Creatives might seem to live precarious and messy lives, with little in the way of a daily routine, occasionally punctuated by eureka moments. Although this is undoubtedly the case for some, most artists held meticulous daily schedules to aid their creative process. In their lifetimes’ artists like Beethoven, Mahler, Satie and a whole host of other great names are said to have had routines that fuelled their creative talent.
In researching this article, I’ve come across lots of different ideas and routines for each artist so if you’re curious about digging deeper; I’d recommend doing some investigating.
They took long walks
Almost everyone that I looked at had a walk and a prolonged form of reflective exercise in their day. Walking is an excellent tool for thinking; it gets the blood flowing and stops you from stagnating in your room. Mahler is said to have walked for 3-4 hours a day around Vienna with his wife while Tchaikovsky took his daily walk religiously. They all stopped to jot down notes that they might then follow up on during their creative time. So when you’re next out on a stroll, remember to bring a notebook and see what comes back!
They had a space to create
Our workspace is crucial to foster an atmosphere of productivity. Rohl Dahl famously wrote stories in his ‘writing hut’ which is now the centrepiece of the museum dedicated to him. Creatives kick their brain into gear by having a space dedicated to their art. In this way they are similar to an office; you check-in, get work done and leave when the day is up.
Writers and composers also have to work with deadlines and need to keep themselves organised without anyone breathing down their neck. Much like we are at the moment, they needed to carve their day out themselves rather than having the structure of a workplace with which to synchronise their working habits. This is where we can see the value of an effective separation of spaces.
Virginia Wolf’s book A Room of One’s Own (1929) highlights how important it is for someone to have their own room in order to create fiction. Without this space, people wouldn’t be able to let ideas grow undisturbed.
They spent time with family
Charles Darwin would wind down after lunch by being read novels by his wife, Emily Darwin. After dinner, they would play backgammon together. Gustav Mahler would frequently bring his wife, Alma Mahler, on his walks through the countryside. Despite being scientific and musical geniuses, they still made time to develop their relationships. Even the most dedicated artists need to have time away from their work to be with their loved ones. These relationships help sustain us through tough days. Creating anything is difficult work and having family/ friends to fall back on is balm for the soul.
These greats had extraordinary levels of dedication alongside natural talent in their fields. They were relentless in their pursuit of knowledge and expression but their day-to-day lives often look quite similar to ours. They still needed to make time to eat, relax, walk and work. While we can see trends in how they used their time, there is no one correct way to structure your day. Trial and error are needed to find which routines will suit you best.