MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

How Do They Do It?

Charles Dickens, by a Boston Daily Advertiser cartoonist (March 1868)

Charles Dickens, by a Boston Daily Advertiser cartoonist (March 1868)

So is genius really “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration,” as Thomas Edison declared (his variation on the “there are no accidents” meme, you might say)?

Mason Currey’s new book, Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work, looks at the varied routines some of the great artists and thinkers have devised to make the most of their moments with the Muses.

Reviewer Christopher Hart points out that the book offers fascinating examples of the many ways creative types “discover for themselves Flaubert’s famous advice that one should live like a bourgeois and put one’s bohemianism into one’s work.”

Thomas Mann evidently loved his kip, rising at 8am, enjoying a good hour’s nap in the afternoon and going to bed around midnight, in a separate bedroom from his wife. Richard Strauss appears to have slept a good ten hours a night. The results of all this bourgeois self-discipline and these early nights are plain: many of those who followed such a regimen were hugely prolific as well as great, from Bach to Balzac to Dickens. F Scott Fitzgerald, I was astonished to learn, sometimes wrote up to eight thousand words a day. This is approaching Barbara Cartland levels, but it didn’t seem to do his prose much harm.

But don’t forget the importance of exercise:

The best inspiration often came while walking. Beethoven always took a pencil and paper with him in the Vienna Woods, and Kierkegaard often came home and started scribbling again still in his hat and coat. Some always wrote standing up – Hemingway and, I think, Virginia Woolf (who is not covered here). Nabokov started standing up, then progressed to sitting and finally lying down. Few seem to have practised any more violent exercise than walking, apart from Byron with his boxing and riding and, rather surprisingly, Joan Miró. The dreamy surrealist was an ardent practitioner of boxing, running and ‘Mediterranean yoga’. He detested going to parties, telling an American journalist, ‘They get on my tits.’

Rosemarie Bodenheimer paints a detailed portrait of Charles Dickens as relentless walker:

Walking was essential, to bring his books into being, and to calm the effects of his intense engagement with his characters. Repeatedly his letters mention extended periods of walking as he worked toward a new project. The activity of walking allowed him to think his way into new fictional worlds, while allaying the increased restlessness that came upon him when he was still in a state of uncertainty.

And pretty soon it will be time again for those New Year’s resolutions…..

Filed under: book recs, creativity, writers

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