Tag Archives: writing
The following are excerpts from the book Daily Rituals-How Artists Work by Mason Curry. He has researched and documented the rituals, routines, and daily practices of some of the greatest creative minds in history, from Benjamin Franklin to Beethoven, from Silvia Plath to Picasso. We all have our own individual ways of summoning the muse, of flexing our creative muscles, of getting our brains and bodies aligned to do our best work. Here are a few examples of how some well-known creative individuals spent their time.
Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995)
The author of such psychological thrillers as Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley was, in person as solitary and misanthropic as some of her heroes. Writing was less a source of pleasure for her than a compulsion, without which she was miserable. “There is no real life except in working, that is to say in the imagination,” she wrote in her journal. Fortunately, Highsmith was rarely short of inspiration; she had ideas, she said, like rats have orgasms.
Highsmith wrote daily, usually for three or four hours in the morning, completing two thousand words on a good day. The biographer Andrew Wilson records her methods:
Her favourite technique to ease herself into the right frame of mind for work was to sit on her bed surrounded by cigarettes, ashtray, matches, a mug of coffee, a doughnut, and an accompanying saucer of sugar. She had to avoid any sense of discipline and make the act of writing as pleasurable as possible. Her position, she noted, would be almost fetal and, indeed, her intention was to create, she said, “a womb of her own.”
Highsmith was also in the habit of having a stiff drink before she started to write- “not to perk her up,” Wilson notes, “but to reduce her energy levels, which veered toward the manic.” In her later years, as she became a hardened drinker with a high tolerance, she kept a bottle of vodka by her bedside, reaching for it as soon as she woke and marking the bottle to set her limit for the day. She was also a chain smoker for most of her life, going through a pack of Gauloises a day. In matters of food, she was indifferent. One acquaintance remembered that “she only ever ate American bacon, fried eggs, and cereal, all at odd times of the day.”
Ill at ease around most people, she had an unusually intense connection with animals-particularly cats, but also snails, which she bred at home. Highsmith was inspired to keep the gastropods as pets when she saw a pair at a fish market locked in a strange embrace. She eventually housed three thousand snails in her garden in Suffolk, England, and once arrived at a London cocktail party carrying a gigantic handbag that contained a head of lettuce and a hundred snails-her companions for the evening, she said.
David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)
“I usually go in shifts of three or four hours with either naps or, like, you know, fairly diverting do-something-with-other-people things in the middle,” Wallace said in 1996, shortly after the publication of Infinite Jest. “So, like, I’ll get up at eleven or noon, work til two or three.” In later interviews, however, Wallace said that he followed a regular writing routine only when the work was going badly. From a 1999 radio interview:
Things are either going well or they’re not going well…I’m working on something now and I just can’t seem to get it. I flounder and I flounder. And when I’m floundering I don’t want to work, so I invent draconian “All right, this morning I’ll work from seven-thirty to eight-forty-five with one five-minute break”- all this baroque b.s. And after five or ten or a dozen or, you know, as with some books, fifty tries, all of a sudden it will just, it will start to go. And once it starts to go, it requires no effort. And then actually the discipline’s required in terms of being willing to be away from it and to remember that, “Oh, I have a relationship that I have to nurture or I have to grocery shop or pay these bills” and stuff. So I have absolutely no routine at all, because the times I’m trying to build a routine are the times that the writing just seems futile and flagellating.
David Lynch (b. 1946)
“I like things to be orderly,” Lynch told a reporter in 1990.
For seven years I ate at Bob’s Big Boy. I would go at 2:30, after the lunch rush. I ate a chocolate milkshake and four, five, six, seven cups of coffee with lots of sugar. And there’s lots of sugar in that chocolate shake. It’s a thick shake. In a silver goblet. I would get a rush from all this sugar, and I would get so many ideas! I would write them on these napkins. It was like I had a desk with paper. All I had to do was remember to bring my pen, but a waitress would give me one if I remembered to return it at the end of my stay. I got a lot of ideas at Bob’s.
Lynch’s other means of getting ideas is Transcendental Meditation, which he has practiced daily since 1973. “I have never missed a meditation in thirty-three years,” he wrote in his 2006 book, Catching the Big Fish. “I meditate once in the morning and again in the afternoon, for about twenty minutes each time. Then I go about the business of my day.” If he’s shooting a film, he will sometimes sneak in a third session at the end of the day. “We waste so much time on other things, anyway,” he writes. “Once you add this and have a routine, it fits in very naturally.”
