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What creative people understand about the importance of being alone

31 March 2016

From Quartz:

In the digital age, it’s easier than ever to avoid spending time alone with our thoughts. If we don’t have family, friends or colleagues nearby, we can just whip out our smartphones or fire up Netflix. In fact, we so dislike solitude that we would rather administer electric shocks to ourselves than just sit and think. That’s right—in studies that asked participants to spend six to 15 minutes in a room without any other stimulation, a significant portion (67% of men and 25% of women) opted to zap themselves just for the sake of breaking out of their brains.

But being alone doesn’t have to be the same thing as being bored or lonely. In fact, when the word “alone” was coined in medieval times, it referred to a sense of completeness in one’s own being, according to Ester Buchholz, a psychologist and psychoanalyst and the author of The Call of Solitude. According to Buchholz as well as a many other psychologists, solitude is an important—and normal—part of human existence. And it’s also essential for our best creative work.

. . . .

Getting comfortable with solitude can be difficult, given that our associations with it these days tend to be negative. As Buchholz writes:

Invariably, solitude meets with social questioning, if not censure. Even worse, people associate going it alone with antisocial pursuits and unnecessary risk taking. Perhaps most striking, solitude conjures up pangs of loneliness.

But needing time alone, according to Buccholz, doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or that you’re antisocial. In fact, she says, it’s important that we clear away the chatter and let our minds wander: “Solitude is required for the unconscious to process and unravel problems,” she writes. “Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.”

. . . .

Writer Ernest Hemingway also said that writers must spend time alone to do their best work. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he said that the writer’s life is a lonely one:

Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

Link to the rest at Quartz and thanks to Randall for the tip.

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9 Comments to “What creative people understand about the importance of being alone”

  1. Well, you don’t have to write by yourself. My library has several rooms available where you can write in peace and quiet and still be around people. I was there during NaNoWriMo for an event and decided what the heck and brought my laptop. I got 2,000 words in while waiting for my event to start.

    Of course, if you can’t write with any distractions, you can’t do this.

    Come to think of it, I should write in the library more often. Think I’ll go tomorrow.

    • I love writing in the library! Tons of books you can use for reference, and little bit of activity/background noise, but not too much. The library I like most has large windows that look out over a fairly picturesque park.

      • The library is also a great place to administer electric shocks to yourself. Libraries and Starbucks because they usually have convenient outlets.

    • I love writing at the local library, usually do it once a week.

  2. 6-15 min alone in a room with nothing else? Easy. Any longer and I’d ask for pen and paper and STILL be happy without my phone. Or people. Or whatever. This idea that people NEED to be around others, need to interact or there’s something wrong with them, it doesn’t apply to everyone. Some like to be near people, others don’t. Myself, I actively look for ways to be away from people. It’s awesome when I manage it.

  3. I would very likely be semi-reclusive if I had the luxury of being a “full-time” writer.

    When I’m home and my wife leaves the house, the first thing I do is turn off the TV.

    • This!

      • I am a full-time writer, and yep, semi-reclusive thanks to the nifty office we added onto the house about 8 years back.

        Well, as reclusive as one can be with a teenager, several dogs, and a House Hunney who needs extra hands for home improvement project help living in the same house. 😉

  4. Writers are never alone. There’s all those people in our heads … and cats! 🙂

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