The Importance of Daily Rituals to Writers, Artists, and Other Creators: What Would Flaubert, or Beethoven, or Balzac, or Edward Gorey Do?

An entire chapter of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific is devoted to the topic of resources and requirements needed to be a prolific writer. It’s not a trivial topic, as abundantly resourcing yourself can mean the difference between being and being blocked. Here’s an excerpt:

Writers, like other artisans, tend to be fascinated by the work habits, tools and techniques of their successful colleagues in particular. John Gardner wrote, in On Becoming a Novelist, “The single question most often asked during question-and-answer periods in university auditoriums and classrooms is: ‘Do you write with a pen, a typewriter, or what?’” (This was in 1983, so computers weren’t part of the scene.)

Fortunately, many successful writers are generous with that kind of information. The Paris Review editorials are a treasure trove, as are The Guardian series on Writers’ Rooms and Rules for Writers. Pragmatic descriptions such as the above are antiperfectionist and ungrandiose: they generously support other writers’ productivity.

Not all writers respond so helpfully, however. Some blather on about talent and how you either have it or don’t, while others reply with the unhelpful “apply ass to chair” maxim. Not all of these writers are ill-intentioned: some are genuinely ignorant of the mechanics of their own work and success. Some, however, do scorn pragmatic questions, and I call them “snobs and obfuscators.” If you ever run into one, don’t take it to heart but simply take your question to someone wiser.

Daily-Rituals-Book-1-300pxAll of which is why I’m eagerly looking forward to reading Mason Currey’s new book, Daily Rituals, which describes the daily rituals of famous artists, including Flaubert, Balzac, Beethoven, etc. You can read some excerpts on Slate.

The thing about these rituals and requirements are:

1) Don’t question them; whatever your needs are are valid. Many of the artists Currey discusses have habits and resource needs that cross the line into weird, but if you’re not hurting anyone with your weirdness, go ahead and be weird (and prolific!). Most people are not, in fact, prolific creators so it makes some sense that the prolific ones would tend to be weird.

2) Provide them in abundance so you can create the strongest possible context for you to do your work. I remember visiting the Cape Cod home (now museum) of the late New Yorker cartoonist Edward Gorey, famous for the intro animation for PBS’s Mystery, Gashleycrumb Tinies, and many other works. It was a beautiful place, but also a bit like being dropped into one of his artworks. Every corner of the house had some kind of fun-but-creepy art or artifact, many of which Gorey constructed himself. (I remember in particular a small tableau of a doll laying on the floor with its head under a rock.)

Just visiting it made me feel a bit gorey, so imagine how inspiring it was for him to live there.

Is there anything you do – any ritual or resource – to inspire yourself? If so, we would all love to hear about it. Please post it in the comments.

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