W.H. Auden (1907-1973)
“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition,” Auden wrote in 1958. If that’s true, then Auden himself was one of the most ambitious men of his generation. The poet was obsessively punctual and lived by an exacting timetable throughout his life. “He checks his watch over and over again,” a guest of Auden’s once noted. “Eating, drinking, writing, shopping, crossword puzzles, even the mailman’s arrival-all are timed to the minute and with accompanying routines.” Auden believed that a life of such military precision was essential to his creativity, a way of taming the muse to his own schedule. “A modern stoic,” he observed, “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 time every day, and passion will give you no trouble.”
Auden rose shortly after 6:00 A.M., made himself coffee, and settled down to work quickly, perhaps after taking a first pass at the crossword. His mind was sharpest from 7:00 until 11:30 A.M., and he rarely failed to take advantage of these hours. He usually resumed his work after lunch and continued into the late afternoon. Cocktail hour began at 6:30 sharp, with the poet mixing himself and any guests several strong vodka martinis. Then dinner was served, with copious amounts of wine, followed by more wine and conversation. He went to bed early, never later than 11:00, and, as he grew older, closer to 9:30.
To maintain his energy and concentration, the poet relied on amphetamines, taking a dose of Benzedrine each morning the way many people take a daily multivitamin. At night, he used Seconal or another sedative to get to sleep. He continued this routine- “the chemical life,” he called it-for twenty years until the efficacy of the pills finally wore off. Auden regarded amphetamines as one of the “labor-saving devices” in the “mental kitchen,” alongside alcohol, coffee, and tobacco-although he was well aware that “these mechanisms are very crude, liable to injure the cook, and constantly breaking down.”
Taking a one or two-week “Art Break” every so often is an amazing and rejuvenating experience that I find reenergizes my writing and creative muscles. As someone who writes every day, who attaches words to every emotion and experience, spending time expressing myself through lines, shapes, and colors really alters my perspective and engages a completely different set of creative muscles. It also prompts me to see things that I would normally miss.
I am not an artist by any means, but I enjoy making art. It’s not a requirement to be great at something to still enjoy the process, which I have to remind myself often. These few months of the year when it isn’t unbearably hot here, there are outdoor art festivals almost every weekend, and the art museums are open once again. Seeing in person what others are creating and immersing myself in visual art has been incredibly uplifting.
My weekly schedule makes room for some type of visual art, aiming more toward the easier just grab and go setup, like a small watercolor set and block, a few zentangle tiles, or just a pencil and sketchbook. Keeping these things handy and accessible makes it much more likely that they’ll get used. But overzealous goals and unexpected events can frequently push these time blocks right off the page.
There are so many people out there clamoring for your attention that it’s easy to lose yourself and your voice in the noise. As a writer, it’s important to keep up with what’s going on in the world, to document these events, and voice our support for those whose voices are being stifled.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, greater input equals greater output. The more you can nourish your creativity, the more you can feed it, in whatever form, the easier it is for it to take center stage. Filling your free time with things you love doing, creating, and learning about, conversations with people you can connect with, time with friends and family, enjoying the work of others…all just adds to the well and gives you that much more to draw upon.
There is inspiration everywhere you turn. You can’t wait for it to come and find you. If you’re feeling stuck, indecisive, or unmotivated, try adding more input in different ways. Spend your time like you spend your money, for we only have a limited amount of each.
There are dozens of websites for writers out there, many of which pertain to specific genres, publishing and marketing advice, jobs and submission opportunities, courses, etc… Here’s my list of favorite general writing and creativity websites that offer tips and tools, advice, prompts, creative inspiration, and writing communities to connect with. Most are free to join, and some ask for a small contribution to help keep their sites going.
1. Creativity-portal.com. For over 20 years, Chris Dunmire has been providing inspiring articles, ideas, prompts, and exercises to bulk up your creative muscles. The site covers a wide range of topics on a multitude of creative outlets and makes for a great browse if you’re having a little trouble getting started or just need a shot of inspiration. There is a $5/year subscription fee.
2. Nanowrimo.org. As you might know, NaNoWriMo started out as National Novel Writing Month, where you are challenged to write the first draft of a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Since its inception, it has grown into a multi-faceted organization providing year-round challenges, advice, inspiration, pep talks, and local groups to connect with. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of, and a great help to get you moving towards finishing (or writing) that book.
