Rise and Shine_ the Daily Routines of History's Most Creative Minds _ Science _ the Guardian

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  13/4/2018Rise and shine: the daily routines of history's most creative minds | Science | The Guardianhttps://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/05/daily-rituals-creative-minds-mason-currey1/9   Rise and shine: the daily routines of history's mostcreative minds Oliver Burkeman Benjamin Franklin spent his mornings naked. Patricia Highsmith ate only bacon andeggs. Marcel Proust breakfasted on opium and croissants. The path to greatness is paved witha thousand tiny rituals and a fair bit of substance abuse  but six key rules emerge Sat 5 Oct 2013 09.00 BST O ne morning this summer, I got up at first light – I'd left the blinds open the night before – then drank a strong cup of coffee, sat near-naked by an open window for anhour, worked all morning, then had a martini with lunch. I took a long afternoonwalk, and for the rest of the week experimented with never working for more thanthree hours at a stretch.This was all in an effort to adopt the rituals of some great artists and thinkers: the rising-at-dawn bit came from Ernest Hemingway, who was up at around 5.30am, even if he'd beendrinking the night before; the strong coffee was borrowed from Beethoven, who personallycounted out the 60 beans his morning cup required. Benjamin Franklin swore by air baths ,which was his term for sitting around naked in the morning, whatever the weather. And themidday cocktail was a favourite of VS Pritchett (among many others). I couldn't try every trickI discovered in a new book, Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration AndGet To Work; oddly, my girlfriend was unwilling to play the role of Freud's wife, who put  13/4/2018Rise and shine: the daily routines of history's most creative minds | Science | The Guardianhttps://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/05/daily-rituals-creative-minds-mason-currey2/9 toothpaste on his toothbrush each day to save him time. Still, I learned a lot. For example: didyou know that lunchtime martinis aren't conducive to productivity?As a writer working from home, of course, I have an unusual degree of control over myschedule – not everyone could run such an experiment. But for anyone who thinks of theirwork as creative, or who pursues creative projects in their spare time, reading about the habitsof the successful, can be addictive. Partly, that's because it's comforting to learn that evenFranz Kaa struggled with the demands of his day job, or that Franklin was chronicallydisorganised. But it's also because of a covert thought that sounds delusionally arrogant if expressed out loud: just maybe, if I took very hot baths like Flaubert, or amphetamines likeAuden, I might inch closer to their genius.Several weeks later, I'm no longer taking air baths , while the lunchtime martini didn't lastmore than a day (I mean, come on). But I'm still rising early and, when time allows, taking longwalks. Two big insights have emerged. One is how ill-suited the nine-to-five routine is to mostdesk-based jobs involving mental focus; it turns out I get far more done when I start earlier,end a little later, and don't even pretend to do brain work for several hours in the middle. Theother is the importance of momentum. When I get straight down to something really importantearly in the morning, before checking email, before interruptions from others, it beneficiallyalters the feel of the whole day: once interruptions do arise, they're never quite so problematic.Another technique I couldn't manage without comes from the writer and consultant TonySchwartz: use a timer to work in 90-minute sprints , interspersed with signficant breaks.(Thanks to this, I'm far better than I used to be at separating work from faffing around, ratherthan spending half the day flailing around in a mixture of the two.)The one true lesson of the book, says its author, Mason Currey, is that there's no one way toget things done . For every Joyce Carol Oates, industriously plugging away from 8am to 1pmand again from 4pm to 7pm, or Anthony Trollope, timing himself typing 250 words perquarter-hour, there's a Sylvia Plath, unable to stick to a schedule. (Or a Friedrich Schiller, whocould only write in the presence of the smell of rotting apples.) Still, some patterns do emerge.Here, then, are six lessons from history's most creative minds. 1. Be a morning person It's not that there aren't successful night owls: Marcel Proust, for one, rose sometime between3pm and 6pm, immediately smoked opium powders to relieve his asthma, then rang for hiscoffee and croissant. But very early risers form a clear majority, including everyone fromMozart to Georgia O'Keeffe to Frank Lloyd Wright. (The 18th-century theologian JonathanEdwards, Currey tells us, went so far as to argue that Jesus had endorsed early rising by hisrising from the grave very early .) For some, waking at 5am or 6am is a necessity, the only wayto combine their writing or painting with the demands of a job, raising children, or both. Forothers, it's a way to avoid interruption: at that hour, as Hemingway wrote, There is no one todisturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. There'sanother, surprising argument in favour of rising early, which might persuade sceptics: thatearly-morning drowsiness might actually be helpful. At one point in his career, the novelistNicholson Baker took to getting up at 4.30am, and he liked what it did to his brain: The mindis newly cleansed, but it's also befuddled… I found that I wrote differently then. Psychologists categorise people by what they call, rather charmingly, morningness and eveningness , but it's not clear that either is objectively superior. There is evidence thatmorning people are happier and more conscientious, but also that night owls might be moreintelligent. If you're determined to join the ranks of the early risers, the crucial trick is to startgetting up at the same time daily, but to go to bed only when you're truly tired. Youmight sacrifice a day or two to exhaustion, but you'll adjust to your new schedule more rapidly.  