What We're Into: The Daily Rituals of Artists

One of the most persistent myths about creativity is that only certain people are capable of it, and that the most creative people are otherworldly geniuses. Famous artists like Mozart, Picasso, Dickens, and even more contemporary writers like Toni Morrison and Haruki Murakami are so celebrated that it's often hard to think of them as real people. We can easily imagine them sitting down to a blank page, a canvas, or a piano and suddenly bursting forth with instantly great art and ideas. It's harder to picture them making breakfast, washing dishes, or sitting down to work after sending the kids off to school.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, a 2014 collection by Mason Currey, breaks through those myths to remind us that even successful creative people have schedules to follow and mundane tasks to complete. Currey uses diaries, letters, interviews, and other records to investigate and summarize artists' habits: diets, exercise, whether they were early risers or worked late into the night, whether they worked diligently or were procrastinators. The book isn't meant as a how-to guide, though many of the artists do offer advice on being productive and generating ideas. It simply describes, literally, how famous creations were created.

Through those straightforward details, the book counters the idea that artists are a special class of people with innate genius and talent. Many of the featured artists are quoted saying that they could only produce good work by regularly, diligently plugging away. Others frustrated themselves by putting off work for hours. One comforting story is that of psychologist William James, who wrote and lectured about the value of a tight, efficient schedule while struggling throughout his life with his own tendency to procrastinate.

Though there is no one right routine, having some kind of ritual can be a valuable part of the creative process. Despite the interruptions and distractions that everyone faces, these artists and thinkers carved out time for their work, whether it was on a regimented schedule or squeezed in between other obligations. They fit work in as often as they could -- Toni Morrison, for example, explains that she gave up having a social life in order to preserve her evening writing time. Reading these stories in Daily Rituals, one after another, is a reminder that creativity doesn't come from divine inspiration, but from practice and persistence, day after day.