rising artists also began work as one of their first activities of the day in the afternoon or night time, but the overwhelming majority of artists woke in the morning and got to work within 2 hours of waking.
Most of them followed a strict daily work schedule working for a set number of hours, (typically anywhere from 3 to 6 hours) or until they hit a goal word count (usually 1000 to 1500 words).
Many artists drank or smoked to excess, all ultimately having a negative impact on their work. Another popular excess: coffee.
The one thing I wish this book would have done was to interview more contemporary authors, a lot of these artists are dead and from the 19th and early 20th century. Although the book contains some writers from the late 20th Century, the majority of these are of the Baby Boomer generation, and I'd be curious to see the daily rituals of Generation X or Millennial authors, and how they handle the distraction-rich, socially interconnected world of the 21st century. I think this information is out there and available, and maybe even easier to collect and write about, so I was disappointed that this wasn't captured.
I also couldn't figure out how the book was organized. The artists were not classified by the medium or subject area, and not in alphabetical or chronological order. The profiles seem to be completely random, and considering the audience for this book, I think it would have better been served by some sort of organizational structure to make it easier to look up a particular artist, time period or profession.
But the book is what it is. It is a solid, well-researched work of an obscure, somewhat academic subject, and although this is fascinating to a writer such as myself, I'm not sure the book can hold the interest of someone not specifically looking for this type of information, and I'm not sure it could hold the interest of writers and other artists not specifically interested in this aspect of the creative process.
Rating: *** Buy Used $17.46 Hardcover, or $12.99 Kindle eBook
About Ratings: ***** -- Well Worth it at Full Retail Price; **** -- Buy on Sale/Discounted; *** -- Buy Used; ** -- Borrow It from the Library; * -- Waste of a Good Tree
1. The people described in this book all work very hard and, frequently, VERY long hours.
2. Regular, extended exercise - usually walking - is frequently an important part of their routines.
3. They're mostly early risers, with significant exceptions, and do their best work in the first several hours of the day. There are a few nightowls but not many.
4. They have a work routine that they adhere to almost fanatically.
5. Finally, implicitly, habits are key in their successes and productivity.
There, I've saved you the price of this book.
The stories about the different artists are frequently interesting on their own account and very useful in fleshing out the "takeaways" listed above. I don't think it's intended as a self-help book. The author doesn't attempt to derive a series of lessons from his subjects' activities but a pattern emerges after reading a lot of these.
It's a simple book that contains over 150 short profiles of famous artists. Some of these may only be a half page in length, while the longest of them might take 2-3 pages. All of them contain interesting facts about the person being profiled, with a theme centered on the artist's daily rituals, or routines. You'll find many were early risers, but that others worked at night and slept in. Some used stimulants to help them work, while others didn't. Some adhered to rigid schedules, and others were much more haphazard with their approach to work. The one thing you can take away from this book for sure is that there is no one single best routine to creativity. The rituals and routines are as unique and different as the works the artists created.
However, another thing you can take away from this book is that those who created, did in fact make time to create and there was a lot of "butt-in-the-chair" time as we writers sometimes call it. (Except for those who wrote standing up.)
Not only did I find this book an enjoyable read, but a very motivating one as well. Reading about the rituals of other artists, especially some of those I've admired, motivated me to work on my projects even more. The author did an excellent job at researching the individual artists in this book, and included enough to make it a great read, but also to stimulate me to do further research on some of those profiled here.
Bottom line - I thought this book was outstanding. I had a lot of fun reading it, and will look to it again and again for motivation. I liked it so much that even though I have the advanced reader's copy from the Vine Program, I'm going to buy the hardcover when it is released.
Reviewed by Alain Burrese, J.D., author of Lost Conscience: A Ben Baker Sniper Novel and others.