Book Review: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

So after a long time I have finally been able to finish a book. I really want to read more books this year. So "Daily Rituals: How Artists Work" is a great book. I really enjoyed reading it. Highly recommended.

It contains some details on the daily routines of various famous writers, music composers, painters, scientists, poets, filmmakers, sculptors and etc. Here are the key takeaways from the book (off the top of my head):

  • Almost everyone famous had set aside a solid chunk of time in a day totally devoted to work. So much so that some people didn't like any interventions around that time. I recall, from the book, that many people used to work without any breaks from 7 am to 1 pm. For example, Francis Bacon woke up very early and worked continuously till noon and that was his daily routine. Some preferred to work at night, for example, Thomas Wolfe liked to work all night. Some wanted no interruptions at all it's written about Thomas Mann; "Then, at 9:00, Mann closed the door to his study, making himself unavailable for visitors, telephone calls, or family. The children were strictly forbidden to make any noise between 9:00 and noon, Mann's prime writing hours. "

         And another one is Gustav Mahler (and Alma was his wife):  "Then he shut himself inside to work. Meanwhile, Alma's job was to make sure that no sound carried to the hut during Mahler's working hours. She refrained from playing the piano, and promised the neighbors opera tickets if they would keep their dogs locked up. "

  • Some famous people even had a social life. I had this perception that probably they worked all the time, which isn't true. They focused and worked in a solid chunk of time without any interventions but some of them also left time for family and other social duties.
  • Some even carved out time daily for walk or nap (or even a swim). It sounds like a good idea to take break from work and let your work do some work in the background within your brain. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard always did two things daily; walking and writing. He always had his best ideas on a long walk. Gustav Miller used to go for a swim daily. Richard Strauss would go on a long walk after having tea at 4 pm until 6 pm daily. Carl Jung would go on for long walks daily in the hills. 
  • I was relived to know that some of the great minds also fought procrastination. But I think most of them fought it with discipline. For example, Thomas Mann made a point to work from 9 am to noon on daily basis without any interruptions. Gustav Mahler worked from early morning to midday on daily basis. 
  • For some people external conditions were important too. Some people ate same lunch every single day. Beethoven wanted exactly sixty coffee beans per cup in the morning. Morton Feldman wanted the right pen, and a good chair. 
  • Almost all of them really liked working. They were passionate about their work. Gustave Flaubert noted (as given on pages 32 and 33 of the book) "Sometimes I don't understand why my arms don't drop from my body with fatigue, why my brain doesn't melt away. I am leading an austere life, stripped of all external pressure, and am sustained only by a kind of permanent frenzy, which sometimes makes me weep tears of impotence but never abates. I love my work with a love that is frantic and perverted, as an ascetic loves the hair shirt that scratches his belly. Sometimes, when I am empty, when words don't come, when I find I haven't written a single sentence after scribbling whole pages, I collapse on my couch and lie there dazed, bogged down in a swamp of despair, hating myself and blaming myself for this demented pride that makes me pant after a chimera. A quarter of an hour later, everything has changed; my heart is pounding with joy.

         He also wrote, "work is still the best way of escaping from life!"