Book Summaries

Book Summary -Daily Rituals by Mason Currey.

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Sooner or later, the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.

Success they say leaves clues and for creatives, one of the common themes is their daily routine.  Author Mason Currey was fascinated by the routine and regimen of the most creative minds of our time. His curiosity led him to ask questions such as How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living? Is it better to devote yourself wholly to a project or to set aside a small portion of each day? And when there doesn’t seem to be enough time for all you hope to accomplish, must you give things up (sleep, income, a clean house), or can you learn to condense activities, to do more in less time, to “work smarter, not harder? Is finding a basic level of daily comfort a prerequisite for sustained creative work?

These questions led him to start the daily routine blog: How writers, artists, and other interesting people organize their days (2007–09). Currey chronicles the routine, regimen, and rituals that the greatest creatives explore for creating their art.

On Routine

The word connotes ordinariness and even a lack of thought; to follow a routine is to be on autopilot. But one’s daily routine is also a choice or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism.

A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.

W. H. Auden (1907–1973)

A modern stoic knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.

Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) – Walking

The Danish philosopher’s day was dominated by two pursuits: writing and walking. Typically, he wrote in the morning, set off on a long walk through Copenhagen at noon, and then returned to his writing for the rest of the day and into the evening. The walks were where he had his best ideas, and sometimes he would be in such a hurry to get them down that, returning home, he would write standing up before his desk, still wearing his hat and gripping his walking stick or umbrella.

Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) – 13 Week Plan

In his Autobiography, Franklin famously outlined a scheme to achieve “moral perfection” according to a thirteen-week plan. Each week was devoted to a particular virtue—temperance, cleanliness, moderation, et cetera—and his offenses against these virtues were tracked on a calendar. Franklin thought that if he could maintain his devotion to one virtue for an entire week, it would become a habit; then he could move on to the next virtue, successively making fewer and fewer offenses (indicated on the calendar by a black mark) until he had completely reformed himself and would thereafter need only occasional bouts of moral maintenance.

Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

Jane Austen (1775–1817)

Austen rose early, before the other women were up, and played the piano. At 9:00 she organized the family breakfast, her one major piece of household work. Then she settled down to write in the sitting room, often with her mother and sister sewing quietly nearby. If visitors showed up, she would hide her papers and join in the sewing. Dinner, the main meal of the day, was served between 3:00 and 4:00. Afterward, there was conversation, card games, and tea. The evening was spent reading aloud from novels, and during this time Austen would read her work-in-progress to her family.

Thomas Mann (1875-1955) – Nobel Prize

Mann was always awake by 8:00 A.M. After getting out of bed, he drank a cup of coffee with his wife, took a bath, and dressed. Breakfast, again with his wife, was at 8:30. 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. It was then that his mind was freshest, and Mann placed tremendous pressure on himself to get things down during that time. “Every passage becomes a ‘passage,’ ” he wrote, “every adjective a decision.” Anything that didn’t come by noon would have to wait until the next day, so he forced himself to “clench the teeth and take one slow step at a time.

Every passage becomes a ‘passage,’ every adjective a decision.

Karl Marx (1818–1883)

His mode of living consisted of daily visits to the British [Museum] reading-room, where he normally remained from nine in the morning until it closed at seven; this was followed by long hours of work at night, accompanied by ceaseless smoking, which from a luxury had become an indispensable anodyne; this affected his health permanently and he became liable to frequent attacks of a disease of the liver sometimes accompanied by boils and an inflammation of the eyes, which interfered with his work, exhausted and irritated him, and interrupted his never certain means of livelihood. “I am plagued like Job, though not so God-fearing,” he wrote in 1858.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Do you understand now why I am never bored? For over fifty years I have not stopped working for an instant. From nine o’clock to noon, first sitting. I have lunch. Then I have a little nap and take up my brushes again at two in the afternoon until the evening. You won’t believe me. On Sundays, I have to tell all sorts of tales to the models. I promise them that it’s the last time I will ever beg them to come and pose on that day.

Naturally, I pay them double. Finally, when I sense that they are not convinced, I promise them a day off during the week. “But Monsieur Matisse,” one of them answered me, “this has been going on for months and I have never had one afternoon off.” Poor things! They don’t understand. Nevertheless, I can’t sacrifice my Sundays for them merely because they have boyfriends.

Margaret Mead (1901–1978)

The renowned cultural anthropologist was always working; indeed, not working seemed to agitate and unsettle her. Once, during a two-week symposium, Mead learned that a certain morning session had been postponed. She was furious. “How dare they?” she asked. “Do they realize what use I could have made of this time? Do they know I get up at five o’clock every morning to write a thousand words before breakfast? Why did nobody have the politeness to tell me this meeting had been rescheduled?” On other occasions, Mead would schedule breakfast dates with young colleagues for 5:00 A.M. “Empty time stretches forever,” she once said. “I can’t bear it.

William James (1842–1910)

The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

I get up at about eight, do physical exercises, then work without a break from nine till one,” Stravinsky told an interviewer in 1924. Generally, three hours of composition were the most he could manage in a day, although he would do less demanding tasks—writing letters, copying scores, practicing the piano—in the afternoon. Unless he was touring, Stravinsky worked on his compositions daily, with or without inspiration, he said. He required solitude for the task, and always closed the windows of his studio before he began: “I have never been able to compose unless sure that no one could hear me.” If he felt blocked, the composer might execute a brief headstand, which, he said, “rests the head and clears the brain.

Somerset Maugham (1874–1965)

Maugham thought that writing, like drinking, was an easy habit to form and a difficult one to break,” Jeffrey Meyers noted in his 2004 biography of the British writer. “It was more an addiction than a vocation.” The addiction served him well; in his nearly ninety-two years, Maugham published seventy-eight books. He wrote for three or four hours every morning, setting himself a daily requirement of one thousand to one thousand five hundred words. He would get a start on the day’s work before he even sat down at his desk, thinking of the first two sentences he wanted to write while soaking in the bath.

Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910)

“I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine.” This is Tolstoy in one of the relatively few diary entries he made during the mid-1860s, when he was deep into the writing of War and Peace. Although he does not describe his routine in the diary, his oldest son, Sergei, later recorded the pattern of Tolstoy’s days at Yasnaya Polyana, the family estate in the Tula region of Russia.

From September to May we children and our teachers got up between eight and nine o’clock and went to the hall to have breakfast. After nine, in his dressing-gown, still unwashed and undressed, with a tousled beard, Father came down from his bedroom to the room under the hall where he finished his toilet. If we met him on the way he greeted us hastily and reluctantly. We used to say: “Papa is in a bad temper until he has washed.” Then he, too, came up to have his breakfast, for which he usually ate two boiled eggs in a glass.

All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

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