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Writers, painters, and other artists often live outside the 9-5 office life. Still they must structure their days in some way in order to produce their creative work. I’ve always been fascinated by the different approaches people take. The book Daily Ritual: How Artists Work by Mason Currey is a wonderful compendium of approaches taken by over 150 famous artists from the last few centuries.

Stephen King, Jean-Paul-Sartre, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, Benjamin Franklin, Patricia Highsmith–it’s an eclectic, eccentric mix of capsule creative work biographies. The styles of getting the job done are more varied than you might think.  Some set work quotas, some set time quotas, while others work intensely for a period of months and then don’t work at all for the rest of the year. The book is a quick fun read and it will probably give you a little boost of confidence that your way is no crazier than anyone else’s.

But there is one area that the book does not address: what about performance artists who do not work in solitude? An actor, dancer, or musician might be onstage tonight, but what is happening during the day? Even more to the point, since even successful performing artists can have long stretches of time between gigs, how do they structure their time so that they can continue to perform at the necessary level?

We might keep in mind the difference between “rehearsal” and “practice.” Rehearsal is what an artist does in order to bring an intended performance piece to fruition. Practice is what an artist does to keep her or his skills at an optimal level. There’s a lot to be explored here. For example, just how much practice does an actor do compared to a dancer, musician, or magician? And what does the practice of each of these different kinds of artists look like? It could make another very entertaining book as well.

“When the goldfinch cannot sing,
When the poet is a pilgrim,
When prayer will do us no good.
‘Traveller, there is no path,
The path is made by walking…’

Beat by beat, verse by verse.” –Antonio Machado