3. Writetodone.com. A comprehensive collection of articles, tools, tips, and resources for both fiction and non-fiction writers. From headline generators and blogging advice to master classes by David Mamet and James Patterson, it covers all the bases. One of my favorites for their lists of resources.
4. Themarginalian.org. (Previously known as Brain Pickings) Maria Popova has collected over 15 years of interviews and writing by some of the best literary giants of our time. Book reviews, poetry, current topics, and newsletter subscriptions to keep you up to date on all that is going on in the literary world.
5. Thewritelife.com. A huge assortment of information for everything writing-related, from freelancing, productivity, publishing, blogging, and finding inspiration and publishing opportunities.
6. Almostanauthor.com. Another general resource guide, especially good for those just starting out. From writing the first draft to publishing options, chat rooms, resources, and links to many other writing-related websites.
7. How to Be An Artist. Jerry Saltz’s 33 Rules on How To Be An Artist on vulture.com. This isn’t a website, but a fantastic list and insight by New York art critic Jerry Saltz. Words of wisdom on how to live a more creative life.
8. Writing.com. A community of thousands of writers sharing and offering advice. You can upload your work for reviews, or just enjoy reading what everyone else is writing about. A very supportive and thriving environment with a great library of resources.
9. 99u.adobe.com. This is an excellent site for anyone in a creative field, especially those freelancing from home. From managing anxiety and isolation, developing creative routines, and dealing with self-doubt, I highly recommend checking this site out. Articles, interviews, videos, and tools to help you be your best.
10. Writermag.com. Inspiration, articles, publishing opportunities and contests, tips and advice for all writers, as well as links to other resources. A great spot for general information, copyright laws, submission guidelines, and answers to many questions for those just starting out.
1. I started reading Carnival of Snackery by David Sedaris, which is a follow-up to his book Theft by Finding. He’s an American humorist, author, and essayist, and one of my favorite writers. These two books are collections of his journal entries and observations on his life, family, and friends. His method of documenting his life is what got me started on my own path of taking notes all day on what I encountered, observed, overheard, and thought about. Austin Kleon clearly details Sedaris’s process here.
2. I finished reading Mary Oliver’s American Primitive. She was an incredibly prolific poet and writer, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for the above title. Her works explored the concept of who we really are in relation to the world around us, and I read a poem a day of hers for the last month. Poetryfoundation.org has many of her poems online as well as much more information about her and her philosophy.
3. Virtual museum tours of the Van Gogh Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. Not quite the experience of being there, but as it doesn’t look like I’ll be doing a lot of international travel in the near future, this certainly fills the gap. The Norton Museum of Art here in South Florida had a wonderful exhibit of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera recently that was amazing to see in person.
4. A little late to the party, but I finally watched The Peanut Butter Falcon, originally released in 2019. The story follows Zack Gottsagen, a man with Down Syndrome, as he runs away from a nursing home to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Amazing performance by Zack, as well as Shia LeBeouf and Dakota Johnson. I was surprised by how much I liked it.
5. Had an outstanding dinner with a friend at Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant. The food, service, and atmosphere were worthy of five stars, and the Malbec was the best I’ve had in many years. Highly recommend if you’re in the US and looking for a great dining experience.
6. Found a great new blog/newsletter by Ijeoma Oluo called Behind the Book. She’s a bestselling author, essayist, and editor with a remarkable, honest, and relatable blog about writing and the writing life. She’s realistic, and also has a great sense of humor.
7. Adam J. Kurtz has a new book out titled You Are Here For Now that’s at the top of my to-be-read pile. He’s so honest, creative, relatable, and encouraging that you can’t help but feel better about life after reading his books. He also makes pins, stickers, journals, and all kinds of things you can find on his website.
8. The weather here has finally cooled down just a little bit, so I’m able to take a walk again and not have to be back inside by 8 am in order not to melt, although mid-afternoon still feels like July. Not complaining, it’s just nice to be able to open the windows now and then and get some fresh air.
9. I reread Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem. She is truly one of America’s greatest writers, and such an interesting and unusual soul. Sadly, she left us on December 23, 2021. I highly recommend this and all of her books, both fiction and non-fiction. Her interviews in The Paris Review are a wonderful read, as she lets us in on her process and challenges in continuing to take on the world through her writing.
