Everyone's got a routine, especially people who make a living writing or painting or doing some other kind of self-directed creative activity; you've got to provide the mind a structured space in which to be free. A fascinating new blog called Daily Routines examines just that -- how writers, artists and other interesting people organize their days. Let's take a look at a few examples.
As a young author taking care of three small children, Munro learned to write in the slivers of time she had, churning out stories during children's nap times, in between feedings, as dinners baked in the oven. It took her nearly twenty years to put together the stories for her first collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, published in 1968 when Munro was thirty-seven.
I was involved in writing Beloved at that time--this was in 1983--and eventually I realized that I was clearer-headed, more confident and generally more intelligent in the morning. The habit of getting up early, which I had formed when the children were young, now became my choice. I am not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down.
What about your writing routine?
I have an ideal writing routine that I've never experienced, which is to have, say, nine uninterrupted days when I wouldn't have to leave the house or take phone calls. And to have the space--a space where I have huge tables. I end up with this much space [she indicates a small square spot on her desk] everywhere I am, and I can't beat my way out of it. I am reminded of that tiny desk that Emily Dickinson wrote on and I chuckle when I think, Sweet thing, there she was. But that is all any of us have: just this small space and no matter what the filing system or how often you clear it out--life, documents, letters, requests, invitations, invoices just keep going back in.
Jonathan Safran Foer
I try to write every morning, from about nine until twelve. It's really rare that I would ever write more than that. I know it's a good idea to listen to music on the way to writing, but I often just can't quite get it together, for some reason, to do that. I try not to speak to my extended family before I write, because that just clouds everything up.
You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.
I am a completely horizontal author. I can't think unless I'm lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I've got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.
"Coetzee," says the writer Rian Malan, "is a man of almost monkish self-discipline and dedication. He does not drink, smoke or eat meat. He cycles vast distances to keep fit and spends at least an hour at his writing-desk each morning, seven days a week. A colleague who has worked with him for more than a decade claims to have seen him laugh just once. An acquaintance has attended several dinner parties where Coetzee has uttered not a single word."
ErdÃ¶s first did mathematics at the age of three, but for the last twenty-five years of his life, since the death of his mother, he put in nineteen-hour days, keeping himself fortified with 10 to 20 milligrams of Benzedrine or Ritalin, strong espresso, and caffeine tablets. "A mathematician," Erdos was fond of saying, "is a machine for turning coffee into theorems."
His daily schedule then looked something like this. He got up at 5:00 A.M. His servant Martin Lampe, who worked for him from at least 1762 until 1802, would wake him. The old soldier was under orders to be persistent, so that Kant would not sleep longer. Kant was proud that he never got up even half an hour late, even though he found it hard to get up early. It appears that during his early years, he did sleep in at times. After getting up, Kant would drink one or two cups of tea -- weak tea. With that, he smoked a pipe of tobacco. The time he needed for smoking it "was devoted to meditation." Apparently, Kant had formulated the maxim for himself that he would smoke only one pipe, but it is reported that the bowls of his pipes increased considerably in size as the years went on. He then prepared his lectures and worked on his books until 7:00. His lectures began at 7:00, and they would last until 11:00. With the lectures finished, he worked again on his writings until lunch. Go out to lunch, take a walk, and spend the rest of the afternoon with his friend Green. After going home, he would do some more light work and read.
His mode of living consisted of daily visits to the British Museum reading-room, where he normally remained from nine in the morning until it closed at seven; this was followed by long hours of work at night, accompanied by ceaseless smoking, which from a luxury had become an indispensable anodyne; this affected his health permanently and he became liable to frequent attacks of a disease of the liver sometimes accompanied by boils and an inflammation of the eyes, which interfered with his work, exhausted and irritated him, and interrupted his never certain means of livelihood. "I am plagued like Job, though not so God-fearing," he wrote in 1858.
Morning routine: I usually get up around 7. I make oatmeal in my rice cooker. Then I take an hourlong walk: outside if the weather's good; on my treadmill if it's cold. Then I shower, shave and go to the first of three movies I see on many weekdays.
Napoleon's daily routine was perforce limited. Marchand awakened him early and served coffee in bed. One or more of the valets washed him and helped him shave, then rubbed him down with a coarse brush and doused him with eau de cologne (which soon ran out and was replaced with homemade lavender water) and finally helped him dress, an elaborate process that required one or two hours.
Weather permitting, he and Las Cases usually went for a long walk or horseback ride before breakfast. The emperor breakfasted late either in his room or, in fair weather, in the small garden. When in the mood he followed this with dictation to Las Cases, Gourgaud or Bertrand. On occasion he received guests, usually lunched alone in his room, conversed in Italian with O'Meara and toward evening walked or rode with the ladies in a small open carriage in good weather but otherwise stayed by the fireplace reading. He often interrupted this routine with steaming baths that sometimes lasted for three or four hours.