Creative Isolation

The importance of finding time alone to create

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

The importance of finding time alone to create

Well, here we are — another year over. On reflection, I hope you look back with a smile on your face, and if you can’t do that then maybe you can be happy that it’s over. This past year has been good I must admit. There were no remarkable events as such, just a steady stream of good. There were some frustrations, you know, the everyday stuff that gets to you. But on the whole, it has been a good one. How’s it been for you?

One thing that occupies my mind as we see this year out is the importance of isolation, time alone to think. To me, there is little of more importance than this as I move like treacle towards the completion of The Artist’s Manifesto. Yes, it’s taking longer than I would have liked but it all of this process there is the realisation that I am where I am. An acceptance you might say.

There is, accompanying this, the ever-present draw into the exploration of creativity and art in everyday work; our obligation to ourselves to allow it free expression and the necessity for our society to embrace working our craft, whatever that may be, for its inherent enjoyment. In today’s article, the final one as 2018 draws to a close; I’m looking at solitude.


Finding a quiet space in which to create is perhaps one of the single most essential prerequisites for creative work.

This is true now as it has always been, despite the popular modern convention towards collaborative workspaces; spaces where we allow ourselves to be herded like cattle into boxes by corporate entities who pretend through their willful managers, to care for our wellbeing.

They don’t.

Corporates and large organisations don’t honestly care about you; they care about your productivity. You are a number on a spreadsheet, an arbitrary unit subject to replacement should your productivity is not what they determine as acceptable.

Sure there are employment rights, toilet paper, air-conditioning and all that craic, but they’re just tools to help you feel more secure in your insecurity.

The people to whom you report often feel as you do, but they carry out the instructions of their superiors nonetheless.

Duties they must fulfil to keep their jobs.

The person cares for you, but they’ll do their job first. They shelve their humanity for the sake of that job — for security which ironically, is not security at all.

Employers may provide you with a beautiful workspace and ply you with a multitude of material incentives and modern conveniences, but they don’t care for you.

They care for their shareholders, which is merely caring for symbols of wealth and prosperity.

You must care for yourself, the work you do.

You must care for yourself in everything you do, in all manner of relationship, for to invest your time and effort in the misled belief that some other being or entity will look after you is foolish and naive.

I don’t mean that as a criticism, I mean it as a truth.

Yes, there is of course merit in working with others in a collaborate environment, but only for a while and for the right reasons.

To make something truly worthwhile, something that reflects that inner, ultimately unknowable aspect of yourself, you must retreat into your own private space away from the noise and distraction of the world.

Because to believe in their promises, both explicit and implicit, is to leave yourself exposed and vulnerable.

In Chapter 4 of The Artist’s Manifesto, you’ll read about Embracing Solitude, and why indulging in this critical aspect of creativity is not to risk annihilation, but indeed is the exact opposite.

Creating A Quiet Space

Just over a year ago I went back to self-employment.

I was ready again.

After working for someone else for a short period, I realised I couldn’t unlearn what I had learned after almost 20 years doing my own thing. The multimillion Euro company I was working for exercised outdated ideas of work and the people working for them merely did what they were told to do.

I had spent way too long thinking on my feet, making creative decisions and forming my mould just to settle in and revert to siloed and out-dated work practice.

So I quit.

I remembered then, what it was like to have the freedom of self-employment, to own and operate a company of one.

Previously, I had managed employees — I didn’t want that this time around.

Managing myself and the work I do was going to be enough. Sure, I would need other people and services, but I would hire these in as I needed.

The most important thing for me I thought, was creative isolation, to build a place where I could work in private without interruption.

So in the summer, I converted the small shed at the bottom of the garden into a studio. It cost about five grand, and I could have used that money elsewhere, but on reflection, it was five grand well spent.

Knuckling down into the creative work is still challenging.

You know, getting going.

But once I get started into the subject momentum builds and I find myself completely lost in the flow.

This isolated yet connected state where we can receive the ideas and inspiration and create things without outside influence is what we are after.

Someone Else’s System

Out there is someone else’s system.

You didn’t make it; you joined it.

You joined it so that you decide how much of it you liked and how much of you didn’t and based on that you’d make your own.

You didn’t come into the world to follow someone else’s ideas; you came to form and follow your own.

