The Myth of the Artist’s Creative Routine

We’re on the fence about this article on account of we’re major routine freaks. And part of our routine is always to say “on account of” instead of “cuz.” So we already have like zero cred, right? Anyway:

creative-mindby Casey N. Cep

For all the interest in the habits of highly creative people, there’s not much to learn from Don DeLillo’s manual typewriter or Maya Angelou’s mid-day showers.

Charles Dickens wrote while blindfolded. Virginia Woolf took three baths a day, and always with ice-cold water. Stephen King eats a blood orange at every meal whenever he is working on a book. Joyce Carol Oates writes only in Comic Sans.

None of those things is true. Before you go and stock your kitchen with blood oranges or switch the font on your word processor, let me assure you that I invented every one of those writerly habits. But what if I hadn’t? What if you had read them in an interview or in any one of the million aggregations of writerly routines? Would you really stop taking hot showers or start blindfolding yourself when you write?

Part of the endless fascination with these lists is that maybe you would—and by following any one of the habits you might become like the artist who first practiced it. Whenever I see one of these lists, I read it. I even bought a copy of Mason Curry’s book Daily Rituals: How Artists WorkI read it. Twice. And while I would never ask such a question, I am secretly pleased whenever someone asks an author at a reading how and when she writes.

But why? One of the things you notice when you start reading enough of these lists of highly successful habits of highly successful artists is that no two routines are alike. The incessant interrogation of artists about their daily lives might only be voyeurism, in which case such idiosyncrasies are fine, but I think most of us read about their lives in order to shape our own. I read and read and read these routines thinking that if only I could find the right one to borrow then I would be more productive, more successful, more writerly.

Read it all