During architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s career, he was known to work on everything during the day except his drafts. When asked when he found time to work, Wright replied, “Between 4 and 7 o’clock in the morning.” Not for lack of trying, Wright would “go to sleep promptly” when he went to bed, then naturally rose at around 4:00am, unable to continue sleeping. “But my mind’s clear, so I get up and work for three or four hours,” he explained. “Then I go to bed for another nap.”
“I just lie in the water and think… or not think.”
On an average day, doing something multiple times seems normal. Luxury fashion designer and director Tom Ford used to take four baths a day: first thing in the morning, immediately after working out, prior to going out for dinners, and again just before bed. It was not about cleanliness, but rather a way to clear his mind. “On a day where I’m particularly stressed, every hour or two,” Ford explained in a documentary interview. “I just lie in the water and think… or not think.” As the years have progressed, perhaps Ford’s mind has become clearer — it’s said he’s now reduced the ritual to just one bath per day.
Working in uncommon spaces and bodily positions was also the norm for many, particularly revered authors. Ernest Hemingway preferred to write standing up, whereas James Joyce enjoyed lying stomach-down on his bed and writing in a white coat with a blue pencil. Stephen King has been known to write 2,000 adverb-free words every single day — even on holidays. He elaborates on this practice in his book On Writing: “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day…fifty the day after that…and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions.”
While weird and wonderful they may be, the fascinating thing about habits is that to the individuals they belong to they’re not a bizarre act at all. They’re simply a part of their routine or, conceivably, a part of them. Aristotle once remarked, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Perhaps this is why the creative industry is filled with such thrilling characters.
Written by Sheila Lam
Headline photo by Jeff Sheldon