I’m going to start there: Create in Solitude. I doubt there is a successful artist who wouldn’t agree that solitude is essential if you are going to paint or sculpt or compose or write. If your immediate space is filled with distractions—other people, e-mails and texts and phone calls, unrelenting noise—how can you connect with the muse that dwells inside? (I don’t normally reach for euphemisms when discussing the creative process, but I’m going to go with muse because I want to focus on the solitude aspect of creativity, not on what actually happens in our brains when we create.)
Here’s what a few of those successful artists have to say about solitude:
Goethe: “One can be instructed in society, one is inspired only in solitude.”
Picasso: “Without great solitude no serious work is possible.”
Carl Sandburg: “One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude.”
(My thanks to zenhabits for collecting these quotations. You can find a few more at: http://zenhabits.net/creative-habit/)
I imagine a lot of people, when they think about how artists create, or when they think that perhaps they will become artists themselves, have an image of the creative genius living on the edge in some garret in Paris or a rundown cottage in the country, slaving over a masterpiece, forgetting to eat—or not having enough money to buy food—sacrificing all for art. Like Van Gogh, but without the maiming and suicide. I suppose there are successful artists, like Van Gogh, who have lived—do live—like this. I don’t know any of them. I have, however, over my more than thirty years of working in publishing, known a lot of writers.
The writers I know create in solitude. They may occasionally go to a coffee shop, armed with laptop or notebook, and write. J. K. Rowling wrote much of her first Harry Potter book in a few different cafés in Edinburgh. They may, as a friend of mine does every year, rent a house with another writer and spend a week writing together. They may go to a writers’ workshop, such as the one my mother began in Maine or that I taught at for a few years, in which mornings are devoted to writing and afternoons to learning and critiquing one another’s work. (The evenings were always devoted to food and wine.) Still, creativity is invariably linked to solitude.
However, just as a character in a book would be immensely boring if he were the only character in the book—even Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man had the sea, and the fish, and the sharks—so too a writer who never comes out of solitude to share his work may create something that is good, but not necessarily as good as it could be. For a work of art to be accessible to the public, to be meaningful to the public, it should first be shared with someone, or several someones, to see if it does, in fact, work. Is that character poignant or merely pathetic? Is the reader kept guessing who done it until the end, or did she figure it out in chapter four? Does the dialogue sparkle or fizzle? Is the writing style poetic or incomprehensible?
Writers might create in solitude, but they will recreate (and revise and rewrite and tear down and start again) if they have the good sense to share their work when it is still young—though not brand new and liable to melt away at the first hint of criticism—and not yet cast in concrete in their minds, so that they resist any suggestion that changes are needed. And the work should be shared with people who know something about writing. They don’t have to be writers themselves, but they must be readers, people who love the written word and have read widely and are not afraid to say that something really isn’t all that good.
So create in solitude; share judiciously; go back to the solitude to create more. Repeat as necessary.
(I also wrote about this on my author’s website. You can find the post here: http://elizabethbarrettbooks.com/writing-by-committee/)