Marco Werman: How does an artist find her muse? How does an author get inspired? Many have rituals, but it's not easy separating the whacky from what really works. With that in mind, The Guardian's Oliver Burkeman set out to test some of the daily rituals that creative geniuses have used throughout history. He was inspired by a new book, Daily Rituals by Mason Currey.
Oliver Burkeman: So here are the six big lessons that I learned. Number one: Be a morning person. So it's not that there are no successful night owls in the annals of famous authors and artists and others, but it's really extraordinary how many of them got up very, very early in the morning. Seven a.m. is really the latest that you find among this group of early risers and going straight into their most important creative work of the day. Ernest Hemingway, he said, "At that hour, there's no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write." Number two: Don't give up the day job. William Faulkner working at a power plant. T.S. Eliot benefiting from the structure of a day job at Lloyd's Bank. William Carlos Williams, the poet, also a pediatrician who wrote poetry on the backs of his prescription pads. I think what these people get from those jobs is structure and self-discipline and also focus, because if you've only got a few hours a day to do your art, then you're going to concentrate on doing it. Number three: Take lots of walks. Tchaikovsky thought that he had to take a two hour daily walk and that if he returned even a few minutes early terrible things would happen to him. So you find this recurring over and over again, not just among composers, but among all sorts of creatives who seem to find that stepping away from any kind of focused productivity is a crucial compliment to the focused work. Number four: Stick to a schedule. There's this idea that you have to wait for inspiration to strike. You just have to wander around spontaneously and await the muse, but what's really clear is that some of the most effective and impressive artistic creations have happened on a much more rigorous schedule. Number five: Practice strategic substance abuse. So if you look back through history, almost every possible chemical that could help produce work has been tried. Ayn Rand and Graham Greene both relied on benzedrine. There were others who chose ritalin, but it's really caffeine that stands out as the substance to strategically abuse if you want to be producing to a schedule on a regular basis. Balzac drank 50 cups a day and died rather young of heart failure, but in a more modest way it does seem to be ubiquitous among people who are getting art done. Number six: Learn to work anywhere. Just as I don't think you should wait for inspiration and follow a schedule instead, it's clear that lots of people have found that if they learn to work anywhere they're not going to be prey to that perfectionistic idea that they need to find the ideal work space before they can get anything done. Agatha Christie always used to have this problem with journalists who wanted to see where she wrote and the answer was just any stable table top on which she could put her typewriter was a place where she could write. So I think it needs to be said that you're not going to become an artistic genius, obviously, just by structuring your life like various other artistic geniuses did, but they are a source, these routines and rituals, of inspiration that can at least get the spark going. I'm Oliver Burkeman. Good luck finding your own perfect daily routine.
Werman: Note to self: Don't give up my day job. That was The Guardian's Oliver Burkeman who was himself inspired by his review of the book Daily Rituals by Mason Currey.