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The 2 Key Habits of History’s Greatest Writers, Artists and Creative Geniuses.

A very interesting correlation across 400 years of the greatest writers, artists, poets, composers and other creative minds.

Jason Chatfield
14 min readJun 18, 2021


“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.”

— W.H. Auden, 1958

I just finished reading and re-reading two books about productive creative workers that had the same correlation in them:

  1. Mason Currey’s fantastic book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. I couldn’t put it down. I highly recommend it for any artist struggling to establish a daily routine in whatever your new normal looks like.
  2. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s brilliant book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, which pairs perfectly with #1.

I went through Mason’s book and highlighted something I found as a very interesting correlation across 400 years of the greatest writers, artists, poets, composers and other creative minds detailed in the book. Many of the same ones can be found in chapter 7 of Alex’s book.

There are a few variations, but the very clear pattern is this:

1. Most artists work in solitude for around 3–4 hours, usually in the morning.

2. Many of them have a daily walk somewhere in their schedule, too, but that’s a less common detail.

W.H. Auden
Auden rose shortly after 6:00 A.M . , made himself a coffee, and settled down to work quickly, perhaps after taking a first pass at the crossword. His mind was sharpest from 7:00 until 11:30 A.M . , and he rarely failed to take advantage of these hours.

Francis Bacon
Despite his late nights, Bacon always woke at the first light of day and worked for several hours,

Simone de Beauvoir
I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get underway and work until one.

Patricia Highsmith
Highsmith wrote daily, usually for three or four hours in the morning

Ingmar Bergman
he followed essentially the same schedule for decades: up at 8:00, writing from 9:00 until noon, then an austere meal.

Morton Feldman
I get up at six in the morning. I compose until eleven, then my day is over.

Bonus tip: “ He said that it’s a very good idea that after you write a little bit, stop and then copy it. Because while you’re copying it, you’re thinking about it, and it’s giving you other ideas.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
My hair is always done by six o’clock in the morning and by seven I am fully dressed. I then compose until nine.

Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven rose at dawn and wasted little time getting down to work.

Søren Kierkegaard,
he wrote in the morning, set off on a long walk through Copenhagen at noon,

He spent the morning in bed, reading and dictating new work to one of his secretaries.

Benjamin Franklin
With this view, I rise early almost every morning, and sit in my chamber without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing. This practice is not in the least painful, but on the contrary, agreeable; and if I return to bed afterwards, before I dress, as sometimes happens, I make a supplement to my night’s rest, of one or two hours of the most pleasing sleep that can be imagined.

Anthony Trollope
an unvarying early — morning writing session. It was my practice to be at my table every morning at 5:30 A.M., and it was also my practice to allow myself no mercy.

All those I think who have lived as literary men, — working daily as literary labourers, — will agree with me that three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.

Thomas Mann
Then, at 9:00, Mann closed the door to his study, making himself unavailable for visitors, telephone calls, or family.

Carl Jung
“I’ve realized that somebody who’s tired and needs a rest, and goes on working, all the same, is a fool, ” he said. He generally set aside two hours in the morning for concentrated writing.

Gustav Mahler
He woke at 6:00 or 6:30 A.M . and immediately rang for the cook to prepare his breakfast: freshly ground coffee, milk, diet bread, butter, and jam, which the cook carried to Mahler’s stone composing hut in the woods. ( Mahler could not bear to see or speak to anyone before settling down to work in the morning,

Richard Strauss
I get up at 8 o’clock, have a bath and breakfast ; 3 eggs, tea, “ Eingemachtes ” [ homemade jam ]; then I go for a stroll for half an hour by the Nile in the palm grove of the hotel, and work from 10 till 1 ;

Henri Matisse
From nine o’clock to noon, first sitting.

Joan Miró
[ A ] t six o’clock he got up, washed and had coffee and a few slices of bread for breakfast; at seven he went into the studio and worked non—stop until twelve,

Ernest Hemingway
When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that.

