How to jump-start your creativity

First aired on Spark (05/01/14)

What's the best way to stimulate your creativity? Author Mason Currey turned to the daily rituals of famous writers, artists and composers for tips, and he shares what he learned in his new book Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work.

"The thing that really leapt out at me in my research was how hard a lot of creative activity is," Currey told Spark host Nora Young in a recent interview. "Even very famous, successful artists really struggle on a day-to-day basis with getting things done and maintaining that high level of creativity."


Currey sees daily rituals as "a way of getting yourself into this certain state of mind, or this certain creative mood, on a daily basis," and he pointed out that even the repetition itself, say, drinking a cup of coffee at a particular time, can help. "You can train your mind to get into that mindset on a regular basis."

American novelist Nicholson Baker's work habit was one that stood out. Baker likes writing when he first wakes up, Currey explained. "He likes that early morning feeling so much that he developed this trick for basically squeezing two mornings out of one day." He would wake up at 4:00 or 4:30 a.m., write for an hour or hour and a half, then go back to sleep for another couple of hours. Then he'd wake around 9 a.m. and do another couple of hours of work.

The strangest daily ritual Currey ran across belonged to the 18th- century German writer Friedrich Schiller. "He claimed to keep a drawer full of rotting apples in his workroom, because he said that he needed their decaying smell in order to feel the urge to write."

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Currey looked at the creative habits of a wide range of artists from various time periods, and found differences not only between individuals, but also between eras. He noted that long walks were more common as a daily ritual for artists from an earlier time compared to nowadays. Composers, in particular, liked going for strolls. "These long walks were like the best gestational period for their work, a time when they really got their best ideas and broke through creative blocks," he said.

Currey acknowledged that there were also some fairly common rituals. "There's a lot of coffee drinking in the book." Caffeine is a stimulant, of course, but he believes there's something about actually making the coffee that can be helpful. "It's kind of like the perfect break," he said. "It's not too long that you're going to get too distracted from your work" but it "lets you think about your stuff when you're stepping away from it."