Genius is 10 percent inspiration but 90 percent perspiration. – Thomas Edison
I cannot imagine life without work as really comfortable. – Sigmund Freud
My teachers at different grade levels repeated this mantra. Somehow I didn’t believe this. Hard work is for the less gifted. I worked hard in school, and scraped through upper honours. No matter how hard I worked, the results didn’t justify the effort.
“Daily rituals – how great minds make time, find inspiration, and Get to Work” by Mason Currey caught my eye at the library last week. From the crisp smell of the pages, I’m probably the first person to read it which would also explain my receptiveness to the book.
From the over 160 creative authors and artists/architects cited in the book, whether an early bird or a night owl, most of them stick to a ritual.
The early birds like Ernest Hemingway rose early, at around 6am, even if he had been up all night drinking. In his younger days, he seemed immune to hangovers. Work through the day, with a word count. Some of the authors keep a daily check of 2000 words, others 500 words. In Hemingway’s case, he “tracked his daily word output on a chart – so as not to kid myself”. Margaret Mead, renowned cultural anthropologist was known to schedule breakfast meetings with young colleagues for 5am.
To break up long hours of writing/painting/creating, there would be some form of physical activity e.g. slow walk. Socialising with small circle of friend for dinner. Hemingway wrote/typed standing up. [Note: I suspect because he’s a kinaesthetic and can’t sit still. Joan Miro would take a break by going for an hour of vigorous exercise such as boxing in Paris; jumping rope and Swedish gymnastics at a Barcelona gym to avoid a relapse into depression etc. Freud would take a walk around Vienna’s Ringstrasse, “marching at terrific speed” after dinner. As Woody Allen described it, “the momentary change stimulates a fresh burst of mental energy.” Although he can no longer walk the streets, he would pace the terrace of his apartment. Woody Allen would take a shower. [My personal favourite too.]
Often the authors would write and read/ reflect/ edit what they’ve written or read to their loved ones. Maya Angelou would read to her husband after dinner. He doesn’t comment but hearing it aloud helps her edit. Her editor is also another good source of feedback. In the case of Simone de Beauvoir, she would sit with Sartre in the afternoon for 3 or 4 hours, and critique what he wrote that day – sort of intellectual partnership which lasted for years.
Photo of Simone de Beauvoir – source: Susan Cushman. [I like her blog and entry on self-publishing.]
Even Jean Paul Sartre who famously said that “One can be very fertile without having to work too much” put in six hours of work, review his work with Simone de Beauvoir after dinner and had her to “do much of his writing for him—no doubt contributed to his view that you didn’t need to spend a lot of time with pen in hand”. Altogether a misleading quote.
“Must-have” book to inspire entrepreneurs and those who telecommute and work from home. Work-life harmony may be exercising control over where you work, but the hours are still there minus the structure/ momentum that comes with being around colleagues.