“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.” –Rollo May
Creativity is a nebulous, murky topic that fascinates me endlessly: How does it work? What habits do creative people have that make them so successful at being creative?
I’ve reflected on my own creative habits, but decided I’d look at the habits that others consider important to their creativity. I picked a handful of creatives, almost at random—there are so many that picking the best would be impossible, so I just picked some that I admire, who came to mind when I thought of the word “creative”.
In reviewing their lists, and my own habits, I found one that stood out. It’s the Most Important Habit when it comes to creativity.
THE NO. 1 CREATIVE HABIT
In a word: solitude.
Creativity flourishes in solitude. With quietness, you can hear your thoughts, you can reach deep within yourself, and you can focus. Of course, there are lots of ways to find this solitude.
Here are a few different ways of creative people I’ve talked to or researched on:
Felicia Day—actress, known for her work on Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Guild.
Day says makes “sure to be creative first thing in the morning, before doing anything for the outside world, really sets the day up for me. It makes it feel that creating is my job, not answering emails.”
Ali Edwards—an author, designer, and leading authority on scrapbooking.
One of her top habits wasn’t exactly solitude, but is related: “Do nothing. I have a habit of welcoming time away from my creative work. For me this is serious life-recharging time where my only responsibility is to just be Mom & Wife & Me. Doing nothing has a way of synthesizing what is really important in my life and in my work, and inspires me beyond measure. When I come back to work I am better equipped to weed out the non-essential stuff and focus on the things I most want to express creatively.”
Chase Jarvis—an award-winning photographer.
“Creativity sometimes washes over me during times of intense focus and craziness of work, but more often I get whacked by the creative stick when I’ve got time in my schedule. And since my schedule is a crazy one and almost always fills up, I tend to carve out little retreats for myself. I get some good thinking
and re-charge time during vacations, or on airplanes, but the retreats are more focused on thinking about creative problems that I’m wanting to solve. That’s why I intentionally carve time out. I make room for creativity. Intentionally. The best example of what I mean by a retreat is a weekend at my family’s cabin. It’s a 90-minute drive from my house on the coast. There are few distractions. Just a rocky beach and a cabin from the 60s with wood paneling and shag carpet. I go for walks, hikes, and naps. I read. I did get an internet signal put in there to stay connected if I need it. But the gist is—quiet. Let there be space for creativity to fill your brain,” he says.
The Greats on Solitude
Of course, many other creative people have believed in the habit of solitude.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers.
Mozart says: “When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer–say, traveling in a carriage or walking after a good meal or during the night when I cannot sleep–it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.”
Albert Einstein—theoretical physicist, philosopher and author who is widely regarded as one of the most influential and best known scientists and intellectuals of all time. He is often regarded as the father of modern physics.
Einstein says: “Although I have a regular work schedule, I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.”
Franz Kafka—one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. Novelist and writer of short stories whose works came to be regarded as one of the major achievements of twentieth century literature.
Kafka says: “You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
Pablo Picasso—Spanish painter best known for co-founding the Cubist movement and for the wide variety of styles embodied in his work. His revolutionary artistic accomplishments brought him universal renown and immense fortunes throughout his life, making him one of the best-known figures in twentieth century art.
Picasso says: “Without great solitude no serious work is possible.”
The best art is created in solitude, for good reason: it’s only when we are alone that we can reach into ourselves and find truth, beauty, and soul. Some of the most famous philosophers took daily walks, and it was on these walks that they found their deepest thoughts. My best writing, and in fact the best of anything I’ve done, was created in solitude.
A few of the benefits that I’ve found that I gain from solitude are:
- time for thoughts
- getting to know ourselves better
- facing our demons, and dealing with them
- space to create
- space to unwind, and find peace
- time to reflect on what we’ve done, and learn from it
- isolation from the influences of other helps us to find our own voice
- quietness helps us to appreciate the smaller things that get lost in the roar
THE NO. 2 CREATIVE HABIT
While it might seem contradictory, the No. 2 habit when it comes to nurturing creativity is: participation. This can come in many forms, but it requires connecting with others, being inspired by others, reading others, and collaborating with others.
But how can you have both solitude and participation? They obviously have to come at different times. Finding the balance is key, of course, but it takes a conscious effort.
Why are they both important? We need both inspiration from outside, and creation from within.
Felicia Day says:“When I am most productive I am the most ruthless with my schedule. I will literally make a daily checklist with, ‘one hour gym’, ‘30 minutes of internet research’, and ‘drink 3 glasses of water’ on it. For some reason being that disciplined creates a sense of control that I wouldn’t have otherwise, as a self-employed person. And I get the most out of the scheduled hours that I have for writing.”
Ali Edwards says: “Take notes… It’s essential for me to write down my ideas when they come to mind…otherwise, poof, they disappear way too quickly as I move on to the next task. I use my phone, my computer, and a Moleskine notebook to jot down thoughts and ideas, and then I move them into Things every week or so.”
Chase Jarvis says:
- Live a creative life everyday: I very much believe in doing creative things everyday. For one, I take photos and videos almost everyday. The camera doesn’t matter. I use my iPhone everyday. Just taking photos keeps me in a creative head space. Hell, I play with my food and draw and doodle.
- Moderate Expectations: Make it a habit not to judge yourself on your creative output. Sometimes your creativity is on fire. Other times, it’s not. It’s hard sometimes when you make art in a professional commercial capacity because you’re paid to be ‘ON’, but you’ll save yourself a lot of grief if you make it a habit to be cool to your psyche when your creative mojo isn’t firing on all pistons.
- Shake Your Tree: When I’m starting to feel stale, I make a habit of getting into adventures. Break molds. Drive home from work a different way. Stir up my routine. I get active and shake my tree.
- Find fun: Doing what you love inspires you to be more creative. Make time and space for having fun. All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl.
- Lastly, being creative means living a creative life. Expect yourself to have one. Believe you are creative. Know that you are. Make that the most important habit of all.
Habits No. 1 and No. 2 might seem contradictory. But in my experience you can’t really hit your creative stride until you find a way to balance both habits.
“Creativity is essentially a lonely art. An even lonelier struggle. To some a blessing. To others a curse. It is in reality, the ability to reach inside yourself and drag forth from your very soul an idea.” —Lou Dorfsman
This is a cross-post from zen habits