Henry Miller
working from breakfast to lunch, taking a nap, then writing again through the afternoon and sometimes into the night. As he got older, though, he found that anything afternoon was unnecessary and even counterproductive.

William Faulkner
wake early, eat breakfast, and write at his desk all morning. ( Faulkner liked to work in the library, and since the library door had no lock, he would remove the doorknob and take it with him. )

Arthur Miller
“I get up in the morning and I go out to my studio and I write. And then I tear it up! That’s the routine, really.

Benjamin Britten
And I can without much difficulty sit down at nine o’clock in the morning and work straight through the morning until lunchtime,

Günter Grass
After breakfast, I work, and then take a break for coffee in the afternoon.

Haruki Murakami
Murakami wakes at 4:00 A.M . and works for five to six hours straight.

Toni Morrison
For the morning writing, her ritual is to rise around 5:00, make coffee, and “ watch the light come. ” This last part is crucial. “ Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process, ” Morrison said. “ For me, light is the signal in the transaction. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense. ”

Joyce Carol Oates
writes from 8:00 or 8:30 in the morning until 1:00 P.M.

Chuck Close
And if I work more than three hours at a time, I really start screwing up. So the idea is to work for three hours,

Nicholson Baker
he revised it to 4:30. “ And I liked it, I liked the feeling of getting up really early, ” he says. “ The mind is newly cleansed but it’s also befuddled and you’re still just plain sleepy. I found that I wrote differently then. ”

“ A typical day for me would be that I would get up around four, four-thirty. And I write some. Make coffee sometimes, or not. I write for maybe an hour and a half. But then I get really sleepy. So I go back to sleep and then I wake up at around eight-thirty. ” After waking for the second time, Baker talks with his wife, drinks another cup of coffee, eats a peanut — butter — and — jelly sandwich, and goes back to his writing, this time focusing on “ daylight kind of work, ”

B. F. Skinner
I rise sometime between 6 and 6:30 often after having heard the radio news. My breakfast, a dish of cornflakes, is on the kitchen table. Coffee is made automatically by the stove timer. I breakfast alone. At the moment, I am reading a bit every morning of Bergen and Cornelia Evans ’ Contemporary American Usage. A couple of pages every day, straight through. The morning papers ( Boston Globe, N.Y . Times ) arrive, thrown against the wall or door of the kitchen where I breakfast. I read the Globe, often saving the Times till later. At seven or so I go down to my study, a walnut—panelled room in our basement. My work desk is a long Scandinavian — modern table, with a set of shelves I made myself for holding the works of BFS, notebooks and outlines of the book I am working on, dictionaries, word — books, etc. On my left the big Webster’s International on a stand, on my right an open-top file containing all current and future manuscript materials. As I sit down I turn on a special desk light. This starts a clock, which totalizes my time at my desk. Every twelve hours recorded on it, I plot a point on a cumulative curve, the slope of which shows my overall productivity.

Henry James
He wrote every day, beginning in the morning and usually ending at about lunchtime.

Igor Stravinsky
“ I get up at about eight, do physical exercises, then work without a break from nine till one, ”

Generally, three hours of composition were the most he could manage in a day, although he would do less demanding tasks — writing letters, copying scores, practising the piano — in the afternoon.

Jean-Paul Sartre
“Three hours in the morning, three hours in the evening. This is my only rule.”

Sartre worked in his Paris apartment until noon,

Somerset Maugham
He wrote for three or four hours every morning, setting himself a daily requirement of one thousand to one thousand five hundred words.

When he wrapped up his morning’s work at about noon, Maugham often felt impatient to begin again. “ When you’re writing, when you’re creating a character, it’s with you constantly, you’re preoccupied with it, it’s alive, ” he said — adding that when you “ cut that out of your life, it’s a rather lonely life .”

