Thoreau had a cabin. Maya her hotel room. Zarathustra his cave.

6 artists on the importance of quiet corners of solitude to do their best work.

Every artist, creator and deep thinker needs to occasionally retreat to a quiet corner of the world to concentrate and create. Here are thoughts from six.


1. Mary Oliver on concentration.

“Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.”
“No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Still, there are indications. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures, it is seldom seen. It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind. It likes solitude. It is more likely to stick to the risk-taker than the ticket-taker. It isn’t that it would disparage comforts, or the set routines of the world, but that its concern is directed to another place. Its concern is the edge, and the making of a form out of the formlessness that is beyond the edge.”
Mary Oliver, Upstream via Brain Pickings.

2. Joseph Campbell on having a sacred space of creative incubation.

“[Sacred space] is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”
— Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth.

3. Henry David Thoreau on entering the woods to live deliberately.

— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

4. Maya Angelou on retreating to her hotel room.

“I have kept a hotel room in every town I’ve ever lived in. I rent a hotel room for a few months, leave my home at six, and try to be at work by six-thirty…I never allow the hotel people to change the bed, because I never sleep there. I stay until twelve-thirty or one-thirty in the afternoon, and then I go home and try to breathe; I look at the work around five; I have an orderly dinner — proper, quiet, lovely dinner; and then I go back to work the next morning…I insist that all things are taken off the walls. I don’t want anything in there. I go into the room and I feel as if all my beliefs are suspended. Nothing holds me to anything. No milkmaids, no flowers, nothing. I just want to feel and then when I start to work I’ll remember.”
— Maya Angelou, The Paris Review

5. George Orwell’s “extremely un-get-atable” home on the island of Jura, Scotland, where he wrote 1984.

“He wanted to get away from London, which he found very grey, and he had the genesis of 1984 in his mind,” says Mr Blair. “He wanted to sit down and write a serious book and living in London he couldn’t get away from other people who wanted him to do reviews and so forth.”

According to his son Orwell described it as “extremely un-get-atable”.

6. Nietzsche on Zarathustra retreating to his cave and leaving it “glowing and strong.”

“‘And now let me quickly run away from you again. Even now a shadow seems to lie over me. I want to run alone so that it may become bright around me again. For that, I shall still have to stay merrily on my legs a long time. In the evening, however, there will be dancing in my cave.’”
“He left his cave, glowing and strong as a morning sun that comes out of dark mountains.”
Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Frederick Nietzsche

An Aside: Writing Cabins, Creator Caves

I’ve been dreaming of a site/service that curates and helps you book your own writing cabin or creator cave. This isn’t about luxury resorts and extravagant amenities. It’s about modest, humble, reasonably priced lodging in wonderfully isolated places where you can do your best work — undistracted.

Writing Cabins, Creator Caves (crappy working title?) is a curation of cabins, caves and contemplative places around the world for you to create your best work.

Discover your quiet corner of the world and create.

What do you think? A few questions for you…

  1. Does something like this already exist?
  2. Do you know of any amazing ‘creator caves’?
  3. Is this a service/site you’d be interested in?

Please let me know in the comments!


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