Sunday, April 03, 2016

Joy and Purpose in Solitude

My father and his family were very social people. So, whenever my parents entertained or the family got together, I often felt like a fish out of water. I didn’t, and still don’t, enjoy a room full of noisy people talking over one another about things that didn’t matter to me. While I was growing up I heard occasional, barely whispered words such as “aloof”, “introverted” “shy” or “anti-social” thrown my way. This was certainly true at school as well. There were people in my world who truly believed that was something wrong with me for not being more social.

When I began writing and meeting other writers, I realized that a remarkably high proportion of colleagues (compared to high school classmates and my father's clan) felt the same about crowds, noise, and inane conversations. I realized that the preference for solitude was not only okay but that it brought each of us great satisfaction or even joy as we wrote those first lines or edited ongoing work. Many of my writing friends would rather work alone in their rooms than go to the mall, a party, or—dear god— a baby/bachelorette shower.

It was no surprise therefore to learn that scientific research has shown that creative people need solitude. An article in Quartz revealed what many of us writers have known for some time. Solitude has nothing to do with being bored or being lonely. In fact, it’s an essential component for any type of creativity. Thinking about our writing projects, bringing up emotions and memories, making connections between characters and plots and subplots and themes is essential to writing a book, and occurs best in solitude.

Writers know that this is not as easy as it sounds. As the article points out, even creative people will often go out of their way to avoid solitude because it forces them to look at things they might not want to. The experience can be uncomfortable and downright painful as emotions and memories surface. Facing a blank page can feel overwhelming at times.

I’ve come across a lot of writers who comment on various groups and forums several times a day. Others attend countless seminars, workshops, and other events. I’m sure that some activities are helpful and rev up the creative juices, but to me moderation is the key. Too many of them become a huge drain on your time.

My part-time job serves many purposes, but truthfully, one of those is to avoid being a full-time writer. I did that for three years. It was productive but difficult. I’m not ready to try again yet. More telling is that my output is nearly the same as it was when I had no day job. The promotion/marketing aspect has dwindled, but I accept that.

For now, I’m where I want to be. My days are structured but I value my solitude and my writing time much more than I did during those three years. It’s allowed me to work more efficiently and to reduce time sucks. Of course, I still get out socially. After all, it’s not that I don’t like being with others, I really do, but just not every day. My day job, writing time, and social activities are becoming more balanced, and that’s a good thing.

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