A writer and editor named Mason Currey started a blog almost a decade ago with the intent of compiling the habits and day-to-day minutiae of famous and successful individuals. The web site was titled Daily Routines and several years later he had compiled so many entries that a book was published, called “Daily Rituals.” It is a fun website and an interesting book, and they are both great to get lost in and waste time reading, which may not have been Currey’s intention.
That was probably a fun meeting, the one in which they decided to change the name from “routines” to “rituals.” Being that I have named approximately zero things that have become successful, I am not going to second-guess the decision. “Rituals” certainly does sound more interesting—and purchasable—than “routines,” because routines are something we are told we must get out of.
Perhaps an editor in the marketing department thought, “If someone successful had or has certain rituals, readers are going to want to know about it and add it to their lives, Mr. Currey. I see this as a how-to title.” And so the book sits at the top of several Amazon bestseller lists, even today, almost two years after the book was published: number 1 in “Trivia and Fun Facts,” number 5 in “Psychology: Creativity and Genius,” and number 7 in “Self Help: Creativity.” The people in the marketing department at Knopf knew what they had on their hands.
But it is no how-to book, “Daily Rituals.” It is a window into the ever-stunning fact that there are as many ways to creativity as there are creative people. (Perhaps there is only one way to creative non-productivity, but it comes under many different names, most of them having something to do with Facebook.) Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule, part of which is seen at top, displays his Puritan work ethic and deep belief that not one second of the day can be wasted and that a wasted moment did not even sound like something he could comprehend.
From its first issue, The Paris Review has published interviews with authors, sometimes called “The Art of” fiction or poetry and sometimes “Writers at Work.” The interviewees reveal habits, fetishes about writing implements, schedules, avoidance of schedules. The interviews usually begin as in-person Q&A sessions, but the transcripts are usually provided to the authors so they can edit and add further thoughts.
Thus, Ernest Hemingway’s answers sometimes read like someone trying to sound like Hemingway (the interviewer was George Plimpton):
Could you say something of this process? When do you work? Do you keep to a strict schedule?
When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.
“The wait till the next day” is the remaining eighteen or so hours of living and life, the hours asleep, eating, seeing the world in all its plainness and glory … quite a heartbreaking phrase.
I can not guarantee myself a great or enjoyable day if I do certain prescribed actions every morning, but I can almost guarantee that my day will be spent chasing after itself if I do not do them, and that that day will be memorable for how much time I spent wanting to escape it. On those days when I attend to the physical, emotional, psycho-spiritual needs, my day unfolds as a series of pleasant encounters. As I wrote in “Get Some Sleep,” on those days when I wake with the thought that I did not get enough sleep, I act for the remainder of the day like I can not get enough of anything, from here to eternity.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for January 21 asks, “What are the things you need to do within 30 minutes of waking up to ensure your day gets off on the right foot? What happened the last time you didn’t do one of these things?”
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