A picture of the Daily Rituals book

Inspiration from Daily Rituals

A discussion of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

I am fascinated by daily routines, especially of high-achieving individuals. It seems there’s often a secret to success in the mundane. If you’re struggling with maintaining a practice routine that works, I highly recommend looking to what others have done for inspiration. Daily Rituals is a fantastic resource for this purpose.

This wonderful little book is a vortex one can get lost in for hours. It contains anecdotes of the daily habits of 161 creators. Among those 161, quite a few are prominent musicians and composers.

I absolutely love using the library, but for this book I recommend buying a copy of your own. It really is the type of book you’ll keep coming back to. I have read it time and time again, both for inspiration and comfort, throughout my years of creating.

Note: This article may contain affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase through one of these links I may receive monetary compensation. However, I only ever include links to products I truly believe in and recommend!

In case you don’t have time to run out and buy a copy right away, I’ve listed some highlights below that I have found particularly useful or interesting.

You’re Not The Only One Who Has Difficulty Making Progress

One of my favorite things about Daily Rituals is being allowed to see that even very famous and successful people were not perfect. They had their difficulties just like we have ours.

Sometimes we can dedicate hours to a creative task and it seems like the results are minimal. Sometimes this is our own fault and perhaps we need to take another look at how we’re organizing our work or practice. Other times, that’s simply the path we have to endure to reach our goals.

A painting of Frédéric Chopin
Frédéric Chopin

Chopin is described as having a lovely routine of composing daily. However, these work sessions were wrought with angst and struggle. Apparently he once spent 6 weeks revising a single page of music and in the end he used what he had originally notated in the first place! Talk about frustration!

Sometimes it feels good to know that someone else, especially someone as renowned as Chopin, was able to persevere through intense adversity.

The Scheduling Puzzle (or The Puzzling Schedule!)

Perhaps the more likely problem in our day and age is not that our progress is limited, but that our time is. So much is expected of us in our daily lives that carving out the time to accomplish our creative goals can seem nearly impossible.

Painting of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart had a famously easy time composing, known for writing page after page without a single correction. But after he settled in Vienna in 1781, he found it very difficult to find the time to compose. In a letter to his sister he wrote that he generally only composed early in the morning and late at night. The rest of his days were full of other things such as lessons, social obligations, and concerts.

Morton Feldman, a much more modern example, also described how difficult it is when life gets in the way. His wife had a day job and he found himself busy with cooking, cleaning, and errands during the day, and often entertaining guests in the evenings. At the end of the day he sometimes found he had not composed a single note!

Successful Routines

Perhaps rather than commiseration with the struggles of others, you’re looking for inspiration of what has worked.

John Adams (the modern American composer, not to be confused with the founding father!) seems to have found what works for him. He’s quoted as saying that most serious creative people he knows “have very, very routine and not particularly glamorous work habits.”

Photo of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

He himself is described as working in his studio from around 9am to 4 or 5pm, while drinking endless amounts of green tea. He finds that as long as he does things regularly, he doesn’t encounter problems like writer’s block or other crises.

Tchaikovsky also seemed to have found a routine that worked well for him after moving into a country cottage in Maidanovo (a small village northwest of Moscow) in 1885.

He had a very structured schedule, doing everything at precise hours. Most admirably, he was always sure to first achieve the most unpleasant tasks of the day before moving on to the more pleasant ones.

Make Practice Time Easier By Planning Ahead!

Hands playing piano keys with a metronome and pencil nearby

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Enjoying the Eccentric

Another aspect of Daily Rituals which is quite entertaining is learning how eccentric many of these people were. While interesting on its own, it’s also nice to realize that these people did their best to live their lives on their own terms, not allowing societal norms to limit them.

Painting of Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven

Although he retired from public performances when he was only 31 years old, Glenn Gould remained devoted to his work in music. He was a huge hypochondriac and preferred to communicate with people, even friends, by phone rather than in person. He spent most of his time either at home or in the studio and tried to avoid going out during daylight hours. He’s quoted as saying, “I don’t much care for sunlight. Bright colors of any kind depress me.”

Beethoven had several eccentricities, including counting out one at a time each of the 60 coffee beans he had to have in his coffee each morning. He also had a habit of dumping water over his head while humming loudly to himself.

Erik Satie also had some unusual habits. His wardrobe consisted of 12 identical brown velvet suits and matching bowler hats, giving him the nickname The Velvet Gentlemen. He also apparently once consumed a 30-egg omelette in one sitting!

Walking and Creativity

There is so much research about how important exercise is for us in every way. This applies not only to our bodies, but also our minds. Among the creatives listed in Daily Rituals, quite a few are noted as spending quite a bit of time walking.

Someone walking on a dirt road through a beautiful meadow with trees and sunlight

Beethoven is said to have been most productive during the warmer months, presumably because he would go on more walks. Tchaikovsky was superstitious about making sure his walks happened like clockwork every day, and always for no less than 2 hours. Satie walked nearly 12 miles each day, taking meticulously small steps, always in those brown velvet suits!

I have also found that staying active has a huge affect on my attitude, ability to focus, and my overall well-being. This inspires me to always try to include walking and other forms of exercise in my daily habits. I like to think of it as a form of cross-training for my playing and musicianship.

Other Notable People

Painting of Jane Austen
Jane Austen

There are even more composers and musicians that I have not mentioned here, but I’ll leave those as bonuses for when you get your hands on the book! I’d like to note here though that the habits of the non-musicians listed are equally useful to your life and work.

Some, such as Franz Kafka, are described as struggling with their day jobs while pursuing their true passions on the side. I’m sure many of us can relate to that situation and may find solace in learning how they got through. I know I did.

Subject to prejudices of the time, Jane Austen was very diligent about hiding her work from servants and visitors. She lived in a crowded, busy house and would write on small pieces of paper that she could easily hide if anyone came by. Despite this inconvenience, she was extremely prolific.

A Very Worthwhile Read

There are so many different ways to achieve our goals, it can sometimes be overwhelming to figure out what is right for us. I find it so useful to know what those before me have done. Then I can try out different aspects of their strategies.

I hope you have found the information in this article interesting and inspiring. Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments, and who some of your favorite people to read about were!

Heidi has been involved in music in one way or another for most of her life. She studied music composition in college, has taught piano, voice, composition, ear training, and guitar, and has worked as a piano tuner and technician. Before the pandemic she loved playing concerts at retirement communities, bringing the joy of music to those populations. She is currently working on learning more about the connection between music and healing.

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