Fuck them.

I mean really, fuck them. Graciously present the middle finger and say thanks but no thanks.

Do your own thing, follow your creative inspiration.

Alright, I accept that you’ve got to learn the rules of the game at first, but as soon as you learn them, break them.

Create your own.

You and I are under no obligation to keep doing what other people did before us, although you may be firmly convinced by their response and subsequent punishment that this is the way things are supposed to be.

Because they will be disappointed and they will punish you.

They’ll remove their love and their acceptance, and you will be made feel genuinely isolated. In reality, though, it is they who are isolated and alone, and it is you that are free.

There’s no other way.

For you to allow that thing inside to be expressed, whatever it is, and to allow it to be known to itself, you must get comfortable in solitude.

For me, there is no greater importance.

New For 2019

When I start writing, I’m often not too sure where it will go.

I start with an idea and then go with the flow of where ever it takes me.

Then I read over it a dozen times or more and edit as needed.

It’s like drawing. In fact, it is drawing, drawing in words.

When I started writing today, I had a two-word Idea for the first couple of paragraphs. I also knew I wanted to wish you, folks, a Happy Christmas and New Year and mention what I have planned.

Other times I’m more structured, but not always.

I say this because I want you to now that we don’t always need to know what the result will be like.

The principle of Purposeful Accident says we just need to get started and do so purposefully, in a state of play, then be brave enough to see what happens.

Anyway, Happy Christmas and Happy New Year too!

The Artist’s Manifesto

Yeah, I know, this book is taking forever to complete. I could beat myself up over that, but then there’s no merit in that.

I don’t earn a living for writing, at least not just yet, but it is the plan.

Right now there are financial needs I must meet and the day job helps take care of that. And of course, it fuels the costs of writing and creating things online so I must give the day job my attention.

In doing so the book has had to take a back seat at times, but later this month I plan to finally publish (I hope).

Support My Work
If you’d like to become a patron and support my work, head over to Patreon and check out the rewards.

The Podcast

The Larb podcast has about 170 episodes and has been a real source of creative enjoyment for me over the past year or more.

In October, as with the book, I put the breaks on the show to focus on work and college and consider what direction I would take next.

So after some consideration, I decided to take the show live.

I’m using Ecamm Live to stream The Larb live on Facebook in January, and you can join me there on Sundays every week.

The Creative Community is a group I made in Facebook for you and other readers where we can engage and share ideas and things we’ve made. You can pose questions and share podcast topic ideas there too.


Earlier this month I joined Bernie Goldbach from Insideview for chats at The Galway Hooker at Heuston Station. He is doing a series of podcast episodes for Congregation ’19 on the subject of community and asked me to join him to discuss the topic.

Here’s an extract — click through to get the episode.

ONE OF THE JOYS of being connected online is getting to meet offline and chatting about shared values. I got a half hour of face-to-face chat with @larrygmaguire and learned more about his iron skillet, the importance of having a quiet third space in your own car, and what lies ahead for readers of The Artist’s Manifesto. It’s all part of Congversation 12, an audio series promoting community for the annual Congregation Unconference.

Artist Alexis Cohen invited me to take part in her Awakening Through Art event (maybe you checked that out already — I hope so). She had almost 30 creative professionals sharing their experience and understanding of the creative process in the month-long online masterclass.

I got to speak about Purposeful Accident and The Artist’s Manifesto. If you haven’t watched that yet you can do so here.

So Ends Another Year

Time and the aspects of it we use to structure our movements are arbitrary; I reckon you get that.

But we all have come to agree on this means of measurement and, to be honest, it’s handy.

And so it’s around this time of year we tend to reflect on the previous cycle and anticipate the next, make some plans and try maybe try new things in the coming year.

But in all of that, I think it’s important to keep the eyes focused on the important fundamentals. Whatever those fundamentals look like for you, make sure you don’t lose sight of them.

Because it’s the simple, almost mundane execution of the basics that have the potential to make us happy.

Although, the jury is out on happiness.

At least as it exists in the future obtaining of reward or material possession that is.

As my last words for 2018, I will encourage you to keep doing what’s working and forget what’s not.

The simple things, the daily work, your work, your craft. It is that which is most important.

Originally published at on December 24, 2018.

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