Loneliness and Solitude in Creativity

Our language has widely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.
Paul Johannes Tillich, The Eternal Now

Perhaps Goethe said it best with:

One can be instructed in society, one is inspired only in solitude.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Still, like the quote in the beginning of the posting points out, being along is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it allows you time to work on things you like to create, as beautifully put by Heinlein in this gem:

“But writing is antisocial. It’s as solitary as masturbation. Disturb a writer when he is in the throes of creation and he is likely to tum and bite right to the bone … and not even know that he’s doing it. As writers’ wives and husbands often learn to their horror.
“And — attend me carefully, Gwen! — there is no way that writers can be tamed and rendered civilized. Or even cured. In a household with more than one person, of which one is a writer, the only solution known to science is to provide the patient with an isolation room, where he can endure the acute stages in private, and where food can be poked in to him with a stick. Because, if you disturb the patient at such times, he may break into tears or become violent. Or he may not hear you at all … and, if you shake him at this stage, he bites.”
“The Cat Who Walks Through Walls” by Robert A. Heinlein

but it can also leave you isolated, disconnected from other people, and thus without a social safety net for ‘bad’ moods:

“Lonely people … they always have a look, a look that it could change any second, maybe with the next person that enters the room. Lonely people have hope, she didn’t seem to. She was just sad, like she knew too much. Some people find love, permanent; some are just meant to be alone. She knew what she was.”
Jason in Ally McBeal: “The Real World”

even when among other people:

“I never forget the feeling of helplessness. I never thought there could be anything worse than being all alone in the night.”
“But there is. Being all alone in a crowd.”
Sheridan and Delenn in Babylon 5: “There All the Honor Lies”

Still, it has its advantages, at least for a time. In my opinion, it is better than, for example, spending time with people who …

  • … hold you down and do not want you to change (and thus prevent you from growing),
  • … do not believe in a rule of reciprocity (or have other insane double-standards) and get annoyed when others think they should reciprocate when they ask for and receive help/support,
  • … in turn spend their time with manipulative social assholes (as a fellow student with Russian roots put it: “If you mess around with shit, something sticks to you.”), or
  • … are nice to be with, especially in a close relationship, but who also show a lot of red flags, combined with strange moments that just obliterated the trust (and there are situations where misplaced trust has dire consequences).

Being without friends or a working social network is scary, but it does give you time to focus on things that interest you, to read, to learn, to think, to experience. To discover who you are independent of other people.

And — at least for a while — that’s something 🙂

P.S.: There are some interesting books in this regard, e.g.:

  • Klinenberg, E. (2012). Going Solo. The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. London, England: Penguin Books.
  • Martin, S. (2006). Manspace. A Primal Guide to Marking Your Territory. Newton, USA: The Taunton Press.
  • Storr, A. (1988). The School of Genius. Carlton Books Limited.