If you haven’t read Daily Rituals: Women at Work by Mason Currey you really should.
This is the follow up to his first book of a similar bent titled Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, which he explains omitted many, many talented woman artists leading to a significantly male focus to the book. This second go is an attempt to right the record, and he does a good job of it.
With about seventy-five artists and writers of all ages and eras, the book makes for a good survey of the consistent work rituals that led these women to successful careers. What is most interesting, is that there is no consistent ritual among the women that one could identify. They are quite literally all over the place. There are those who operate on three or four hours of sleep a night and work for hours at a time and then there are those who will go days, weeks, months, and even years without working, but when inspiration hits they follow their instincts.
Then there are those who write or create work at a phenomenal pace—sometimes a thousand or two words per day—and those that create work at a more methodical, years’ long pace. Some need absolute silence. Others can create with the cacophony of kids and life sounding around them. Some require the perfect office or studio while others sit at the kitchen table or create whenever and wherever the urge strikes.
I love this because it says something that I love: Fuck rules.
The writing world—and I assume all other creative worlds—are filled with people who want to give you rules. Write every day. Keep a journal. Do this. Do that. Frankly, it’s all bullshit and there are very few rules that are true, but even still, they can be broken. Off the top of my head mine would be don’t modify dialogue and use as few adverbs as possible. Otherwise, create and let it flow.
Oh, I guess one big rule I write with is: Make it interesting and compelling to the reader. Really. Tell a good story and tell it well.
Below are some nuggets I pulled from the book that struck me as true:
At various times in this process she will send the computer file to a local print shop and have them spiral-bind the document, which she’ll carry around and read in different locations for further edits.
Toni Cade Bambara
The short story is a piece of work. The novel is a way of life.
[While working on a short story] will narrate the basic outline while driving to the farmer’s market, work out the dialogue while waiting for an airline to answer the phone, draft a rough sketch of the central scene while overseeing her daughter’s carrot cake, write the first version in the middle of the night, and edit while the laundry takes a spin…
“To choose the life of a writer,” Walker wrote in the early 1980s, “a black female must arm herself with a fool’s courage, foolhardiness, and serious purpose and dedication to the art of writing, strength of will and integrity, because the odds are always against her. The cards are stacked. Once the die is cast, however, there is no turning back.”
“I’ll work for a couple hours and get three or four sentences, maybe a paragraph.” The slowness of the writing process stems, Didion has said, from the sheer difficulty of thinking clearly. “Writing,” she said in 2011, “forces you to think. It forces you to work the thing through.”