Joanna: This is something I’ve pondered lately, with my own work and as I’ve been coaching students. How do we set rhythms and patterns that help us with our writing? What do they look like? How do we adapt them to the realities of our lives?
In the life that we’ve chosen and love, each day is different for me. Some days are structured around college teaching, others are about teaching piano, and every day also has to be about teaching my own kids. Sometimes we throw other kids into the mix, respite foster care or playtime with friends’ kids. And church stuff. And investment of time into dear friends and family. How does writing fit into those patterns? How do I make some of my long-term goals a priority as I work through the shifting rhythm of my life?
While musing on this, I came across a compelling book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Here, Mason Currey briefly traces out the daily habits of authors, musicians, directors, actors and visual artists. The evidence is taken from memoirs, letters, biographies, and sometimes, personal correspondence with the author.
It was a weird and wild read. Writing in various stages of dress and undress. 19-hour work days. Drinking cups of sugar with a little coffee on top to melt it down. Snail companions.
It was also one where privilege often came out. You have someone to make your tea the exact temperature in the perfect cup at the precise minute each and every day alongside a pastry made by the hands of angels, while someone else comes and helps you do your daily handstands? And another person comes to cook you all your meals and do all your cleaning? I exaggerate. But just barely. This is not my life. And I imagine it’s not the life that most of us live.
However, hidden within the privilege and bizarre moments, were some great principles. For one, a lot of the book could be boiled down to two main paths to creativity:
A) chemical alteration (binge drinking and nicotine were among the top contenders, but don't forget about absinthe!), poor sleeping habits, and a shortened lifespan
B) regular routines, a strong work ethic, and some kind of work-life balance. Many built in reading time with their partner, playtime with their kids, time outside walking or gardening, and hosting weekly meal times for friends and colleagues.
Choose wisely, folks.
And probably the most encouraging moment in the book was finding out that Gertrude Stein never wrote for more than thirty minutes a day. Currey includes a quote from her autobiography, “If you write a half hour a day it makes a lot of writing year by year. To be sure all day and every day you are waiting around to write that half hour a day.” (Currey, 51)
There are days where I might only have a nugget of time and thinking about Stein reminds me that these bits and space of time can be used productively. I hope you find this as enormously encouraging as I do!
More in the next post on some practical advice I’ve found on rituals.
Joanna & Tim
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