The Benefits of Solitude

Writers, it seems, have a love/hate relationship with solitude. We seem to crave that noise which can only be found on the inside of our own heads. It is indeed a beautiful noise. I can’t for the life of me understand why more people don’t agree.

We’re all very social creatures, of course — one week in solitary confinement at Brushy Mountain Correctional Facilty, just over the mountain from where I sit, will prove that very quick.

But as an artist, being alone is truly a requirement. And not just literally having no one around: Even in the living room I can often write when people are moving through the house and the TV is on, and the dishwasher is cycling through and the kid is bouncing a ball against his bedroom wall. But what’s necessary is the sense that you are unneeded for a time — that’s true gold. That’s where the magic happens.

Some people, when they have a night off, are working the phones hoping to get a beer summit together, or a movie, or a communal jog. Me on a night off, I’m usually headed for my office to tinker with a script, or a song, or read a book, or just peruse articles on that never-ending pop culture magazine rack we call The Internet.

I’m genuinely puzzled here. I love to hike, love movies, love eating out, love communal work sessions, love socializing (as long as it excludes small talk, that buzzing mosquito in the ear of every true conversationalist’s existence). But an evening or afternoon spent in one’s own head — what could be better? Unfettered thoughts, strings of logic left uninterrupted, daydreams, fantasy worlds created and destroyed in minutes. That’s what we’re running away from?

Is it selfish to think that one’s head is one of the more interesting places to be at any given time? Are we that desperate for noise and distraction that we can’t settle down for a solitary film, or an hour with a book, or even (God forbid) staring at the ceiling for a time?

In his day, the poet Wordsworth worried that the coming years were bringing a number of gross distractions, that more and more stimulation was needed to keep our attentions. And that was in the early 19th Century. He’d abhor what has happened now.

I don’t think I’m making some huge pronouncement here. I’m just observing, and also asking a question: What is so tough about hanging around with yourself and listening the music inside one’s own head?

“Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.”