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Nurturing Creativity in Solitude

Musician Ani DiFranco produced her album “Educated Guess” entirely on her own.

An interviewer asked, “Your approach, your energy on the current tour and on the new album seem different. Why is that?”

DiFranco replied, “The difference is solitude. I have it in my life now, and I didn’t for years, at all… now I’m alone on stage, it’s been like a year and a half, and I’m alone in my dressing room and I’m alone in my home.

“And there’s just a lot less people around. So it allows for more contemplation.”

Writer Erica Jong thinks “Everyone has a talent. What is rare is the courage to nurture it in solitude and to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads.”

There are many examples of creative people who do just that.

“Painter Gwen John, poet Stevie Smith, philosopher Simone Weil, writers Isak Dinesen, Rebecca West and Katherine Mansfield are among women who used aloneness as a lab.” [From review by Laurie Stone of the book Alone! Alone!: Lives of Some Outsider Women, by Rosemary Dinnage]

Solitude may be a choice of many sensitive and/or introverted people.

In a Psychology Today article [Field Guide to the Loner: The Real Insiders, by Elizabeth Svoboda], the author writes about Miina Matsuoka who “lives by herself in New York City. She owns two cats and routinely screens her calls.

“But before you jump to conclusions, note that she is comfortable hobnobbing in any of five languages for her job as business manager at an international lighting-design firm.

“She just strongly prefers not to socialize, opting instead for long baths, DVDs, and immersion in her art projects. She does have good, close friends, and goes dancing about once a month, but afterward feels a strong need to ‘hide and recoup.’

“In our society, where extroverts make up three-quarters of the population, loners (except Henry David Thoreau) are pegged as creepy or pathetic. But soloists like Matsuoka can function just fine in the world – “they simply prefer traveling through their own interior universe.”

The author adds, “Contrary to popular belief, not all loners have a pathological fear of social contact. ‘Some people simply have a low need for affiliation,’ says Jonathan Cheek, a psychologist at Wellesley College. ‘There’s a big subdivision between the loner-by-preference and the enforced loner.’

“Those who choose the living room over the ballroom may have inherited their temperament, Cheek says. Or a penchant for solitude could reflect a mix of innate tendencies and experiences such as not having many friends as a child or growing up in a family that values privacy.”

Solitude may relate to social anxiety or high sensitivity for some people, which can result in emotional overwhelm in many social situations.

But many innovators and creators choose solitude, as persons “who can to a higher degree than average accept the condition of aloneness,” says psychologist Nathaniel Branden.

“They are more willing to follow their own vision, even when it takes them far from the mainland of the human community.”

In his book Solitude: A Return to the Self, the late British psychiatrist Anthony Storr points out that creativity is often linked to seclusion. Henry James, Beatrix Potter, Franz Kafka, Beethoven – all were loners.

Related post: Solitude is not pathology for the high sensitivity personality, By Cat Robson.

In her article Psychological Factors in the Development of Adulthood Giftedness from Childhood Talent, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, PhD talks about solitude in early life:

“Many eminent individuals reported experiencing social isolation and loneliness as children. Many came from homes where there was ample opportunity for time alone for a variety of reasons and circumstances.

“Some were deliberately kept from having friends by their parents who feared the friend’s negative influences. Some creative producers sought solitary time as children to escape family tensions and stressful circumstances.

“Solitary time in childhood also supported the development of a rich internal fantasy life, one that could aid creative thought.”

Nurturing Creativity in Solitude

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2013). Nurturing Creativity in Solitude. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Aug 2013
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