13/4/2018Rise and shine: the daily routines of history's most creative minds | Science | The Guardianhttps://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/05/daily-rituals-creative-minds-mason-currey3/9 2. Don't give up the day job Time is short, my strength is limited, theoffice is a horror, the apartment is noisy, Franz Kaa complained to his fiancee, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible,then one must try to wriggle through bysubtle manoeuvres. He crammed in hiswriting between 10.30pm and the small hoursof the morning. But in truth, a pleasant,straightforward life might not have beenpreferable, artistically speaking: Kaa, whoworked in an insurance office, was one of many artists who have thrived on fittingcreative activities around the edges of a busylife. William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying inthe afternoons, before commencing his nightshift at a power plant; TS Eliot's day job atLloyds bank gave him crucial financialsecurity; William Carlos Williams,a paediatrician, scribbled poetry on the backsof his prescription pads. Limited time focusesthe mind, and the self-discipline required toshow up for a job seeps back into theprocesses of art. I find that having a job isone of the best things in the world that couldhappen to me, wrote Wallace Stevens, aninsurance executive and poet. It introducesdiscipline and regularity into one's life. Indeed, one obvious explanation for the alcoholism that pervades the lives of full-time authorsis that it's impossible to focus on writing for more than a few hours a day, and, well, you've gotto make those other hours pass somehow. 3. Take lots of walks There's no shortage of evidence to suggest that walking – especially walking in natural settings,or just lingering amid greenery, even if you don't actually walk much – is associated withincreased productivity and proficiency at creative tasks. But Currey was surprised, inresearching his book, by the sheer ubiquity of walking, especially in the daily routines of composers, including Beethoven, Mahler, Erik Satie and Tchaikovksy, who believed he had totake a walk of exactly two hours a day and that if he returned even a few minutes early, greatmisfortunes would befall him . It's long been observed that doing almost anything other thansitting at a desk can be the best route to novel insights. These days, there's surely an additionalfactor at play: when you're on a walk, you're physically removed from many of the sources of distraction – televisions, computer screens – that might otherwise interfere with deep thought. 4. Stick to a schedule There's not much in common, ritual-wise, between Gustave Flaubert – who woke at 10am dailyand then hammered on his ceiling to summon his mother to come and sit on his bed for a chat –and Le Corbusier, up at 6am for his 45 minutes of daily calisthenics. But they each did whatthey did with iron regularity. Decide what you want or ought to do with the day, Audenadvised, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you notrouble. (According to legend, Immanuel Kant's neighbours in Königsberg could set theirclocks by his 3.30pm walk.) This kind of existence sounds as if it might require intimidating Georgia O'Keeffe: one of a majority of very early morning risers.Photograph: AP  13/4/2018Rise and shine: the daily routines of history's most creative minds | Science | The Guardianhttps://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/05/daily-rituals-creative-minds-mason-currey4/9 levels of self-discipline, but on closerinspection it often seems to be a kind of safetynet: the alternative to a rigid structure iseither no artistic creations, for those with day jobs, or the existential terror of no structure atall.It was William James, the progenitor of modern psychology, who best articulated themechanism by which a strict routine mighthelp unleash the imagination. Only byrendering many aspects of daily life automaticand habitual, he argued, could we free ourminds to advance to really interesting fields of action . (James fought a lifelong struggle toinculcate such habits in himself.) Subsequentfindings about cognitive bandwidth and thelimitations of willpower have largelysubstantiated James's hunch: if you wasteresources trying to decide when or where towork, you'll impede your capacity to do thework. Don't consider afresh each morningwhether to work on your novel for 45 minutes before the day begins; once you've resolvedthat that's just what you do, it'll be far morelikely to happen. It might have been a similardesire to pare down unnecessary decisionsthat led Patricia Highsmith, among others, toeat virtually the same thing for every meal, in her case bacon and fried eggs. AlthoughHighsmith also collected live snails and, in later life, promulgated anti-Semitic conspiracytheories, so who knows? 5. Practise strategic substance abuse Almost every potential chemical aid to creativity has been tried at some time or another:Auden, Ayn Rand and Graham Greene had their Benzedrine, the mathematician Paul Erdös hadhis Ritalin (and his Benzedrine); countless others tried vodka, whisky or gin. But there's onlyone that has been championed near-universally down the centuries: coffee. Beethovenmeasured out his beans, Kierkegaard poured black coffee over a cup full of sugar, then gulpeddown the resulting concoction, which had the consistency of mud; Balzac drank 50 cups a day.It's been suggested that the benefits of caffeine, in terms of heightened focus, might be offset by a decrease in proficiency at more imaginative tasks. But if that's true, it's a lesson creativetypes have been ignoring for ever. Consume in moderation, though: Balzac died of heart failureat 51. 6. Learn to work anywhere One of the most dangerous procrastination-enabling beliefs is the idea that you must findexactly the right environment before you can get down to work. For years, I said if only I couldfind a comfortable chair, I would rival Mozart, the American composer Morton Feldmanrecalled. Somerset Maugham had to face a blank wall before the words would come (any otherview, he felt, was too distracting). But the stern message that emerges from many other artists'and authors' experiences is: get over yourself. During Jane Austen's most productive years, atChawton in Hampshire in the 1810s, she wrote mainly in the family sitting-room, often with TS Eliot’s day job at Lloyds bank gave him crucial financial security.Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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