“Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn’t matter. I’m not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for.”
— Alice Walker
We associate creative genius with sleepless nights and manic all-nighters. And this is true for some – Leonardo DaVinci, for instance, having the misfortune of being both a perfectionist and a terrible procrastinator, often left his projects until the last moment possible. He would then work feverishly to finish them, taking small naps throughout the day instead of sleeping the full eight hours at night.
Thomas Edison was another proponent of the power nap, believing that most people sleep far too much and are unproductive as a result. Nikola Tesla rarely slept at all, especially early on in his career, starting work at 3 a.m. and continuing with few to no breaks until 11 p.m. the next day. But by all accounts, these were eccentric, anxious, and difficult men—Tesla suffered a nervous breakdown at 25, Edison was obsessive and paranoid, and DaVinci had crippling anxiety and self-doubts—who were never satisfied with their creative accomplishments.
History shows, however, that brilliance could also be the product of a good night’s sleep and a well-rested mind.
From Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, 27 prolific geniuses and their work and rest schedules:
It’s been one of those months that build up inside you, day by day, each hour a composite of lead-weight minutes, and the seconds all ticking from within your rib cage, tick-tock atop a tickety-tock, all at once, like a flurry of water drops on cement, loud, pointed, neverending, each a tiny kick, cracking the surface until wild underground weeds push their way through and take over. Eyes blink slower, hair rustles, whispering amongst itself, and the heartbeat becomes an overflowing river of white noise. Something will implode, alone in the proverbial forest, with not a soul to hear nor make a sound.
You write the same thing over and over. Start with a doodle and the inevitable comes out. Sketches of blank-faced women, thin arms ending in long, alien fingers, falling, floating in space. Sentences that drag on, imagery of decay, destruction from within, people morphing into something inanimate, entrapment, something impending to both awe and indifference.
You try to hold onto your old gods and their prophets: a sea of pink elephants swimming in the rising sun; impending apocalypse; a dozen photos of the sunset spread out on a bed; an old envelope filled with a moment, a breath, a key; the sounds of enormous flying whales, their wings flapping-flapping-flapping, moving higher and higher and taking you up up up, beyond air, beyond sound and life, to somewhere that never existed but matters more than anything that ever has.
You stagger, pull up, fall. The sky above is actually cracked white plaster, pipes forming a crude geometric design alongside its breadth. Wind is gushing in the largest of the tubes, clouds escaping among steely weldings, precipitation forming in small shuddering droplets.
Mesmerized, you are unable to recall the oldest of all things – how to breathe, move, struggle. Your thoughts form into hollowed out caverns, framed by impenetrable rock and darkness. You forget what came before, what brought you here, what lies beyond the present and eternity. Sounds descend through a burrow of interweaving nerves. Vision calibrates among lost concepts of dimension and time.
You focus on the last remnants of what was memory and language. You put words to what are floating, unsteady instances in the quandary of being. This here is a stone, a brick, one upon another. Between them, a solid membrane and another above, and here, yes, another brick, hundreds of them, in tall, proud columns, gargantuan rows. That’s around and below. A body of you stacked in still, umber pieces.
Abandoning your dreams of the sky, you try to sink into the earth, reach for the groundwater, sprout roots and harden with bark. In a last breath of reason, you absorb this solid new self until the reality of it is irreversibly set and wrong. Despite your best efforts, you have not become a tree, but an empty, abandoned building.
You’re trying to say something and it’s not coming out.
Years after first realizing words are beautiful, powerful, amazing, that words CAN be thoughts, then discovering ways to put them together in better, more creative ways, scoffing at the results, learning to spot cliches and commonly overused, worthless expressions, later still beginning to birth your writing instead of just scratching it off the skin surface, expelling it from the deepest, bloodiest places within, and realizing even that is worthless, a mere ritualistic sham misused by millions of aspiring pretenders, by liars, ghosts and false idols, renouncing this tainted, false wit, discarding your own newborn.
And now, back to the beginning. Slowly, cautiously. Allowing the mind only the simplest of words, and the oldest. In directus veritas. In lacuna sententia. In bareness no deceit. Mistrusting and venomous, you spit out thin, transparent shells that pass for conversation. You judge them and mark down imperfection on score boards.
You barely notice as the imperfection chart grows and new columns appear. You are now judging and discarding people, essences, concepts, yourself. Words did this. Cliches and rotten sentences. You’re a troll, merciless, unable to breathe or stop. You sit in a labyrinth, beyond which is nothing. The walls are crumbling, old, eaten up by strange poisonous roots. The ground is dry and cracked. Everywhere in the maze is death, within, beside, over and above. There is nothing to do but think, speak, write. Words atop words atop neverending, miasmal words. Betrayed and disbelieving, you try to understand how you got here. You crawl under a pile of skeletons of the writers before you and scratch the ground with their dried, smooth bones.
A fantastic online gallery of work by the artist Harvezt imagines what lies behind some of the most iconic album covers.
The Dark Side of the Covers series takes on the famous album covers by Nirvana, David Bowie, The Beatles, Rage Against The Machine, The Velvet Underground, Iron Maiden and others, unveiling the artwork’s unspoken context by craftily recreating what the reverse shot would look like if a camera had been placed in the background of the original cover.
Check out the entire set on Flicker, with the accompanied explanations of the history behind the album and its original artwork.