• Kate Neilson

Meet the woman fascinated by the routines of creative people

Melbourne based writer, Madeleine Dore, is fascinated by the routine of human nature. She loves to know what makes creatives tick and how they spend their days. She tells us about how she always skims through to the question about daily routines in a magazine article because that's the most interesting part and we totally agree.

Taking this fascination and combining it with her own skill set, Madeleine created Extraordinary Routines, a project devoted entirely to the art of creative routines.

"Finding out how someone spends their day is not about glorifying productivity or finding the perfect routine, but rather shining a light on how people we admire really get through their day – the imperfect moments and hurdles, as well as the triumphs and achievements," she says.

She tells us about how the project got started, offers some advice for surviving creative slumps, and shares the routines of some classic historical figures, such as Benjamin Franklin who'd start every day with a good old 'air bath'.

Image- Madeleine Dore by Matthew Henry

Tell us a little bit about Extraordinary Routines and your impetus for starting it up? Extraordinary Routines is an interview project that illuminates the everyday lives of a diversity of creatives – habits and hurdles, the ups, the downs. The aim is to strip away the ‘perfect’ veil we see on social media, as well as explore what it means to be creative today.

The project came about when I returned to Australia after a stint overseas in Denmark. I was unemployed, directionless, and missing the life I had overseas interning for a local English newspaper, creative agency and magazine. I missed interviewing and meeting interesting people and needed to find a way to bring that experience into my current life. I decided a side project was the way to go. I’d long be fascinated by how other people spend their days and often found myself skipping to the question about daily routines in magazine features and thought it had enough scope to form a project of its own.

"The aim is to strip away the ‘perfect’ veil we see on social media, as well as explore what it means to be creative today."

Funnily enough, I ended up landed a great job as the Deputy Editor at ArtsHub due to the project, and spent two years balancing the project with full time work. Extraordinary Routines has since grown into live interviews, articles, art projects, and I regularly experiment with my own habits and routines – from a blind dating experiment, to a 30-day habit challenge.

Image: Mark Lobo by Matthew Henry

What has been the most interesting/strange routine or habit that you have heard about since starting the project?

My meeting with jeweller and taxidermist Julia deVille was a highlight. I met her at a really interesting time in her life – she was recovering from adrenal fatigue and following a really strict regime. Everything from her diet (which consisted of mostly fruit and 1kg of cherries for breakfast!) and twice-daily meditation practice, to how she was balancing her social life was really intriguing. To learn how a creative copes with an illness and prioritises their health was really interesting.

In a talk that you gave, you described a routine experiment in which you undertook a new habit everyday, for 30 days. Have any of those habits stuck and what do you think the most valuable additions were?

The most valuable addition was definitely switching my phone off at night and also giving up caffeine. The two combined made for some of the best sleep I’ve ever had – which then feeds in to waking up refreshed, having energy to exercise, feeling more alert with my work, etc. Sadly, the coffee slowly crept back in and so did bringing my phone to bed! I recently conducted a digital switch off experiment for 7 days and that seems to have rebooted my relationship with my phone. It’s no longer a welcome bedfellow!

"To learn how a creative copes with an illness and prioritises their health was really interesting."

Image: Amy Constable by Matthew Henry

...and what does your daily routine look like now?

Believe it or not, my daily routine is still very much a work in progress. Three months ago I quit my job at ArtsHub to pursue freelance work, and it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride in terms of piecing together a routine! I’ve had bursts of waking up early, going to yoga, eating well, doing Pomodoro technique to work productively – and then there has been times where I have fallen into chronic procrastination and days-long bouts of binging on Netflix!

I’m currently reading The Productivity Experiment by Chris Bailey and keen to uncover my natural biorhythms and build a routine around that. For now, I’m trying to be a little kinder to myself about the dull days and take it all in my stride.

If you could conduct an interview with any person in the world, who would it be and why? I find interviewing local creatives really rewarding because you are familiar with the places they visit and their community. But if I had a wishlist for the rich and famous, I’d have to say Barack Obama and Beyoncé would be close to the top – I’d be particularly interested to know what they delegate and the day to day tasks they deal with themselves, and if they ever switch off! Also Maria Popova (Brainpickings) and Tina Roosevelt (Swiss Miss, Creative Mornings, Tattly) are high on my list!

Image: Luke Currie-Richardson by Matthew Henry

You did some research into the creative processes of some great, historical figures. Can you share some of your favourite findings from your research? The book Daily Rituals by Mason Currey takes pride of place on my bookshelf and is filled with snippets of routines and rituals of hundreds of thinkers, writers, artists, and politicians from history and present day. As someone who is not a morning person, I gravitate to reading about those that are as if trying to find some secret ingredient! Some other favourites include the ritual of Benjamin Franklin who would have a cold “air bath” and sit in his room naked for about half an hour and either read or write. Jane Austin would rise early and play the piano. Winston Churchill would work from bed for several hours eating breakfast, reading mail and the newspaper, and dictating to his secretaries. Another bizarre favourite of mine is the ritual of Balzac who used masturbation to further intensify his coffee-fuelled writing binges!

Image: Mark Lobo by Matthew Henry

What advice would you offer to people in a creative slump?

That it’s completely normal and will be okay. I think it’s important to learn to sit with it for a while, and try to see what the slump is trying to teach you, or where it is taking you.

"Winston Churchill would work from bed for several hours eating breakfast, reading mail and the newspaper, and dictating to his secretaries." My mindset completely shifted when I saw Miranda July speak earlier this year. She explained how we should learn to view dull days or creative slumps as a valuable part of the process and think of it as putting a certain amount of energy in the bank each day. ‘It doesn’t really matter if you were shit all day. Unless you were just on Instagram all day – surely there were some moments when you weren’t – so those goes in the bank and you are just accruing enough to build the brain that will be able to figure it out.’ ‘You can’t do it today, you are just not smart enough, you have to accrue more time pushing on that muscle before it will do this and suddenly you will have the whole idea. That is how it is for me – it’s a whole lot of misery but these days I just think, well, great, another miserable day in the bank.’

Image: Amy Constable by Matthew Henry

If you were a lolly what would you be and why?

One of those Trolli gummy lolly Hot Dogs! It’s almost as if it has a complete awareness of it’s own imperfections, but continues to try strive to be a little bit more like the real deal anyway.

If you could be an expert at one thing, what would it be? An expert on how to live… I think that’s the definition of a philosopher?

Image: Luke Currie-Richardson by Matthew Henry

Hopefully, if we get up at 6am, eat two poached eggs on toast whilst doing the downwards facing dog, we too will become wildly famous and successful - (a girl can only dream and poach). For more info on Madeleine visit her website or check out Extraordinary Routines.


Name: Matthew Henry

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