From Gertrude Stein to Ernest Hemingway and Haruki Murakami to Toni Morrison: learn the daily rituals and habits that helped fuel these authors’ creativity.
I dream of being the great Canadian novelist. I dream of unseating Margaret Atwood as the queen of Canadian literature. As I reflect on my own writing process and how I fit writing into my life, I often wonder about how other writers do it: what are the routines and habits that have fueled their creativity? Their productivity? Enter Mason Currey’s marvelous book.
In Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Currey explores the lives of novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians to uncover their routines and patterns, the activities of their daily lives that helped contribute to their work.
Think that it’s hard to fit a writing practice into your life? Writer and poet Gertrude Stein wrote for about a half hour per day:
In Everybody’s Autobiography, Stein confirmed that she had never been able to write much more than a half hour a day — but added, “If you write a half hour a day it makes a lot of writing year by year. To be sure all day and every day you are waiting around to write that half hour a day.” Stein and (her partner Alice B.) Toklas had lunch about noon and ate an early, light supper. Toklas went to bed early, too, but Stein liked to stay up arguing and gossiping with visiting friends — “I never go to sleep when I go to bed, I always fool around in the evening,” she wrote. After her guests finally left, Stein would go wake Toklas, and they would talk over the entire day before both going to sleep.
Toni Morrison always worked to fit writing around her day job:
Morrison’s writing hours have varied over the years. In interviews in the late 1970s and ’80s, she frequently mentions working on her fiction in the evenings. But by the ’90s, she had switched to the early morning hours, saying, “I am not very bright, or very witty, or very inventive after the sun goes down.” For the morning writing, her ritual is to rise around 5:00, make coffee, and “watch the light come.” This last part is crucial. “Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process,” Morrison said. “For me, light is the signal in the transaction. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.”
Stein and Morrison are two of the 161 people Currey profiles in his book. Reading about the habits of productive people is a great way to examine your own writing processes. What is the signal in the transaction that enables you to do great work?