Day in, Day out

As I make my way through the stack of books in my queue for 2014, I threw one in the mix early that wasn’t initially on my radar. But after hearing about it several times, from several different sources, I sought out Daily Rituals. Based on a blog started in 2007 (which I’d somehow managed to leave undiscovered!), the premise is simple: how did some of the greatest creative minds of this generation – and the ones before it – do it? That is, how did they get each word down, each stroke out of the paintbrush on a regular basis. What did their day really look like?

It’s a quick read, each excerpt of the artists’ lives just a page or two. There’s no preamble or long personal history, no rehashing of best works or influences. None of that. Each entry is micro-focused on the ins and outs of a daily work schedule, from when this writer woke up each morning to what that cartoonist had for lunch every day (it was Howard Schulz, and it was “almost always” a ham sandwich and milk).

I sought the book out for inspiration as I try to figure out how exactly to make the time to work on the creative projects I long to complete. For a sense of, “OK, if they did it, maybe I can do it.” A few passages struck me as particularly noteworthy – all emphasis mine.

Frederico Fellini, on why he’s a filmmaker:

A writer can do everything by himself  – but he needs discipline. He has to get up at seven in the morning, and be alone in a room with a white sheet of paper. I am too much of a vitellone [loafer] to do that. I think I have chosen the best medium of expression for myself. I love the very precious combination of work and of living-together that filmmaking offers.

Chuck Close, on his work ethic:

Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.

Joseph Heller, on giving himself a break:

It’s an everyday thing, but I’m never guilt-ridden if I don’t work. I don’t have a compulsion to write, and I never have. I have a wish, an ambition to write, but it’s not one that justifies the word ‘drive.’

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, on off days:

My advice therefore is that one should not force anything; it is better to fritter away one’s unproductive days and hours, or sleep through them, than to try at such times to write something which will give one no satisfaction later on.

Georgia O’Keeffe, on the rush that is the painting days:

On the other days one is hurrying through the other things one imagines one has to do to keep one’s life going. You get the garden planted. You get the roof fixed. You take the dog to the vet. You spend a day with a friend… You may even enjoy doing such things… But always you are hurrying through these things with a certain amount of aggravation so that you can get at the paintings again because that is the high spot – in a way it is what you do all the other things for… The painting is like a thread that runs through all the reasons for all the other things that make one’s life.

Bernard Malamud, on the particulars of work rituals (or lack thereof):

There’s no one way – there’s too much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place – you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time – not steal it – and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The mystery to crack is you.