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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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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.
The author says this book grew out of a blog, and it shows. The book consists of short entries which range from a few paragraphs to a few pages on a variety of writers, philosophers, artists, playwrights, composers, etc. These are essentially tightly-composed, well-documented blog posts. Some entries are very interesting, some not so much -- and if memory serves me, a few even seemed to contradict the basic premise that that person had creative rituals to begin with. I feel like a fool for expecting something so different from what the book presented. I thought that maybe it would deal with fewer people but go at greater length and depth about them. Maybe this would be an essay about the role of rituals in the creative process, using the support of historical examples. Instead I got a ton of blurbs of various degrees of interest on a lot of people.
I'm not entirely unhappy with the book, though. Like I said, there's a lot of cool stuff there that gives us glimpses into the fascinating lives of people that've shaped our world. Another cool feature is, if anything catches your eye, the author was kind enough to provide his sources of information, so we can use the book as a springboard. Still, I thought it was pricey and the format can make reading it get old fast. But why should you listen to me? The WSJ, NPR, and Lena Dunham all recommend this book, so by all means buy it and read it.
Thank you, Mason Currey,for putting this entertaining collection together.