The monotony & solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind. Einstein
I often wish I could just go into a cave and write and write and write. However, my life only allows me to do that for a couple of hours a day–unless I go on a writing retreat.
In order for me to do my best work, the kind of deep work you have to do in order to go deep into the topic, deep into the research, deep into the thinking, with long cycles of reflection, I need to make sure I get to my version of a cave as often as possible.
That’s how I develop ideas. That’s how I do good stuff.
After a busy couple of years of travelling, I was beginning to forget how to get back into the wellspring of the deep, quiet solitude of work.
Hopefully, each book I write will be better than the last, however, if I’m so busy travelling and doing myriad other things, I question if I am bringing my best to my work. I want the quality to always get better, so I really need to put myself in a place where I can disappear into my thoughts.
I’ve found that NaNoWriMo doesn’t work for me. Neither does Stephen King’s advice in his instructional memoir, On Writing (A strict diet of 1,000 words a day, six days a week).
Anne Lamott proposes something similar in her guide, Bird by Bird (Sitting down to write at roughly the same time every day).
The problem for me is that each week has a completely different routine. I also work from home with my husband, and we have projects and unexpected things that come up.
So, I have to have a different approach. When I’m working on a book, I have to approach each week as its own scheduling challenge. The reality is that I just have to squeeze as much writing as I can manage in the most practical manner.
Sometimes, this might lead to times where I write at a regular time or other periods where I binge write for days.
The point is that I commit to plans that I know I can achieve and commit to as many hours of deep work as I can.
Every week looks different, but what’s consistent is that I rack up deep hours and watch my next book start to come together.
And those persons who can shut themselves up for long periods and work out their thoughts alone, constructing beautiful and orderly representations of their own spirits, are to me a continual mystery. I know this is the way that things are accomplished, that ‘monotony and solitude’ are necessary for him who would produce creative thought.Youth and Life by Randolph Bourne (1913)
In February, I went camping for a week and hardly looked at my phone or computer. I realised I'm rarely left alone with my own thoughts and imagination. One of my goals this year is to increase the number of hours I spend in solitude and in deep work.
Jim Collins, author of, tries to log one thousand hours of deep creative time every 365 days. He says, there’s no rule about how many you get in a day. Sometimes there’s zero and sometimes they can be nine or ten–it doesn’t matter if you’re sick, it doesn’t matter if there’s other stuff you’d like to be doing. Collins keeps 1,000 creative hours a year as a minimum baseline.
The number isn’t important, but the overall objective is that over time there’s quality work. Creative hours lead to some kind of creative output–whether it’s research or writing or thinking–it’s leading towards producing something.
Are you challenged in this area? Are you a Stephen King, Anne Lamott or Jim Collins? How do you get into the wellspring of the deep, quiet solitude of work?
Elaine Fraser writes YA fiction and inspirational nonfiction. She writes about life issues with a spiritual edge. Elaine blogs at http://www.elainefraser.co, Kinwomen, and several other journals. She travels several months of the year and is otherwise found in her library in Perth, Australia—writing, reading, and hugging her golden retriever.