I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine.
– Leo Tolstoy, quoted in Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, p.169
Great writers like Nabokov, Dickens and Balzac fascinate us not merely because of their spellbinding works.
Just like with movie stars, these creative geniuses arouse our voyeuristic instincts into their personal lives and work habits.
After all, it’s not every writer who can create magic with words.
Only extraordinary writers pen unique works.
The rest are mere scribblers, wasting ink, paper and, these days, electricity and bandwidth.
So it’s hardly surprising that readers (and fellow writers) should be curious about how great writers approach their craft.
How do the letters get on to the pages?
What is the daily routine of famous writers?
Do these authors work long hours?
Or were they procrastinators (William James) like a lot of us?
Were they dependent on the crutches of drugs (notably Jean-Paul Sartre, Ayn Rand and W.H.Auden) or alcohol (F.Scott Fitzgerald) to fuel their writing?
Did they work amid the din of the day or in the silence of the night?
Were their writing habits regular or irregular (F.Scott Fitzgerald)?
Did they write standing, sitting at a desk, in bed (Nabokov and Churchill) or in the car (Nabokov on the first draft of Lolita)?
These are the topics that Mason Currey addresses in his eminently readable Daily Rituals.
Think of Daily Rituals as a biography of writers’ working habits.
Often, Currey’s notes goes beyond the writing process of famous authors to include brief bios. The lives of some authors like Karl Marx were wretchedly miserable.
I’m delighted to report that many of my favorite writers including P.G.Wodehouse, Charles Dickens, Vladimir Nabokov, David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen figure in this book.
I was familiar with the writing routines of some of the authors Currey mentions in the book.
But of the vast majority I’m now learning.
Not a single Indian writer finds a mention here.
Not even Nobel laureate V.S.Naipaul or Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie.
Isn’t that depressing?
Inspiration or Perspiration
I’ve often believed that great writing is three parts endless rewriting and one part imagination.
Toiling in search of the right word, the apposite phrase and the perfect sentence is how great writers leave their mark for posterity.
Many writers like Balzac, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain were tireless workers who slogged endlessly at their desks.
Comprehensive as Daily Rituals is in covering a wide spectrum of writers, there are some surprising omissions.
For instance, two prolific writers, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi, who had interesting writing habits, are inexplicably missing from these pages.
The late Swedish crime fiction writer Stieg Larsson too is absent from the pages of Daily Rituals.
Larsson’s Millennium series has sold over 65 million copies and been made into movies.
Larsson’s inclusion is all the more important since all his books were published only after his premature death. Rarely has a writer achieved all fame and wealth only after his death.
J.K.Rowling’s omission I just can’t fathom.
Rowling’s Harry Potter series has sold over 400 million copies and been turned into several movies as well.
One of the pluses of this book is that you can open any page and start reading.
SearchIndia.com strongly recommends Daily Rituals to all bibliophiles. The book is available at most U.S. libraries.