Think being an artist is all about living outside of traditional boundaries? Imagine you could finally write that great novel if you could just quit your stinking job? Dream of a radical life without rules–one that would allow you the freedom to paint or compose or create art whenever inspiration strikes? Believe that routine is the enemy of creativity? It might be that precisely the opposite is true, explains Mason Currey, journalist and author of ‘Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.’ Instead, unleashing your inner genius might be more a matter of developing a routine that creates space for inspiration to flourish. For artists, “a good daily routine is a way is tackling whatever obstacles you have in your daily life,” Currey says. “It’s taking stock of your commitments, temperament and goals, and devising a scheme that suits your project, your quirks and your personality.” Don’t just take Currey’s word for it. Take it from the dozens some of the biggest names in Western history– whose daily routines he profiles in his 2013 book.
- Crave self-improvement like Ben Franklin? Follow his strict guide to “moral perfection”: Focus on one virtue per week (cleanliness and order were regulars on his list) in order to develop the habit. Take scrupulous stock of each slip-up and consider it a success when you’ve found yourself with no more marks to make. And don’t forget to make time for Franklin’s world-famous “air-bath,” which, basically, means hanging out completely naked for up to an hour a day. It totally resets the system.
- Hope to create masterpieces like Georgia O’Keeffe? Get up with the dawn and sip some tea in bed. Take a brisk morning stroll and bring your walking stick–O’Keeffe was apparently also known for her effective use of the weapon in her battle against the rampant rattlesnakes in her New Mexico neighborhood. After breakfast, head to your studio and let creativity flow. O’Keeffe seemed to long for this time in her work space, and saw all the other requirements of daily life as tasks she had to do in order to “get at the paintings again.” She explains: “In a way [painting] is what you do all the other thing for… the painting is like a thread that runs through all of the reasons for all the other things that make one’s life.”
- Want to make music like Tchaikovsky? Enjoy your morning meal, get some difficult tasks out of the way, then settle into the pleasure of your creative work–in Tchaikovsky’s case, composing some of the world’s most-famous classical symphonies–no pressure. After lunch, take an exactly two-hour walk; don’t even dare think of returning even five minutes early. (Tchaikovsky was superstitious about that.) Be prepared to take quick notes, for the right idea might hit you mid-stride. And get ready for ecstasy, according to Tchaikovsky: “It would be futile for me to try and express to you in words the boundless bliss of that feeling which envelops you when the main idea has appeared, and when it begins to take definite forms. You forget everything, you are almost insane, everything inside you trembles and writhes, you scarcely manage to set down sketches, one idea presses upon each other.”
While the routines in Currey’s book vary wildly, he suggests some recurring themes that can help everyday creatives hone their habits, and hopefully, their crafts:
- Don’t quit your day job: Not only did many of the most creative geniuses in history have to work a day job in order to pay the bills, the vast majority of artists, Currey says, are unable to write, compose or paint for more than a few hours per day. “Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need a huge amount of time. In many cases having less time is most effective,” Currey explains.
- Create a routine that helps you overcome the obstacles of your circumstance and personality. Live alone? Try seeking out new opportunities for socialization, which might spark creativity and collaboration. Live, like German novelist Thomas Mann, in a house full of wild children? Forbid them from knocking on your office door during your prime working hours. (Or, like Mark Twain, require them to get your attention only by blowing a horn in the direction of your backyard studio, and only when absolutely necessary.) “On the micro level, there is this huge amount of variety” in how artists get the job done, Currey says. Focus on crafting a routine that minimizes the distractions in your life and maximizes your ability to think creatively.
- Take a hike: There really does seem to be something about walking that seems to allow the brain to sort through things, Currey says. “There is something about walking that has the brain moving in a productive direction, and it seems to help creative thoughts. It’s a really powerful habit that can benefit anyone.”
See you out there!