The Odd (And Effective) Routines of Famous Minds like Beethoven, Maya Angelou, and Francis Bacon


Wine is part of my creative process. How I use it has been influenced by other writers. Why reinvent the wheel?

Sometimes, peculiar routines are the key to sanity… and productivity.

For years, I wrote from 11pm-4am or so, fueled by carefully timed yerba mate tea, Malbec, and Casino Royale left on repeat in my peripheral vision.

But who am I? Let’s explore the odd and effective routines of several creative icons: Maya Angelou (author), Francis Bacon (painter), W.H. Auden (poet), and Ludwig van Beethoven (composer).

Here’s an appetizer, before we get to the full routines:

Maya Angelou rented a “tiny, mean” hotel or motel room to do her writing;
Francis Bacon preferred to work with a hangover;
W.H. Auden took Benzedrine the way many people take a multivitamin; and
Beethoven counted out 60 coffee beans (exactly!) each morning, and developed his compositions through walking and obsessive bathing.

Enjoy the detailed profiles below.

All were excerpted from one of my favorite books–Daily Rituals: How Artists Work–which contains nearly 200 routines of some of the greatest minds of the last four hundred years: famous novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians… Read More

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The Ugly New York Times Bestseller — The Creative Process in Action


(Photo: photosteve101)

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”
– Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
– Mark Twain

Writing isn’t a clean process.

In general, attempting to be creative isn’t a clean process. It’s filthy. I wish I could poo diamonds, but — alas — I am not built for such miracles. Instead, I plod and stumble my way through revisions, hacking at mental cobwebs and killing inner demons. Eventually, enough caffeine and wine permitting, I might look down and see something that doesn’t make me gag.

To give you an idea, below are some hand edits of the Introduction to The 4-Hour Chef, which–much improvement later–hit the NYT and WSJ bestseller lists in November of 2012. As I write this, it’s hovering around #180 on Amazon. Keep in mind that the below is after 5-10 drafts:

Download a full-size PDF of my edits here

Even this simple blog post, as one example, was revised and rewritten 14 times. The iteration pays off — it ended up getting 700+ comments. Conversely, one-take wonders usually get burned at the stake, and rightly so.

“Revising,” “iterating” (in start-up speak), “editing”…no matter what you call it, it’s tweaking something bad or mediocre until it finally works. As Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

This applies to much more than writing. Ernest would no doubt agree that my first attempt at a blog was shittier than shitty. Here are the “before” pics from 2007. Note that my friend Ramit Sethi and others had equally hideous “rough drafts” of their sites. It’s par for the course… Read More

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"Productivity" Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me)


Sometimes, life seems upside-down.

I originally wrote this post months ago, but I’ve been too self-conscious to publish it until now. This quote convinced me to put on my big girl pants:

“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
– Neil Gaiman
University of the Arts Commencement Speech

So, here goes, and I hope it helps at least a few of you.

Reality Check

A few months ago, I had a birthday party.

A dozen friends and I gathered for several days of wonderful sun, beach, and catching up. On the last day, I didn’t get up until 11:30am, knowing full well that the last remaining friends were leaving at 12 noon.

I was afraid of being alone.

Like a child, I hid my head under the covers (literally) and hit snooze until reality couldn’t be postponed any further.

But…why am I telling you this?… Read More

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You Are What You Read: 14 Thought Leaders Share Their Bookshelves


Photo: Ozyman

The following is a guest post by Shane Snow, a frequent contributor to Wired and Fast Company. It includes photographs of some fun bookshelves, including yours truly (Tim Ferriss). CLICK ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.

Enter Shane

They say a person’s eyes are “the window to the soul.”

I am not very good at pupil-based soul-reading, but I’ve found that I can learn a lot about a person by the books on his or her shelf. When I go to someone’s house or office for the first time, my favorite thing to do is check out the bookshelf.

Here’s what’s on mine:

(click to enlarge any and all photos in this post)

Storytelling is a powerful force, as I’m a fan of reminding people. Stories—fiction and non—make ideas stick; they change minds and shape us in often subconscious ways. I believe the mind of a well-read person is heavily influenced by the books of her past.

A few weeks ago, I decided to conduct a little experiment.

I emailed a few friends and people I admired and asked them if I could see photographs of their bookshelves (or book stacks or Kindle screens). Just about everybody said, “yes.” The experiment soon metastasized, and I started pestering thought leaders in spaces I followed–tech, advertising, philanthropy–to see what books the innovators cared enough about to allot real estate.

Soon, I had more photos than I knew what to do with. Here are some of my favorites:


Hilary Mason, Chief Scientist at and one of the smartest women in American tech


Fred Wilson, Partner at Union Square Ventures and the man responsible for investments in Tumblr, Etsy, CodeAcademy, KickStarter, Meetup, Soundcloud, Twitter, Behance, and StackExchange… Read More

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Why (and How) Creative People Need to Say "No"


The following is a guest post by Kevin Ashton, the co-founder of the MIT Auto-ID Center, which created a global standard system for RFID and other sensors.

He also created the Internet of Things.

Enter Kevin

A Hungarian psychology professor once wrote to famous creators asking them to be interviewed for a book he was writing. One of the most interesting things about his project was how many people said “no.”

Management writer Peter Drucker: “One of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours–productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”

Secretary to novelist Saul Bellow: “Mr. Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people’s ‘studies.'”

Photographer Richard Avedon: “Sorry–too little time left.”

Secretary to composer György Ligeti: “He is creative and, because of this, totally overworked. Therefore, the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) does not have time to help you in this study. He would also like to add that he cannot answer your letter personally because he is trying desperately to finish a Violin Concerto which will be premiered in the Fall…” Read More

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The Fantastic Mr. Feynman


[If the above video has been disabled, please click here to see it.]

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
– Richard P. Feynman

This is my favorite documentary of one of my favorite people, Richard Feynman.

His lectures and books — such as Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) — have greatly inspired many of my best decisions in life. He also inspired me to teach.

I hope you enjoy the film as much as I did. Whether you like bongo drums, safe cracking, go-go dancers, or physics, there’s something for everyone.


Question of the day: If you had to pick your favorite documentary, which would it be and why? Let me know in the comments!

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The Magic of DonorsChoose — Join Me and Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian for Dinner

62 Comments is the first charity named to Fast Company’s 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World.

I dislike most non-profits because — good intentions aside — they get little or no results.

DonorsChoose, on the other hand, is incredibly effective. In this month’s Vanity Fair, Melinda Gates describes them as “Kickstarter for classrooms.” Here’s her short article, which includes a photo spread by Annie Leibovitz. I make a guest appearance, which was a dream come true.

Here’s why I’m on their advisory board: To me, poor education is the root cause of most of our problems. DonorsChoose (DC) is helping to fix education.

This post launches a competition. If you’ve ever benefited from anything I’ve written, I’d kindly ask you to participate.

The four winners will get flown to dinner with me, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and DonorsChoose’s founder, Charles Best. Roundtrip economy airfare to/from NYC is covered for all four winners.

Ready? Here are the details… Read More

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