In Everybody’s Autobiography, Stein confirmed that she had never been able to write for much more than half an hour a day, but added, ‘If you write a half-hour a day, it makes a lot of writing year by year.’ Stein and her lifelong partner, Alice B Toklas, had lunch at about noon and ate an early, light supper. Toklas went to bed early, but Stein liked to stay up arguing and gossiping with visiting friends. After her guests finally left, Stein would wake Toklas, and they would talk over the day before both going to sleep.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven rose at dawn and wasted little time getting down to work. His breakfast was coffee, which he prepared himself with great care: 60 beans per cup. After his midday meal, he embarked on a long walk, which would occupy much of the rest of the afternoon. As the day wound down, he might stop at a tavern to read the newspapers. Evenings were often spent with company or at the theatre, although in winter he preferred to stay at home and read. He retired early, going to bed at 10pm at the latest.
W H Auden
'Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition,' Auden wrote in 1958. If that's true, the poet was one of the most ambitious men of his generation. He rose shortly after 6am, made coffee and settled down to work quickly, perhaps after taking a first pass at the crossword. He usually resumed after lunch and continued into the late afternoon. Cocktail hour began at 6.30pm sharp, featuring several strong vodka martinis. Then dinner was served, with copious amounts of wine. To maintain his energy and concentration, he relied on amphetamines, taking Benzedrine each morning. At night, he used Seconal or another sedative to get to sleep.
Plath’s journal, which she kept from age 11 until her suicide at 30, records a near-constant struggle to find and stick to a productive writing schedule. Only near the end of her life, separated from her husband, Ted Hughes, and taking care of their two small children alone, did she find a routine that worked for her. She was using sedatives to get to sleep, and when they wore off at about 5am, she would get up and write until the children awoke. Working like this for two months in 1962, she produced nearly all the poems of Ariel.
In the 1950s, as a young mother taking care of two small children, Munro wrote in the slivers of time between housekeeping and child-rearing. When neighbours dropped in, Munro didn’t feel comfortable telling them she was trying to work. She tried renting an office, but the garrulous landlord interrupted her and she hardly got any writing done. It ultimately took her almost two decades to put together the material for her first collection, Dance Of The Happy Shades.
David Foster Wallace
'I usually go in shifts of three or four hours with either naps or fairly diverting do-something-with-other-people things in the middle,' Wallace said in 1996, shortly after the publication of Infinite Jest. 'So I'll get up at 11 or noon, work till two or three.' Later, however, he said he followed a regular writing routine only when the work was going badly. 'Once it starts to go, it requires no effort. And then actually the discipline's required in terms of being willing to be away from it and to remember, 'Oh, I have a relationship that I have to nurture, or I have to grocery-shop or pay these bills.' '
'Do you know what moviemaking is?' Bergman asked in a 1964 interview. 'Eight hours of hard work each day to get three minutes of film.' But it was also writing scripts, which he did on the remote island of Fårö, Sweden. He followed the same schedule for decades: up at 8am, writing from 9am until noon, then an austere meal. 'He eats the same lunch,' actor Bibi Andersson remembered. 'It's some kind of whipped sour milk and strawberry jam – a strange kind of baby food he eats with corn flakes.' After lunch, Bergman worked from 1pm to 3pm, then slept for an hour. In the late afternoon he went for a walk or took the ferry to a neighbouring island to pick up the newspapers and the mail. In the evening he read, saw friends, screened a movie, or watched TV (he was particularly fond of Dallas). 'I never use drugs or alcohol,' Bergman said. 'The most I drink is a glass of wine and that makes me incredibly happy.'
Edited extract from Daily Rituals | Mason Currey
Article by Oliver Burkeman | The Guardian