Sometimes, peculiar routines are the key to sanity… and productivity.
In his recently published work on daily rituals of great minds: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work– Mason Curry explores the daily routines of nearly 200 of some of the greatest minds of the last four hundred years: famous novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians…
Here is an excerpt from the book on Maya Angelou:
Angelou (b. 1928) is an American author and poet best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which began in 1969 with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Angelou has never been able to write at home. “I try to keep home very pretty,” she has said, “and I can’t work in a pretty surrounding. It throws me.” As a result, she has always worked in hotel or motel rooms, the more anonymous the better. She described her routine in a 1983 interview:
“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. I edit while I’m working. When I come home at 2, I read over what I’ve written that day, and then try to put it out of my mind. I shower, prepare dinner, so that when my husband comes home, I’m not totally absorbed in my work. We have a semblance of a normal life. We have a drink together and have dinner. Maybe after dinner I’ll read to him what I’ve written that day. He doesn’t comment. I don’t invite comments from anyone but my editor, but hearing it aloud is good. Sometimes I hear the dissonance; then I try to straighten it out in the morning.”
In this manner, Angelou has managed to write not only her acclaimed series of autobiographies but numerous poems, plays, lectures, articles, and television scripts. Sometimes the intensity of the work brings on strange physical reactions–her back goes out, her knees swell, and her eyelids once swelled completely shut. Still, she enjoys pushing herself to the limits of her ability. “I have always got to be the best,” she has said. “I’m absolutely compulsive, I admit it. I don’t see that as a negative.”