Mason Currey, a writer, was procrastinating when he first started looking up the daily rituals of famous artists. He created a daily habit of writing about what he found in a blog that eventually became a book: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (available on my Bookshop and Amazon*).
Always curious about people’s private rituals and habits, I picked up the book. I found myself drawn to the women in the book. Twenty-four women artists do not make a representative sample. Still, I offer takeaways from them that can be useful to busy parents and women.
What does a book about artist habits have to do with me?
I believe that everyone has a deep interest. The lucky ones already have it linked to their vocation. Others may have it as a hobby or a cause. For writers and artists, their art and craft are compelling.
No matter what your interests may be, it seems that so many of us are having a hard time delving into them given the numerous distractions and demands. So, sometimes, it helps to learn from others who have been successful.
Three lessons from female artists’ daily rituals
I gleaned these from the 24 women artists in this book (Only 15% of artists in the book were female.):
- There is no optimal schedule; everyone has to find their own way: Some, like Simone de Beauvoir and Margaret Mead, woke up very early every morning. Marilynne Robinson wrote when she was inspired. She also, along with Louise Bourgeois and others, took advantage of their insomnia and wrote at night. Others needed a specific space: Maya Angelou, for instance, rented a nearby hotel every day from 7-2. Meanwhile, Agatha Christie, stole moments here and there without a desk to call her own. And, Anne Rice switched and fell into a new routine with each new book.
- Some artist mothers used their children’s schedules or even housework to their advantage. Francine Prose started her work when the school bus picked up her children and stopped when it dropped them off. Sylvia Plath wrote before their children rose in the morning. Meanwhile, Alice Munro would write in the afternoons while her older daughter was at school and her younger daughter napped. Maira Kalman said that ironing and cleaning got her in the mood to write and Jean Stafford too was an avid house cleaner.
- Everyone copes with distractions and responsibilities, albeit in different ways. Some relied on the support of other family members. Jane Austen could write because her sister took on her household chores. Gertrude Stein’s partner, Alice B. Toklas, took care of all of the practical details of her life. Toni Morrison, a single mother who worked as an editor by day and a teacher by night, found she had to say “no” to the social life normally associated with publishing. Twyla Thorpe and Patricia Highsmith, too, did not like to socialize.
What routines have you found helpful to you? How have they changed over time?
What new routine would you like to test out?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
[Update: Mason Currey has a new book, Daily Rituals: Women at Work, that features only women artists!]
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*Some of the links on this page are “affiliate links” where I receive a small commission from any purchases at no cost to you. Some of these funds will be donated to organizations supporting women and girls.