I can’t even begin to tell you all the things I’ve sucked at this year. It’s only May 13 and I’ve already failed at: 1. training for a marathon (I dropped to the half), 2. keeping a writing schedule (I only wrote for 15 hours total spring semester), and 3. getting estimates (I need someone to paint my house, please? Don’t make me beg? I’ve left, like, 20 voicemails).
Lucky for me, I know some over-achievers who take pity on me. One is my friend Kaylee, who recently sent me an article about a book that turned out to be the perfect book to start reading on Day 1 of my 30-Day Challenge to Stop Sucking So Much.
It’s called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey, and it describes the creative lives of 161 people including artists, authors, poets, and composers. I’m really enjoying reading it because it displays such a wide variety of routines. You have your morning people and your night owls. You have those who work for 8 hours and those who tap out at 2. You have your drinkers, your smokers, your amphetamine-takers–you even have one writer who was most creative while fondling his genitals.
No matter the routine, (strange or somber), it’s described here in a way that helps me visualize a day in the life of many of the creatives I most admire.
Reading these accounts not only makes me feel better about some of my own strange habits (none of them nude!), it also gives me some ideas about what might help me be more productive. While I don’t think I’ll start using Corydrane, as Jean-Paul Sartre did in spades–nor will I start doing headstands, one of Igor Stravinsky’s methods of getting “un-blocked,”–nor will I start using potent herbal laxatives, as Louis Armstrong advocated, I do have a few lessons to take away: such as a lighter lunch and a scheduled nap time.
Today I’m starting a 5-week Writer’s Retreat and I need to perfect my own rituals so that I can get the most out of the time ahead of me. I want to finish 2 books: a book of poems and a memoir. And to do that I need to get down to business. So I wrote a little entry of my own, mirroring the 161 in the book. Let’s see if my Daily Rituals will help me succeed.
Patricia Murphy (1970-)
Murphy devoted much of her life and energy to being a teacher and editor. During the academic year she struggled to find time to write, which nearly ruined her self esteem and made her feel like a failure as a writer. During the summers she often agreed to teach additional classes, perhaps to self-sabotage her writing efforts.
When she did get a summer to devote to writing, she was very disciplined. She awoke every morning at 5 am and drank coffee while reading and chatting with her life partner John. At 6 am she exercised–either going for a run in South Mountain park, or attending fitness classes at The Hub, where she enjoyed the social benefits of working out with a peer group. Back home, she drank a fruit smoothie with spinach, berries, banana, pineapple, and mango. Then she did a 15 minute stretching routine and took a shower and dressed.
Finally at the computer by 8 am, she read her journal from the previous day’s work, and started composing the current day’s journal entry. Murphy was a life-long journaler, and reflecting on her process and product helped her to perfect her routines and spend energy wisely. After journaling, she would read for 20 minutes to an hour, then start the composing for the day. Perhaps as a carry-over from her hobby as a runner, she used tools such as timers and spreadsheets to help her keep track of pace and tasks. She always composed using two computers–one open to her writing in Scrivener, and one open to a spreadsheet with lists of themes, characters, titles, wordcounts, etc. She might have missed her calling as an accountant.
While at her desk, with a clear view of her beloved South Mountain, she guzzled water and had to get up often to pee. By 11 am she was ready for a snack, which usually consisted of a big kale salad with chick peas, avocado, pomegranate seeds, blueberries, and sesame seeds. She liked to keep her meals under 400 calories, otherwise she would fall straight to sleep.
Back to the computer by noon, she completed another 3 hour writing session–moving between her journal, her spreadsheet, her poetry, and her memoir. Whenever she needed inspiration, she would grab a book and read for 20 minutes or so. At 3 pm she ate another snack of lots of fruit and vegetables and toast, and then she tended to give in to a nap with her beautiful Vizslas who were always herding her to the bed with their sleepy eyes and droopy ears. She could fall asleep like a champ once her head hit the pillow. She slept like the dead for 20-30 minutes and woke up feeling ready to go.
After the nap she answered email or managed household necessities until John returned from work at around 5:30 pm. Once John arrived they spent the evening together: chatting, reading, walking the dogs, watching a TV show, running errands, playing Scrabble, cooking, eating dinner, drinking a beer, or taking a dip in the pool. Between 8 and 8:30 they headed to bed to read, usually falling fast asleep by 9 pm.
Now let’s see if that helps. What are your successful daily rituals?