Two years ago, I coached high school track in Concord, Massachusetts—just two miles down the road from Hanky Thoreau’s Walden Pond. It was poetic, then, that when I had lunch last week with a (great, super creative) dude I coached that year, our conversation gravitated towards solitude—and its role in gaining self-awareness and enabling creativity.
Isaac—the former runner—is a music producer and sophomore at Cal Berkeley. He took a gap year and rambled around Asia and started making music. We ate quesadillas and talked about solitude, creativity, and creativity that stems from solitude.
“Sometimes, I stay up pretty late just to be awake and think by myself—even if it means getting less sleep.”
“You know, I feel like people are always hurrying. A lot of people are rushing for no reason.”
It got me thinking—about boredom, about introversion, about verbal clutter, about boredom, about independence, about creative independence, about boredom. I love boredom. I love boredom. That’s when creative breakthroughs happen—when we try not to try; when we unload the dishwasher really slowly; when we make a conscious effort not to multitask; when we go on long runs by ourselves without a phone (and get lost); when we take out the trash and recycling one bag at a time; when we brush our teeth.
We gain a heck of a lot of insight by just sitting and doing nothing, when we ditch our phones and give ourselves the time, space, and freedom to reflect. For me, the process of making stuff is 90% sharpening my self-awareness (recognizing, allowing, and investigating my evolving tastes, fears, and values) and 10% being patient (I’m not super patient. But I’m getting more patient.). There’s a lot of thinking before I start and as little as possible during.
There’s, like, a lot of noise in the world. Being creative has lots to do with how we choose to listen to those noises: muting the nonsensical, pervasive SHOULD dialogue from others (You SHOULD do this. You SHOULD make it this way); amplifying the intuitive MUST monologue (I MUST make it this way); hearing what rings true around us and what doesn’t. Some people need solitude to find that; others don’t. (I often do).
We gain conviction and clarity from solitude. And we carry that conviction and clarity to our creative work, knowing damn well that’s what we believe and what we want to say.
Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.—Jane Kenyon
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. —Albert Einstein
You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.—Ta-Nehisi Coates