“(Screenwriting is) all pretty much sitting alone in a room staring at a screen. That solitude is interesting to me.”
Screenwriter David Koepp (Spider-Man, Jurassic Park)
“Solitude is the school of genius.”
Edward Gibbon (Writer of the classic book, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)
Playing off the quote I heard and wrote about yesterday —“Solitude is creativity’s best friend.”—I thought I’d explore that a bit from the perspective of screenwriting. Of course, there are many layers and definitions of solitude than is fitting to cover here, so this is only meant as a quick overview.
In a happy accident yesterday I stumbled upon Anthony Storr’s book Solitude. I picked it up at a used bookstore years ago but never read it and had it in my car to donate to the library. So I read a chunk of it last night and found it an interesting read on the subject.
“The majority of poets, novelist, composers, and, to a lesser extent, of painters and sculptors, are bound to spend a great deal of time alone.”
In Karl Iglesias’ book, The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, he quotes several screenwriters on the topic of working alone.
“Something like 20 percent of the general population is introverted, but I think most writers probably fall into that category. They feel very comfortable with solitude. They are probably better in one-on-ne situations rather than dealing with lots of people. I know that when I’m in a room full of people, I tend to fall back as an observer.”
Robin Swiscord (co-writer, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
“As a screenwriter, you need to be comfortable with that solitude for long periods of time, unless you work in television where’s it’s a more social environment.”
Amy Holden Jones (Mystic Pizza)
“You need to create solitude so that you can hear the voices, and you need a willingness to to live in the world of the story for long periods of time, forcing yourself into the world of the story for long periods of time, forcing yourself into the world of the characters so that you can believe they exist. Many spouses understandably complain that we’re not living in the present.”
Tom Schulman (Dead Poets Society)
Solitude in the sense they are talking about is working by oneself. But it can also be defined as withdrawing from normal activities for a time as Thoreau did on Walden Pond and wrote about in Walden.
“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
Henry David Thoreau
There are many positive aspects this kind of solitude. A spirit of contemplation and reflection.
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up. Left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.”
“Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely.”
Hara Estroff Marano
Psychology Today article “What is Solitude?”
“Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature.”
But the other side of solitude has a darker perspective. The former monk and reformer Martin Luther was not fond of solitude for that is when he believed Satan attacked him the most. It could be a place that the Eagles sang about, “Your prison is walking through this world all alone.” We’re talking Howard Hughes territory. And it’s clear if you read many bios or watch many movies on well-known artists, solitude was not always their friend—or even their choice.
“Creative talent of a major kind is not widely bestowed. Those who possess it are often regarded with awe because of their gifts, They also tend to be thought of as peculiar; odd human beings who do not share the pains and pleasures of the average person. Does this difference from the average imply abnormality in the sense of psychopathology? More particularly, is the predilection of the creative person for solitude evidence of some inability to make close relationships?
It is not difficult to point to examples of men and women of genius whose interpersonal relationships have been stormy, and whose personalities have been grossly disturbed by mental illness, alcoholism, or drug abuse. Because of this, it is easy to assume that creative talent, mental instability, and a deficient capacity for making satisfying personal relationships are closely linked.”
That is they were forced into a kind of solitude because they either could not stand to be with other people or other people could not stand to be with them. That often freed them to hyper focus on their art. And often to focus on things that led to their demise. Of course, not every creative genius falls into that category—but the list is pretty extensive of those that do.
So I guess like many things, solitude for any of us can be a benefit or a hindrance in life.