10. Live Earth Cams. I think I lost about half a day traveling from Bourban Street in New Orleans to New York City, over to London, Paris, and Dublin, then to Pattaya, Thailand. Just really cool to look at and explore.
Just some fun and interesting discoveries from this week…hope you all had a chance to exercise those creative muscles, and if not, there’s always tomorrow. Every day is a good day to start something new.
For many years, I spent the end of December reflecting on what I’d accomplished, what I didn’t, and how it reflected the goals I had set for myself. It often left me feeling negative, overshadowing all the accomplishments and leaving the lingering unreasonable goals I had failed to meet.
What I discovered is by focusing on what worked and what didn’t work, what I wanted to accomplish versus what I felt like I was supposed to accomplish, it has brought me a much greater sense of satisfaction, motivation, and excitement. I constantly look for new sources of inspiration and additions to my daily routine or creative process to capitalize on this.
Life is all about change, about being open to new ideas, new opportunities, new methods. What worked in the past may not still work today, as we really are all a work in progress. The goals may be clear and defined, but how we go about reaching them can change with the tides and our unpredictable world.
The first week of the new year I ask myself one question…What would make me feel good about myself and what I’ve accomplished by this time next year? I then break those goals down into small steps, by month and then by week. I’m terrible with a daily to-do list, so I pick and choose from a weekly list. It allows me some freedom and helps me maintain some level of excitement about what I’m doing.
No matter how you set your goals or what path you take to accomplish them, show up every day, surround yourself with things that inspire you, and embrace your creativity and let it shine. Take note of the small things, always be on the lookout for new inspiration, and bend like a willow when life gets in the way.
It’s about progress…not perfection.
Wishing each and every one of you a very Happy, Peaceful, and Successful New Year!!
If you could map out your perfect day, what would it look like? Would it include a walk in the first light of the morning, a breakfast of cappuccino and croissants, and hours of uninterrupted writing or studio time? Maybe an hour or two reading blogs, or a great book with a cup of tea by your side? Sitting in a café in the afternoon, writing poetry and listening to your favorite music, or lunch with a friend, catching up and ranting about the state of the world? Would it include a lovely dinner prepared by you or someone else, paired with the perfect wine? An evening binge-watching Netflix, or a great movie, alone or with a friend?
How close is any of your perfect day in relation to your reality? Life doesn’t allow for us to live every day in perfect harmony with our wishes, but how can we adapt our dreams and desires to better fit that reality? Life is fluid, always presenting hurdles, obstacles, changes, new responsibilities, and difficulties, and we have to work extremely hard to adjust. All too often, what we really want to do gets pushed to the bottom of our never-ending to-do lists, and the day ends before we get there. The day always ends before we get to the end of the list. And it always will.
What would it take to add the elements of your perfect day to your life? There always will be things we absolutely have to do, but don’t we deserve the opportunity to spend some of our short time here doing the things we enjoy, fostering our creativity, making things, connecting with other people, giving ourselves a reason to be excited about starting the day? Isn’t it time to put some of those things closer to the top of the list? Maybe a walk three times a week, or a trip to the café once a week, Friday night movies, and however much time that can be blocked off for creative pursuits every day. Whatever we can do to incorporate the components of that perfect day.
“How we spend our time is how we spend our lives.” I’m betting no one’s last words were “I wish I spent more time on Twitter”. Our time here is short, and you really don’t have to go out and slay dragons every day or be completing tasks every minute. Think about the things that are truly important to you, things that you would regret not doing. We have no control over time, but we do have control over how we spend it. Just be yourself, and make time for who you want to be.
Now’s the ideal time to unwrap one of those notebooks you’ve been hoarding because it’s “too nice to use” and start filling it up. They look even better when they’re being used. Or just grab a cheap composition book from the drugstore. I’ve discussed the importance and value of keeping a notebook in a previous post, so I’ve compiled a list of ideas to do just that.
I personally don’t like having multiple notebooks going at the same time, so I just throw everything together and use one at a time. It makes for good reading and inspiration when the well is running dry (or I’m procrastinating), and I always find a surprise or two along the way that I had forgotten about. It also gives me insight into what I was doing and thinking about during that time span. Some people like different notebooks for different subjects or use index tabs to keep things separate. Others like Travellers Notebooks, where you can use multiple inserts and band them all together. Whatever is comfortable for you and makes it as easy as possible for you to write things down.
