“Genius develops in quiet places, character out in the full current of human life.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I work best in quiet places, particularly if I am writing or doing creative work. People, noise, social media, and often even music are distractions that keep me from focusing the way I need to in order to dig deep enough to find what I am trying to say or to create. So while I have long recognized the value of relationships and human contact for emotional health, I have focused on increasing the degree of solitude when it comes to my creative life.
Building in more opportunities for solitude has indeed helped, and it gives me the space and energy I need in order to increase my creative work. I’ve seen positive results from this approach over the last few months, but I’m also realizing the picture is incomplete.
While I may need solitude and quiet in order to do the creative work, I also need raw material in the form of ideas to work with in order to do that creating. When I’m making jewelry, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making the same designs over and over again with slightly different variations until I am exposed to completely new ideas and new materials in someone else’s work. While I’m not interested in copying someone else’s designs, the exposure to others’ work gives me ideas as raw material that help me to innovate in my own work.
Custom design work is a similar process. I just finished designing and making a custom bracelet for a friend of mine, and while the final result probably doesn’t seem radically different from my other work, the process was very different for me. Working with my “customer” to understand what she wanted was one stream of input, a discussion with someone at the store who has much greater knowledge of stones than I do was a second stream of input, and I brought those together to do the final creating in solitude. But without those streams of input, my final product would not have been as complete as it was in the end.
The interaction with other people was crucial to giving me the extra input I needed to go from a humdrum everyday piece to something that fit just right for the person who had ordered it.
I’m finding that this is equally true with my writing. I write best in total solitude. Even knowing other people are in the house causes me to freeze up. But as I’ve had an increased amount of interaction these last few months with people who engage me in thought-provoking, deeper level conversations, I’m realizing how often those discussions are the well from which I draw my inspiration for my writing. I need the interaction to feed my writing even if I can’t actually do the writing in the company of others.
As Goethe points out in the opening quote (albeit with a different emphasis), both the solitude and that interaction with others is required for a full life. I’m discovering that this is true for my creative life as well. It explains why my past attempts to write in isolation never worked. It wasn’t a lack of ability or dedication, it was a lack of intellectual stimulation! Realizing this about my creative style does a lot to inform my choices about how I will design my ideal life.
What balance between solitude and interaction with others best feeds your creative life?
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