John Cheever
“I used to wake up at eight, work until noon , and then break , hollering with pleasure ; then I’d go back to work through to five , get pissed , get laid , go to bed , and do the same thing again the next day. ”

W. B. Yeats
Yeats described his routine in a letter to his fellow poet Edwin Ellis: “ I read from 10 to 11. I write from 11 till 2 , then after lunch I read till 3 : 30 .

Kingsley Amis
He would rise a little before 8:00, shower and shave, eat breakfast ( grapefruit, cereal, banana, tea ), read the newspaper, and sit down in his study by about 9:30. Picking up where he left off the previous evening — he always made sure to stop writing when he knew what would come next , making it easier to begin the next day — Amis would work at his typewriter for a few hours, shooting for his minimum daily requirement of five hundred words, which he usually managed by 12:30.

Martin Amis
Two hours. I think most writers would be very happy with two hours of concentrated work . ”

Maya Angelou
I usually get up at about 5: 30, and I’m ready to have coffee by 6, usually with my husband. He goes off to his work around 6: 30, and I go off to mine. I keep a hotel room in which I do my work — a tiny, mean room with just a bed, and sometimes if I can find it, a face basin. I keep a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry in the room. I try to get there around 7, and I work until 2 in the afternoon. If the work is going badly, I stay until 12: 30. If it’s going well , I’ll stay as long as it’s going well . It’s lonely , and it’s marvelous .

Truman Capote
Capote typically wrote for four hours during the day, then revised his work in the evenings or the next morning, eventually doing two longhand versions in pencil before typing up a final copy.

Richard Wright
Wright got up by 6:00 A.M . and promptly left the house, to avoid the domestic chaos that erupted when the Newton children woke. Carrying his writing supplies — a yellow legal pad, a fountain pen, and a bottle of ink — Wright walked to nearby Fort Greene Park, where he would install himself on a bench at the top of the hill and write for four hours.

H. L. Mencken
Then the couple worked for three or four hours in the morning, ate lunch, took naps, worked for another few hours, ate dinner, and returned to work until 10:00,

Frank Lloyd Wright
Between 4 and 7 o’clock in the morning , ” he told her . “ I go to sleep promptly when I go to bed. Then I wake up around 4 and can’t sleep . But my mind’s clear, so I get up and work for three or four hours. Then I go to bed for another nap . ”

Joseph Heller
…sitting at the kitchen table in his Manhattan apartment. “ I spent two or three hours a night on it for eight years , ”

“I wrote for two or three hours in the morning, then went to a gym to work out.”

Chester Himes
“ I like to get up early, have a big breakfast , and work at one stretch until it’s time for lunch , ”

Flannery O’Connor
“routine is a condition of survival. ”

Her religious obligations fulfilled, O’Connor would turn to her writing , shutting herself away between 9:00 and noon for her daily three hours,

Edith Sitwell
What is certain is that Sitwell liked to write in bed, beginning at 5:30 or 6:00 A.M . , this being “ the only time when I can be sure of quiet. ”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
he found that he could muster the necessary creative energy only in the mornings. “ At one time in my life I could make myself write a printed sheet every day, and I found this quite easy, ” he said in 1828. “ [ N ] ow I can only work at the second part of my Faust in the early hours of the day when I am feeling revived and strengthened by sleep and not yet harassed by the absurd trivialities of everyday life.

Franz Schubert
Schubert “ used to sit down at his writing desk every morning at 6 o’clock and compose straight through until 1 o’clock in the afternoon.

Charles Dickens
He rose at 7:00, had breakfast at 8:00, and was in his study by 9:00. He stayed there until 2:00,

Charles Darwin
The first, and best, of his work periods, began at 8:00 A.M . after Darwin had taken a short walk and had a solitary breakfast. Following ninety minutes of focused work in his study — disrupted only by occasional trips to the snuff jar that he kept on a table in the hallway — Darwin met his wife, Emma, in the drawing room to receive the day’s post.

