Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Library of Congress
Mozart wrote the overture for Don Giovanni in a single night—the night before the opera’s debut. The reason was simple enough: He was Mozart. The 31-year-old virtuoso could ostensibly compose entire symphonies in his mind— often while playing billiards—and at times he didn’t put pen to paper until he’d completed the entire piece in his head first. At Don Giovanni’s premiere, the ink on the overture’s sheet music was still wet from its last-minute copying, and there was no time for rehearsal. “Some notes fell under the stands,” Mozart said later, “but it went well.”
Kafka had a day job as an insurance clerk that provided the gloomy novelist plenty of time for existential brooding but little time to translate that brooding to fiction. However, when Kafka was promoted to a position that let him clock out at 2 p.m., procrastination became his new prison. In a letter to his fiancée, Kafka describes a typical day after work: “Lunch till 3:30 … sleep until 7:30 … ten minutes of exercises, naked at the open window … an hour’s walk … then dinner with my family.” When did the writing finally begin? Not until 11 p.m., sometimes continuing well up to 6 a.m. the next morning. Admittedly, not the best system: Kafka died at age 40, leaving many unfinished works behind.