Creative People seem to harbor opposite tendencies on the continuum between extroversion and introversion. Usually each of us tends to be one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of the crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show…Creative individuals, on the other hands, seem to express both traits at the same time.
—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (last name pronounced ‘cheek sent me high’)
Solitude and solidarity: To succeed, creative people need these two (opposing) assets.
Solitude is probably most important. It involves staying away from the chaos of everyday life. It means finding enough privacy to hear your deepest thoughts and connect with your authentic self.
Not everybody likes being alone; some desperately avoid it. Solitude often causes loneliness, sadness; a forsaken life.
Most people like being with others—sharing a hearty laugh and creating memories. Getting outside yourself, joining groups, and building relationships with others—these are all things that bring happiness. (Psychologists say the happiest people are usually the most social.)
If you over-identify with others, though, whatever creative energy and uniqueness you have dwindles.
Solitude is necessary.
Writers often need to seclude themselves for months and months to write a book. Same with musicians. Rapper Kid Cudi—in his coming-up days—spent most of his time locked in his room, writing material for songs.
I would be in my room for a couple of days, only leave to take a piss, shower, and go back in my room [laughs]. And I didn’t have a lamp in my room; my light bulb would blow out all the time…
…I would come up with these ideas and run to the studio, which was right down the hall to O-Dot’s room, and I’d tell him about my ideas and lay them down, and the cycle would continue. I would go back to my room for a couple days and be MIA, zone out and write.
If you do creative work, I’m sure you can relate to this lonely process. But don’t feel bad about it, don’t loathe it—embrace it; it’s necessary to do great work.
Solitude isn’t everything. Actually, too much of it can start to hurt your career.
Artists also need solidarity—being involved and united with friends, colleagues, and society at large.
Artists draw inspiration from their experiences, from life. Your social relationships are probably your most vibrant creative source. If you distance yourself too much from the outside world, you sever the cord that connects you with humanity. As a result, your work becomes emotionally irrelevant and your creative well dries up.
Author Chuck Palahniuk describes the importance of connecting with the world:
Most of my life is me being with a small group of people, just the folks I know, and working. Me being out in the world is a really, really small part of my life. But I also recognize that my stories come from the world, and the moment I sort of shut myself off from the world, that’s going to be when the stories dry up.
I’ll come away doing tour, doing promotion, with enough ideas for the next dozen books. And that if I were to just stay home and do nothing but the writing part, I would write myself dry within a couple months. So, being out in the world is a really, really important part of the whole process.
I’m sure you’ve gotten inspiration from friends and experiences—and, taking the opposite view, you’ve endured dry spells because you let your work consume you and forgot about life.
Integrating Both Elements
Artists have little chance to succeed if they’re too reclusive or too quick to blend in with others. It seems, then, that integrating both solitude and solidarity is the most sensible way to live the creative life.
Balance is key.
To integrate both elements into your life, first work in spurts of high-energy. Focus on creation.
Then rest, recover, and reach out. Focus on Marketing.
Simply put: Regularly switch your attention from one extreme to the other—between solitude and solidarity—so that your lopsided focus on each evens out in the long run.
One of my favourite authors, Robert Greene, works in ebbs and flows. He says that when he’s in the middle of a book, he stops communicating with the outside world and writes seven days a week. When it’s finished, he takes a break to tour and promote. (Of course, he’s still writing during this period, but not as much.) Then, after touring and promoting and having fun, he goes back to devoting his full attention to writing.
That cycle, revolving from high-intenesity to low-intensity, works for Greene. Like any other excellent performer, he makes his finest jewels when he’s in the zone. He couldn’t write best sellers as a part-time thing on the side—he needs to pour his entire being into the work. Sure, he’s alone for long stretches, but eventually the unbearable solitude ends—and he can take vacations, meet with friends, do interviews, and re-join with society.
I think that’s an awesome, and sensible, way to approach creative work. Nobody can sustain slogging through a high-energy period for long. You burn out, lose focus, trip up.
It’s best to balance high productivity with rest. Dedicate weeks or months solely to churning out quality work, then take a break and recuperate for the next big run.
(Note that you’re still working during this ‘break’ period, but not as intensely; your social life comes into play. You might still be slogging at your desk, but you unbolt and swing open the office door, so to speak.)
Make a conscious decision to integrate these two opposing elements into your life, and you’ll thrive.
What element do you think is most important to your creative success? How do you balance both? Tell us in the comments 🙂
Image by martinak15