Transmissions from a Lone Star: The Secret Rituals of History’s Most Creative Minds

© PhotoDaniel Kalder
Daniel Kalder - Sputnik International
On a recent flight from Texas to London I sat behind a woman who was editing a manuscript.

On a recent flight from Texas to London I sat behind a woman who was editing a manuscript. Being very nosy I strained to read the title, and this is what I saw:

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs

Wow, I thought. What a load of crap. Clearly the primary “presentation secrets” of Steve Jobs were 1) his conviction that he was totally awesome and 2) his understanding that people are always interested in what highly successful people have to say.

© PhotoDaniel Kalder
Daniel Kalder - Sputnik International
Daniel Kalder

This manuscript was obviously a snake oil salesman’s pitch, yet another example of that tiresome but popular American genre in which some not especially successful person reveals the business secrets of (for example) the Norse deity Thor. That’s right, friends – all you need to do to become rich is get a big hammer and call yourself “the god of thunder” 20 times while standing in front of the mirror every morning! That’s just as important as talent, drive, luck, rich parents or lying, cheating and stealing …

I sneered, and then forgot all about it until last week when I saw that somebody had published a book on the daily rituals of history’s most creative minds. Holy cow! I thought – I’ve got to lay my hands on a copy! Maybe I’d finally figure out how to balance the demands of writing for cash with the pleasures of creating more experimental, “free” work with a less guaranteed outcome. Better yet, a journalist in The Guardian had written an article about it so I wouldn’t even need to read the book! Awesome!

Before I had even clicked on the link to the Guardian article, however, I knew that I had already succumbed to the same desire that prompts millions to attend courses on motivation and success, and indeed, to waste time reading about “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.”

I knew, for instance that spending half the day naked would not lead me to invent a glass harmonica or serve as the spiritual father of a revolution against the British monarch, both of which were among the signature achievements of Ben Franklin, whose daily routine involved taking “air baths”- i.e. avoiding clothes in the mornings.

But still, I kept reading. Maybe I could learn something. Take Beethoven, for instance: I’ve been listening to his symphonies a lot lately. Did he have a special routine that helped him create that wonderful music?

Well, not really. Apparently he liked to start his day with a 60-bean strong cup of coffee. Now I’m prone to a cup of java or four in the mornings but even so, I’ve never composed a symphony. As for Beethoven’s other habit – taking long walks – I didn’t learn to drive until I was 33, so I have nothing to learn there.

Now Marcel Proust on the other hand, he really did have a radical routine. Upon rising from bed at 3pm he would immediately hit the opium pipe: It helped with his asthma (or so he claimed). Alas, I suspect that if I were to adopt this habit I’d get very little written indeed, and certainly not a multi-volume epic on memory and time. 

Should I take a lot of hot baths then, like Gustave Flaubert? Or surround myself with rotting apples like Friedrich Schiller? Would the odor stimulate my creative juices as it did his?

Nah. It’s pretty clear that these were private rituals. Indeed, reading through the article I could see only one “ritual” that had a very practical and most likely universal application: Get up very early, like Ernest Hemingway, who always rose at 5:30 a.m., even if he’d been on the sauce the night before. The mind is uncluttered by the concerns of the day and you’ll have more time to do what you need to do. There is no voodoo or mystery there. 

In fact, I love the idea of rising early, and have tried to develop the habit on several occasions – like last week for example. Unfortunately I find that once I’m awake I enjoy the silence of the world too much, and like to savor it. The last thing I want to do is work.

Indeed, I noticed a while ago that my primary “creative ritual” (such as it is) involves dodging routines. I have written many words since I sold my first professional work ten years ago and have done so at every hour of the day, from the crack of dawn to the depths of night. I’ve written bits of book on park benches, book reviews in cafes, articles on planes and assorted gibberish on trains. I’ve written surrounded by chaos and in conditions of perfect order, and I can’t say I’ve ever found any “secret” routine that renders the process magical.

Rather, I strongly suspect that the key to success in any kind of work, creative or otherwise, is developing the willpower to simply sit down and force yourself to do something  tedious for long periods. Without that ability, I would have starved to death a long time ago.

Hey – that’s it! Maybe I should write a book: “The Key to Success: Forcing Yourself to Do Things When You’d Rather Be Taking It Easy.” It would sell like hot cakes!

Or maybe not.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

What does the world look like to a man stranded deep in the heart of Texas? Each week, Austin- based author Daniel Kalder writes about America, Russia and beyond from his position as an outsider inside the woefully - and willfully - misunderstood state he calls “the third cultural and economic center of the USA.”

Daniel Kalder is a Scotsman who lived in Russia for a decade before moving to Texas in 2006. He is the author of two books, Lost Cosmonaut (2006) and Strange Telescopes (2008), and writes for numerous publications including The Guardian, The Observer, The Times of London and The Spectator.

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