Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Rising at dawn, the composer pulled a twine which rang a bell in his wife’s bedquarters, alerting her not to wake till later. On his belly in bed with a carafe of marmalade as the day’s one meal, Bach hummed melodies without pause for four hours. He would develop a sonata from whichever tune best caught the attention of his cat, Chucksy T. Cute-Fellow.
Takeaway Tip: Just like Bach maximized mouth-time, you’ve got to minimize distractions! Cut everything out of your life except your art, and maybe you’ll finally have enough room to blow up. Or maybe you’ll feel like you did the most wrong thing with the years you were given.
Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
Following a brunch of dove giblets with brandy and hog’s milk, the prolific musician and composer performed a calisthenics routine, the Goutte Félin Système Physique, designed to enable one to survive a fall from an opera house balcony. Schumann worked atop her chimney overlooking Vienna; her sheet music includes scribbles of passersby exploding. After a dinner of crusts and hot buttered water, she wrote letters, read serials, then chloroformed herself asleep to prevent dreams, a common nuisance of the time.
Takeaway Tip: Stay in shape! Creativity is mostly sitting, fist-shaking, and face-crumpling, and that’s all hard on your bod. You need a fitness regimen for the long haul, which is when you have to haul 70 years’ worth of Morning Pages to a bonfire in the woods because you’ve been evicted into the very cold woods.
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
After a breakfast of creme de quince liqueur and crushed tablets of Tranqodrene (a blend of amphetamines and shark sedative typically prescribed to children with a photic sneeze reflex), Hemingway spent the morning scribbling individual letters on tiny scraps of paper. He’d then scour the cafes “to find some nerdo lady to do the typing,” hand her the scrap pile, and instruct her to “put those letters in order, and make it about what things are really about, ya know?”
Takeaway Tip: Bro, don’t make a woman be your typist! Some nerdo scholar might eventually ask, “Wait, what about her?” and that’s when the vandals start attacking your tombstone or kicking over the compost bin where the Missus dumped your cremains.
Mavis Gallant (1922-2014)
As the master of short fiction put it: “I wake at 6 for a mug o’ coffee with raw bacon on the bottom, write 3 hours, zip off on a walk in the park to yell, and come home to write a little worse.” Away from her Underwood, spending long evenings in avant garde jazz sewers, Gallant kept both hands stuffed in special pockets lined with muslin and brimming with lotion, “to keep all ten o’ my typers silkified.”
Takeaway Tip: Leave your house! Take breaks to refill your creative reservoir. A visit to a museum or concert to see how 90% of even the best art is pretty boring, or a trip to the park to remember that nature will soon wisely end us all are great ways to remind yourself your next deadline truly does not matter.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Awoken by spousal uppercut at 6:30, the philosopher began an impressive washing regimen; Kant felt his mind was sharpened by pouring pitchers of cold water over himself while dictating his thoughts to a hired foundling. In later years, unable to lift the pitchers due to underarm papules, Kant was gifted a retired circus elephant named Monsieur Massif-Dieu, who sprayed him continuously in the backyard of his villa outside Vienna. At noontime, the pair adjourned for a lunch of octopus and peanuts, then received visitors in the parlor. “I spend my accursed old age mired in envy,” wrote Kant in his memoir, “as most of our callers are little waifs, eager only to whisper with Monsieur Massif-Dieu.”
Takeaway Tip: Stay clean! You’ll be cooped up alone most of the time, so remember to combat your inner artist-slob-hamster nature and knock the fuzz and dirt off your haunches. Also, improper hygiene will do you no favors during the aforementioned eviction process — keep it spotless, whether garret or grundle.
Jane Pope (1975-)
Having read of other creatives’ rituals, the fledgling novelist wakes early, writes for 3 hours, and takes a walk. But to this basic template one must add the freakish quirks of genius, so Pope subsists entirely on stale breads, finely cubed, soaked in lard, and salted beyond reason. Born in Indianapolis, she pronounces it “Vienna.” At the sight of her skipping around the block at 3:21 each afternoon backwards, neighbors clutch their young and cry, “Children, look! Mark the depths to which by frenzied ambition one is sunk.”
Takeaway Tip: Happiness is a prize you might someday win through suffering! Because if being happy is just a choice you can decide to make, well then what the hell’s the point?
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