Creative habits and daily rituals vs. day jobs and family life.

Creative habits and daily rituals vs. day jobs and family life.

I am constantly tweaking the shape of my life, making tiny (or sometimes not-so-tiny) changes to better accommodate all that I need to do in a day–write and work, homeschool and run, connect with my kids and crash with a book.

Two recent reads are fueling my tinkering: The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp, and Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, compiled by Mason Currey.

Twyla Tharp’s life revolves around a whole “arsenal of routines.”

I repeat the wake-up, the workout, the quick shower, the breakfast of three hard-boiled egg whites and a cup of coffee, the hour to make my morning calls and deal with correspondence, the two hours of stretching and workout out ideas by myself in the studio, the rehearsals with my dance company, the return home in the late afternoon to handle more business details, the early dinner, and a few quiet hours of reading. That’s my day, every day. A dancer’s life is all about repetition.

Tharp has carefully honed her daily routines so that she never has to waste creative energy deciding what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, or what time to go in to work.

It was interesting to read Daily Rituals: How Artists Work hot on the heels of Twyla Tharp (who appears in the volume herself). The compendium lays out the daily routines of 237 writers, composers, painters, choreographers, playwrights, poets, philosophers, sculptors, filmmakers, and scientists.

It’s fascinating to read 237 routines back-to-back (although I did kind of feel like I was being bombarded after a bit).

In Daily Rituals, I was struck by how many artists had day jobs. The money didn’t hurt, but for many of them, the structure the work provided also did them some good. (It was impossible not to notice how many artists’ lives and careers were wrecked by serious substance abuse problems, and–though this is far from scientific–this seemed to occur much less often for the artists who held down “day jobs.”)

George Orwell and Franz Kafka had office jobs. Toni Morrison was an editor at Random House, taught college courses, and single-parented two sons. As a young mother, Alice Munro wrote “in the slivers of time she could find between housekeeping and child-rearing duties.” I talk to many women who follow exactly the same routine, 60 years later.

(I loved reading about Charles Schulz’s family-oriented routine, built around the school day: he drove morning carpool in the family station wagon before he settled into his studio, and wrapped up his work day just before the kids returned home.)

I talk to so many people–in person and online–who struggle with making time for their art amidst the demands of day jobs and family life. I was pleasantly surprised to read how many great artists struggled with the same demands–and how sometimes, the structures necessitated by earning money and caring for family didn’t diminish their work, but made it better.

Or at least the structure kept the artist from going down in self-destructive flames, and that’s kind of the same thing.

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37 comments

  1. Corrie Anne says:

    I’m really enjoying Daily Rituals too. I like your takeaway. It’s encouraging for me since I don’t have kids (yet), and that aspect has always made me a little anxious.

    Also, last night we watched Arranged! It was so good! Passing it on to all my friends. Thanks for all of your great recommendations!!

  2. Erica M. says:

    I think I need to set myself up with a morning ritual for the sole purpose of making sure I get up before 9 in the morning!

    Yesterday I read an article by a rather narrow-minded young lady who insists that women who have husbands and children will never have time or energy to do anything great with their lives, and as such she has no respect for them. Needless to say this caused quite a comment storm. I added my point that J.K. Rowling has written eight best sellers thus far while raising four children. I don’t recall any details in her interviews but I believe she had a kind of schedule set up so she could balance her writing with her family.

    (Also I keep hearing about this Guernsey book…I may just have to add it to my reading list!)

  3. The Creative Habit is on my short list of books to read next.

    I know I need to set up rituals, but it’s so hard to just start them. I think I’ll have to pick up Daily Rituals as well just to get some inspiration!

    It’s great to see inspiring women (like you, Anne) who are moms, wives and have jobs (whether that’s staying at home to care for the children, working outside the home or both). It actually makes me a little competitive in a good way. If they can do it, why can’t I?

  4. Karlyne says:

    I think sometimes we get so caught up in waiting for “perfect” that we miss today. These creative people didn’t wait, but just got on with, not only their day jobs, but what I’m sure they felt were their real jobs. There may be a few, uh, ” lucky” individuals who have no distractions, tons of money they didn’t work for, and a private beach to create in, but I’m guessing that they’re lollling around on that beach without creating a whole heck of a lot!

    • GinnyRit says:

      Karlyne, your comment really resonated with me! I often find myself waiting for the “perfect” (my favorite method for doing this is list-making… I can do research f-o-r-e-v-e-r and never get on with it). My One Little Word for this year is BEGIN for this very reason. Stop waiting and just BEGIN already! 🙂

      • Karlyne says:

        I’m going to steal your word, GinnyRit! I have always had a hard time beginning anything that I wouldn’t be able to finish in one sitting – how dumb is that?!? (Thank goodness I never applied that to starting a book…)

  5. Lacy says:

    Thanks for rounding up all of these Kindle deals, Anne! I love reading books on my Kindle, but when they cost about the same as buying a physical copy it’s hard to bring myself to buy the Kindle edition. Your roundups have helped build my Kindle library and also promoted my impulse buying. 🙂 (Amazon makes it too easy to buy a book on Kindle, don’t they?)