1. Quotes. I collect quotes from books I’m reading, websites, blogs, social media, TV shows, signs, podcasts, and pretty much everywhere. Just remember to note who it’s from and where you found it. A favorite quote is also a great way to break the ice and use it on the first page.
2. Books I’ve Read. Helps me make sure I’m doing enough reading, and I then add a 2-3 sentence summary and a rating of 1-5 stars.
3. Books I Want to Read. I always keep several books stacked up on hand, and this list makes sure there is no lag in reading material.
4. To-Do Lists. Current lists, soon, and someday.
5. Journal. You can make these entries as long or as short as you like. Even a simple sentence summing up the day. These help me keep track of my days, my work, my life, and my goals. I try and do a short paragraph on average 6 days a week at the end of the day. Some days I ramble on, some days it’s just a sentence. Even just a weekly summary will show you where you’ve been and what you’ve been up to.
6. Ideas for blog posts, articles, and books. I may think it’s the best idea I’ve ever had, but if I don’t write it down there is little to no chance of remembering exactly what it was. I’ll remember part of it, but not that perfect combination of words.
7. Every single dumb idea that pops into your head. Inventions, book titles, movie pitches, fan fiction…You can decide later whether it really is dumb or worth exploring further. Maybe a character in your next book might be thinking that same thing?
8. Recommendations. A list of books, articles, authors, websites, blogs, places to go, etc… Anything that sounds interesting that you want to get back to at a later date.
9. Words you really like, or a combination of words that sound poetic together. Like Sushi and cigarettes, or plastic personality.
10. Ideas for new creative hobbies. You don’t have to take them all up, or even try them, but it does give you a good insight into what might be missing from your life.
11. A list of everything you have that you love. It can be a close-knit family, a friend, the best pet in the world, a great neighbor, or material things like a really cool fountain pen, an awesome car, a super comfy couch, or a great sense of humor. Similar to a gratitude list, but much more specific.
12. Random interesting bits of conversation that you overhear or have had.
13. Goals. Short term and long term. What would make you feel really good about yourself by the end of the month or next year at this time? What would you like to accomplish?
14. Subjects that you would like to study. Anything you would like to research, know more about, or even become an expert on.
15. Things you would like to do for fun. A weekly poker night, a weekend exploring museums in New York, a trip to a Caribbean Island, or a week in Paris getting lost in bookstores. Like a bucket list, but there’s no commitment. It doesn’t need to be realistic.
16. A List of everything you’d like to have. From material things like a new coffeemaker or a new laptop to a greater number of close friends, or a mentor, or a significant other.
17. Every project that needs to be done around your home. Include what’s needed to get it done, and the steps involved. Get it out of your head and on paper.
18. Character Sketches. Keep a list of interesting quirks, physical characteristics, accents, names…
19. Submission list. Keep track of all work you submit anywhere, whether for pay or not, including date and copy.
20. Everything you can do to boost your self-care and be kinder to yourself. Don’t depend on anyone else to make you feel good.
21. Things you pay attention to. What gets your attention? Is it an image, a certain word or phrase, a setting, a type of musical score? What makes you stop what you’re doing and look or listen?
22. Things other people don’t notice, but everyone sees. From front doors to what people put on their windowsills, to stickers and flyers stuck to signs. What can you write about, or photograph, or draw?
There is an endless amount of information you can stockpile in a writing notebook, some of which isn’t outwardly related to writing. It’s a collection of bits and pieces of yourself, your life, your dreams, and your ideas. It can inspire you, help you stay on track to reach your goals, give you a jumping-off point for that next project, and maybe even teach you a few things about yourself.
I still believe that art can change the world.
I still believe creativity is the answer to living a better life.
I still believe that small acts of kindness can make a difference in the world.
I still believe that words are our most powerful tool.
I still believe in the inherent good of most of humanity.
I still believe embracing our differences does not divide us.
I still believe education is our hope for a better world.
I still believe that love is eternal.
I still believe there can be change if we stop being afraid.
I still believe that laughter helps us heal.
I still believe our differences bring us together.
I still believe that the energy we put out into the world is reflected back on us.
I still believe we can exist and respect our planet simultaneously.
I still believe that we can pursue our own happiness and peace without infringing on anyone else’s right to do the same.
I still believe that we are all equal regardless of our differences.
I still believe.