January 1, 2014
We are all creatures of habit and at the beginning of a New Year I usually think a bit about mine. Some are so bad. Some have served me very well.
Two members of the writing group I go to highly recommend a little book called Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. Thank you, Anne Adams and Tom Cole, for encouraging me to read it.
I am fascinated by the patterns of living of the 150 individuals described. Their creative endeavors vary from writing, painting, dancing and music, to inventing, computing, drawing cartoons and teaching.
Virtually every single person was disciplined to some degree. Most were extraordinarily disciplined. Some were certifiably obsessive – compulsive.
Most were early morning people.
Most were inspired by their regular routines although a few did what their self-imposed ritual called for them to do and might sit for several hours on a given day with absolutely no creative output.
When working on a book or story, throughout his life, usually after heavy drinking, Earnest Hemingway awakened SOBER at five thirty or six. His son said he must have been immune to hangovers. He wrote standing up and tracked his daily output. First drafts were in pencil and later drafts were typewritten. Daily he charted the number of words he had written. He recommended to writers to “always stop when you know what is going to happen next.” In this way he always knew where to start the next day.
Charles Dickens wrote fifteen novels, ten of which are longer than 800 pages. He needed absolute quiet. His working hours were from 9AM until 2PM with a short break for lunch. Normally in a day he wrote 2,000 words but occasionally this rose to twice that number. There were days when the words simply did not come to him but without fail he sat right there where he was supposed to be sitting for all of his preordained work hours.
Georgia O’Keefe led a relatively unregimented life. She lived her last 37 years in the New Mexico desert. She arose with the dawn, kept her eyes open for rattlesnakes during her early morning walk, and ate a full breakfast, a lunch at noon and a light supper at 4:30 in the afternoon.
When not painting, she was gardening, receiving visitors, taking the dog to the vet, doing housework or answering letters. But the painting days were the best days she said. She lived to the age of 99 so she had plenty of painting days!
Clearly producing a set amount of words was a part of the plan of many authors. For Somerset Maugham it was 1500 words every morning. For Dickens and Stephen King the goal was 2000 words a day. Margaret Mead sought to write 1000 words each day before breakfast. Others were more focused on the number of hours they set as a goal to work on their craft each day.
What mattered most for many of these geniuses was the pattern of each day and maintaining a certain exact routine repetitively was essential. Daily Rituals also describes some of these individuals’ patterns of exercise, diet, sex and sleep. These were as fascinating for these creative giants as they are, I am sure, for many of you reading these words.
I can promise you that there is something special in this little book for everyone.
Happy New Year.
Robert A. Hatcher M.D., M.P.H.
Emeritus Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics
Emory University School of Medicine