    PS: The one I just bought that you listed here has been on my list for a while and is related to this post, too: “Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind.”

    • Anne says:

      That’s the one I bought, too. I checked the other two out of the library, but don’t feel compel to add them to my own collection. At least not yet. 🙂

  6. Candice says:

    Interesting! I like this concept and feel inspired by the lives of others being so “normal”. I feel like I prefer the word rhythm instead though or I might start feeling too boxed in.

  7. Carly says:

    Yep, I so often feel that to be creative, I have to elevate myself from the mundane, you know find a beautiful spot outdoors and clear the calendar to write the day away. As a mother, I am learning to incorporate the creative as a part of the mundane. To let the two coexist, even benefit each other. Routines are so important. Thank you.

  8. Anne says:

    What interesting books you find to share with us, Anne. I am going to check out the Daily Rituals book. Thanks for the Kindle heads up…..just bought The Paradox of Choice at your recommendation. It reminds of me when I told myself I was done bopping around to 5 different shoe stores or malls/shopping centers to find the perfect outfit. Find it at Bergner’s and go home! (Or something like that….) 🙂

  9. Jessica says:

    Lady, your $1.99 Kindle shares kill me (but I love them)!!! It’s so hard to pass up a book for two bucks…but my reading list is growing by the day 🙂

  10. Katie says:

    I have to admit that I never NEVER considered myself to be at all creative (in the artistic sense) until I left work and gave myself the space to explore new things. But I tend to be a pretty routine-oriented person no matter what my day job is, so the loosening of my routine probably had nothing to do with it. I think leaving my out-of-home day job just gave me the space to see myself in a different light and the courage to try new things. Now I have my own Etsy shop and my head is filled with so many new bag designs, I can barely keep them straight.

    • Anne says:

      I did a double-take when I started reading your comment, because it’s linked to an Etsy shop! (Your designs are adorable. 🙂 ) Love to hear your perspective on this, Katie.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    The idea of taking out all the noise (choices and decisions of the day) in order to leave as much room for creativity is a pretty fantastic idea. The quote you mentioned, “A dancer’s life is all about repetition” makes me think of what I learned from the conservatory world. You basically do the same thing day in and day out. Practice and rehearsal requires every ounce of you.

    I know this idea doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone (and it’s not always exciting and sexy), but sticking to a routine can dramatically keep your “mental and physical engine” going so you complete the projects that really matter to you.

    • Anne says:

      No, maybe it’s not a sexy idea, but I find it absolutely fascinating. I also happen to be someone who suffers decision fatigue pretty easily, so my interest here may not be a coincidence. 🙂

      • Karlyne says:

        I especially notice “decision fatigue” in big box stores with lots of people around. Do I want cranberries? What about oranges? Why am I here?

  12. Karlyne says:

    I have a vague memory of an “expert” saying that people who eat pretty much the same thing every day for breakfast are healthier and thinner. I’m not advocating three hard-boiled egg whites every day, though…

    • Anne says:

      Yes, I’ve read the same thing. And that high-performing individuals often wear a “uniform,” too. Steve Jobs, President Obama, etc. I’m fascinated by this pattern.

  13. Breanne says:

    Great timing as I’ve been thinking a LOT about grooves and rhythms and schedules. This books sound so intriguing, I’m impressed with what people get done under what circumstances and how they do it.
    We’ve started to build tiny grooves in our life – and we get more done because that is one less decision on a regular basis that we don’t have to make.

  14. I lovedlovedloved The Creative Habit. It was earth shattering for me in many ways- opening up a world that married my creative urges with my natur inclination toward structure and order.

    I have found that I write better when I write in the slivers of time. Too long of a stretch and my brain gets lazy or something. Good thing, too, because I’ve got slivers and not much else! 😉

  15. I LOVED this. I’m an actor and my husband is a photographer. We both work mostly from home and struggle so much with ritual and habit. I’ve realized this is something I need, especially since our careers make our days/weeks so unpredictable.

    THIS is so helpful: “Tharp has carefully honed her daily routines so that she never has to waste creative energy deciding what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, or what time to go in to work.”

    It’s so true, even those littlest of decisions can be draining and putting them on autopilot can help structure your day and save your creative energy! Genius!

  16. Ann Kroeker says:

    I’m reminded of Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect, in which he emphasizes the progress we make over time when we commit to daily habits that support our goals. I think you recommended that book?

    Also, I would like to join with Alice Munro and your commenter Sarah Mackenzie in saying: Never underestimate what can be accomplished in slivers of time. The work done in those slivers can, like habits, have a compound effect. We can do more than we think we can, even with serious time constraints.

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