Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
Cup of steaming coffee in front of window

The Daily Routine of the Most Creative Minds of All Time


Knowing the everyday routines of the most privileged minds allow us to understand the importance of discipline and the desire to achieve something.

No matter how much a writer enjoys writing, there are hundreds of reasons for not doing it. The new book Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration and Get to Work by Mason Curry gives us insight into how famous were able, basically, to sit down and write. If you’re trying to make writing an effective habit, or if you’re simply trying to find a way to work without distractions, this book might be useful. Curry describes the routines of writers, artists and other creative people, ranging from Hemingway or Kafka, to Jung and Jane Austen. Naturally, not all routines are effective, but the book is informative and entertaining (who wouldn’t like to know what Beethoven had for breakfast?). It also appeals to a more human characteristic, if we were to imitate the great geniuses, a little bit of their brilliance might rub off on us. The most common pattern for routines is waking up and working, taking a break at midday (or a stroll), and getting back to work. These are some of the habits quoted in the book.

Be a morning person

Not that there aren’t plenty of people who prefer the night-time, Marcel Proust for example, woke up between 3 and 6 in the evening and immediately smoked opium to help him with his asthma, and then asked for coffee and a croissant, and then, would sit down and write. But those who wake up early seem to be the vast majority, and perhaps because of the silence and the weather one finds at sunrise; and because in those happy hours interruptions are rare. Mozart, O’Keeffe, Frank Lloyd Wright, are some examples of this. Hemingway wrote “[At those hours] there is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.”

Psychologists categories people according to what they refer to as morningness and nightness, but it is not clear whether one of these is superior to the other. Some evidence suggests that morning people are happier and more aware, while, night people might also be more intelligent. The most important thing is, any one of us can change their waking hours at any moment. If you want to join the group of people who wake up early, the trick is to begin waking up at the same time every day, but going to bed when you are truly tired. Perhaps you have to sacrifice a bit and be extremely exhausted for a couple of days, but you will soon get used to your new schedule.

Do not leave your day job

“Time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy,” Franz Kafka complained to his fiancée, “and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible, then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers”. He, for example, worked in an insurance company and had to get used to writing from 10.30 pm until the early hours of the morning every day, fitting moments of creativity in the corners of his busy life. William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in the afternoons, before he began a night shift in power plant. T.S Eliot job in Lloyds Bank secured him a comfortable financial situation and William Carlos Williams, pediatrician, wrote poems on the back of medical prescriptions. Limited time makes the mind focus, and the discipline required to present the job would seem to be one of the great processes in art. “I find that having a job is one of the best things in the world that could happen to me, it introduces discipline and regularity into one’s life”, Wallace Stevens wrote, who was an insurance salesman who impressed verses on the reports he sent his job protocols on. It makes sense that the lack of a full time job is one of the promoters of alcoholism that has permeated the world of creativity. One can only write three or four hours a day, and after that, figuring out what to do with the rest of the day is a true art.

Often take strolls

There is plenty of evidence that suggests that walking —especially in natural environments or in places with trees— is associated with an increase of productivity and competence to fulfil certain imagination related tasks. The daily routine of composers like Beethoven, Mahler, Erik Satie and Tchaikovsky, who, according to the author of the book “believed he had to take a walk of exactly two hours a day and that if he returned even a few minutes early, great misfortunes would befall him”, included long strolls through the silence of nature. Nowadays, strolls merely take us away from a screen and all the black holes there; it also frees us from sitting all day, pumping blood to our heart and clarifying our mind. Taking a stroll is above all one of the most effective ways of finding inspiration.

Stick to a single schedule

“Decide what you want or ought to do with the day,” Auden advised, “then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.” This type of existence could seem impossible in our days, but it is actually a type of comfort zone that provides a sense of stability (that may well be artificial) and to take advantage of it. We could save ourselves the existential terror of not knowing what will happen in an hour or tomorrow (although it’s worthwhile to mention that this can also be advantageous, although not necessarily for a short term endeavor). In any case, many writers like William James, the forefather of modern psychology, did well with monotony. He argued that that only by making some aspects of our everyday life automatic or habitual can we “free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action”. Subsequent discoveries surrounding the limiting factors of will power, have suggested that deciding when or where to work prevent the ability to complete the job. So waking up every morning and considering if we must sit down to write or have breakfast instead, or maybe even go out to work in a café increases the possibilities of doing nothing.

Practice a strategic substance abuse

Practically any chemical aid has been experienced by creative minds. Auden, Anyn Rand y Graham Greene had their Benzedrine, and innumerable others tried vodka, whiskey or gin. But perhaps there is only one drug that has survived the passing of time, and that is coffee. Beethoven counted the grains of coffee: precisely sixty every morning; Kierkegaard would pour coffee into a cup full of sugar, then he would drink the final concoction (which resembled mud) in a single gulp; Balzac drank 50 cups of coffee every day. Studies have suggested that caffeine has multiple benefits, in terms of our concentration, which can also, in turn, decrease our competence in other more imaginative tasks. But if all this is true, all of the aforementioned creators completely ignored and subverted it.

Learn to work anywhere

One of the most counterproductive ideas for a creative mind is that if it was in a different place it could work better. The American composer Morton Feldman once pointed out “For years, I said if only I could find a comfortable chair, I would rival Mozart,” and Somerset Maugham had to face a white wall before confronting words. However, Jane Austen’s most productive years where when she wrote in her sitting room, sometimes as her mother sat next to her knitting.

In any case, completely avoiding distraction does not exist. And if it does, it is undoubtedly detrimental to the muscle we exercise when trying to focus in a noisy room. A recent study suggested that the hubbub of a coffee shop, in terms of creativity, for example, can be preferable to silence. And just as some people find it easier to focus sitting at a messy desk and others prefer one that is completely impeccable and organized, there are no rules for either. The perfect place to work is not that which we imagine, but the one we have.

Related Articles