Creativity: The Rituals and Routines

Recently my stepdaughter shared an article called Rise and Shine: The Daily Routines of History’s Most Creative Minds. She is entering the creative and competitive world of acting and writing in film and television. In sharing she could not help but note that I am well practiced in the routines of coffee, long walks, and inebriation (aren’t I the greatest influence?).

All family kidding aside, I struggle with the discipline and creativity required by writing. Writing is so much of what I do now. Branding and marketing requires conveying relevant and different ideas so I have always honed this talent. Now I am writing fiction and screenplays, as well as, ghostwriting for others. I like to think I am getting better at the craft but that does not mean it gets any easier.

Oliver Burkman’s article is a review of Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. In it Currey notes that Joyce Carol Oats worked the morning, took a big break and cranked up again in the evening. Anthony Trollope set the goal of 250-words per quarter-hour. Meanwhile, Friedrich Schiller could only write in the presence of the smell of rotting apples (for me it’s fermenting grapes).

I like background noise and always have. Since studying in high school and university, the tunes or television have been on. As I type this blog on my computer, one earbud is in place hooked to my tablet where Better Call Saul is in rotation.

Every creative has individualized proclivities (along with superstitions and even weirder conditions). It has become almost predictable, stereotypical, and nearly mandatory for writers to drink. Just read The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking to see how many doused themselves in liquid including my two favourites, Cheever and Carver.

Burkman sums up Currey’s book, “The path to greatness is paved with a thousand tiny rituals (and a fair bit of substance abuse) – but six key rules emerge.” These six intrigued. The first is to write in the morning. Mozart, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frank Lloyd Wright and many others saw the benefits of rising early. I do too but have lost this discipline of late.

Thankfully it has been regained following a trip to Europe with the time zones then working in my favour. I am peppy in the morning. Less prone to distractions…social media, the fridge. So I plan on reversing Hemingway’s method that I have been following, “Write drunk, edit sober.” If I can write clearly and creatively sans booze in the morning then I can become a creative editor with a martini in the evening.

I plan on reversing Hemingway’s method that I have been following, “Write drunk, edit sober.” If I can write clearly and creatively sans booze in the morning then I can become a creative editor with a martini in the evening.

The second rule is do not give up the day job. Most creatives cannot survive on being creative alone. Actors sling food, musicians paint houses, and DJs live in their parent’s basement while working at Starbucks. William Faulkner worked at a power plant, T.S. Eliot was employed at Lloyd’s Bank, when Wallace Stevens wasn’t writing poetry, he was an insurance executive. Financial stability is not the only reason for this duality, I find my pleasure writing and business writing are tremendous foils for each other.

I am so happy for this third one. Creatives should take lots of walks. Boy do I. On average I am good for sixty or seventy kilometres a week. Walking was a daily routine of composers Beethoven, Mahler, Satie, and Tchaikovsky, the latter “believed he had to take a walk of exactly two hours a day and that if he returned even a few minutes early, great misfortunes would befall him”.

Walking is not superstition to me but a way to disconnect. All of my writing has been improved by time away from it and the insights and epiphanies that pop on a mountain trail. Still, sometimes my ancient iPod is on and I am listening to an audio book or podcast.

The fourth rule is stick to a schedule. This is the one requiring the most discipline. Thankfully, the world of business has instilled deadlines into my psyche. Yet, the challenge remains…you cannot mandate creativity. It is not a consistent or daily event for me. Burkman captures this tension, “it might require intimidating levels of self-discipline, but on closer inspection it often seems to be a kind of safety net: the alternative to a rigid structure is either no artistic creations, for those with day jobs, or the existential terror of no structure at all.” No structure at all does not work for me.

The next-to-final rule is a cautionary tale: practise strategic substance abuse. Burkman notes, “Auden, Ayn Rand and Graham Greene had their Benzedrine, the mathematician Paul Erdos had his Ritalin (and his Benzedrine); countless others tried vodka, whisky or gin.” As noted, this type of abuse is well-known. What Currey found in his research is how many creatives lean on caffeine. Balzac drank 50 cups a day. Moderation still remains critical even though Oscar Wilde satirized its benefit.

The last rule is learn to work anywhere. For nearly 20 years I traveled more than 150 days annually. I learned to work everywhere. Client office cubicles, hard plastic seats in quick service restaurants, airplanes jammed between larger travellers, and hotel rooms where the neighbours were practicing other forms of creativity.

I have written in client office cubicles, hard plastic seats in quick service restaurants, airplanes jammed between larger travellers, and hotel rooms where the neighbours were practicing other forms of creativity.

I was pleased to learn that my background noise fetish (probably instilled by my travels) is creatively beneficial. Burkman references “a study that suggests some noise, such as the background buzz of a coffee shop, may be preferable to silence, in terms of creativity; moreover, physical mess may be as beneficial for some people as an impeccably tidy workspace is for others. The journalist Ron Rosenbaum  cherishes a personal theory of “competing concentration”: working with the television on, he says, gives him a background distraction to focus against, keeping his attentional muscles flexed and strong.”

My conclusion to all this is there are no hard-and-fast rules to the creative process. If there were then the creative output would all look, sound, smell, feel, and read the same.

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