Monday, 10:57 a.m.: Currently sitting atop freshly washed blue gingham sheets, my pillows fluffed neatly behind me. My pajamas are crisp, the top a bright-white button-down with vertical stripes in primary colors. A freshly brewed cup of coffee is on the nightstand to my right; notebooks, pens, and pencils arranged just so to my left. In lieu of a typewriter, my laptop is perched on top of my knees, ready to receive my thoughts for the next four hours straight. Capote Week has officially begun.
It all started on a whim some somber Sunday evening. Assessing the amount of work awaiting me in the days to come, I felt preemptively drained. My anticipatory anxiety drove me to my usual Internet haunts: listicles that teach you how to work smarter, not harder; detailed bullet-journal walk-through videos; Pomodoro Technique primers. Still, the week ahead loomed large. I couldn’t find a productivity hack that I hadn’t already tried — and to no avail, at that.
I’d just about resigned myself to muddling through on my own when I remembered a book I’d bought months earlier but never found the time to crack open — something about the routines of famous writers and artists. Perhaps there was a hack or two worth trying in there. I approached my bookshelf, dragging my finger along each title until I found it: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey.
“One’s daily routine is … a series of choices,” Currey writes in the book’s introduction. “In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time … willpower, self-discipline, optimism.” What follows is a collection of 161 vignettes capturing the daily routines of luminaries ranging from Louise Bourgeois (insomnia) to Ayn Rand (Benzedrine), Buckminster Fuller (catnaps) to Tom Stoppard (chain-smoking). I was flipping through in search of one great idea, a quick fix for my flagging productivity, when suddenly it occurred to me: Why dabble when you could go all in?
Tuesday, 12:17 p.m.: I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker, and from what I can tell, I haven’t been missing much. Milk and sugar are helping to soften the taste a bit, but once I get it down, I begin to experience what I can only describe as heart palpitations. My hands start to shake, and I swear my left eye is mildly twitching. I’m cranking out these emails, though.
Hemingway came first. Simone de Beauvoir was an early contender, but her habit of meeting with friends between one and five o’clock wouldn’t gel. The only friends of mine that are free during those times on a weekday are my cats, and they’re not great conversationalists. Hemingway, on the other hand, kept a routine that was challenging but not impossible: rise at first light, write until noon while standing up, answer letters when the writing isn’t going well. Further research revealed that noon was his preferred time for physical activity: “He takes a knotted walking stick and leaves the house for the swimming pool where he takes his daily half-mile swim.”
I dove into bed early that night, my alarm set to coincide with dawn. It turned out to be a successful week. When I was forced to stand at my mantel for six hours straight, even the thought of procrastination struck me as a personal affront to my knees. I worked quickly and efficiently, sometimes even powering through my to-do list well before noon. To be clear, it’s not like I was writing A Moveable Feast, but if Hemingway did it by adhering to this ritual, certainly I was on my way to producing something worthwhile by doing the same. I’d attached a personal superstition to the act of performing Hemingway’s, but it did keep me on task.