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Each morning he wrote or read until it was time for the midday dinner ;

Georgia O’Keeffe
“I like to get up when the dawn comes, ” O’Keeffe told an interviewer in 1966. “ The dogs start talking to me and I like to make a fire and maybe some tea and then sit in bed and watch the sun come up. The morning is the best time , there are no people around . My pleasant disposition likes the world with nobody in it. ”

Sergey Rachmaninoff
As he wrote to a friend in 1907, “ today I worked only from 9 A.M . to 12: 30.

Vladimir Nabokov
I awake around seven in winter: my alarm clock is an Alpine chough — big, glossy, black thing with a big yellow beak — which visits the balcony and emits a most melodious chuckle. For a while, I lie in bed mentally revising and planning things. Around eight: shave breakfast, enthroned meditation, and bath — in that order. Then I work till lunch in my study ,

Le Corbusier
After waking at 6:00 A.M . , he did forty — five minutes of callisthenics. Then he served his wife her morning coffee and, at 8:00, the couple ate breakfast together. The rest of Corbusier’s morning was devoted to painting , drawing , and writing . This was the most creative part of his day, and even though he often spent hours on paintings that had no direct relation to his architecture, and which he showed to no one other than his wife, he attributed his professional success to these private mornings of artistic contemplation.

V. S. Pritchett
He would write all morning , breaking at about 1:00 for a martini and lunch downstairs.

John Updike
Updike rented a small office above a restaurant in downtown Ipswich, Massachusetts, where he would write for three or four hours each morning, netting about three pages per day.

He told another interviewer that he was careful to give at least three hours a day to the writing project at hand; otherwise, he said, there was a risk he might forget what it’s about. A solid routine , he added , “ saves you from giving up . ”

Albert Einstein
At about 10:30 he left for his Princeton office, walking when the weather was nice; otherwise, a station wagon from the university would pick him up. He worked until 1 : 00 ,

Willa Cather
“I work from two and a half to three hours a day , ” Cather told him .
For me, the morning is the best time to write.

George Orwell
This left him almost four and a half hours of writing time in the morning and early afternoon, which, conveniently, were the times that he was most mentally alert.

Carson McCullers
McCullers wrote every day, sometimes escaping their drafty apartment to work in the local library, taking sips from the Thermos full of sherry that she would sneak inside. She typically worked until the middle of the afternoon ,

Jean Stafford
Stafford wrote in her upstairs study each day , she said , from about 11 : 00 A.M . to 3 : 00 P.M .

Donald Barthelme
Barthelme spent mornings on the porch , sitting down at his manual Remington typewriter at 8 : 00 or 9 : 00 and working there until noon or 1 : 00 ,

Anne Rice
It’s always a search for the uninterrupted three — or four — hour stretch. ”

“ Because you won’t get those four hours if you’re spending most of the day worried about getting to an appointment and back, ” she says. “ What you have to do is clear all distraction . That’s the bottom line . ”

William Gass
Gass is an early-riser. In a 1998 interview, he said that he works mostly in the morning, finishing his serious writing by noon.

David Foster Wallace
“I usually go in shifts of three or four hours with either naps or , like , you know , fairly diverting do — something — with — other — people things in the middle , ”

Stephen King
He works in the mornings , starting around 8 : 00 or 8 : 30 . Some days he finishes up as early as 11:30, but more often it takes him until about 1: 30 to meet his goal.

Saul Bellow
every day, beginning early in the morning and breaking off around lunchtime.

Gerhard Richter
He’s in his backyard studio by 8:00, and he stays there until 1:00.

Georges Simenon
His typical schedule was to wake at 6:00 A.M., procure coffee, and write from 6:30 to 9:00

The book features many more artists. I couldn’t put it down. You can get it here. (And another of just female creatives here.)



Jason Chatfield

New York-based Australian Comedian & Cartoonist for the New Yorker. Obsessed with productivity hacks, the creative process, and the Oxford comma.