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The secret rituals of history’s most creative minds

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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.

This manuscript was obviously a snake oil salesman’s pitch, yet another example of that tiresome but popular  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…

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Daniel Kalder is an author and journalist originally from Scotland, who currently resides in Texas after a ten year stint in the former USSR. Visit him online at
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