12 Creative Geniuses Who Swore By Solitude

Geniuses often come stereotyped as loners who prefer the company of themselves and themselves alone when it comes time to start working out their ideas and insights. In some cases, the popular image actually holds true, as many of the world’s most celebrated minds really did exalt in the pleasures that solitude provides. Time alone seems incredibly conducive to creativity, as many of the following practitioners would most certainly attest if they weren’t all dead and stuff.

  1.  

    Marcel Proust

    Probably the most familiar image the literati holds of the In Search of Lost Time scribe is one of an antisocial recluse hermitting away in a cork-lined bedroom, hammering away at his typewriter. He actually began life as quite the social butterfly until the death of his father propelled him to seek solace writing in isolation.

     

  2.  

    Nikola Tesla

    Science requires creativity, especially when it comes to inventing and building upon some of the most popular technologies of all time. Like, oh, the radio. Dashingly handsome Nikola Tesla was quite the proponent of solitary innovation, allegedly quipping, “The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. No big laboratory is needed in which to think. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.”

     

  3.  

    Virginia Woolf

    A Room of One’s Own empowered women writers to launch their careers with their own money and a private space in which to work. While certainly not the most reclusive author of all time (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), she advocated “a room of one’s own” (duh) for maintaining a clear head while getting literary — advice that applies across gender and gender identity lines!

     

  4.  

    Michelangelo Buonarotti

    Michelangelo’s notoriously boiling temperament won him few allies in his lifetime, and it tended to drive away any assistants who wished to apprentice under his brilliant sculpture and painting skills — not to mention patrons. But he didn’t hold much patience for them, either, and mostly worked alone because so few (if any) lived up to his precise (anal retentive) standards.

     

  5.  

    Emily Dickinson

    One of the English language’s most influential poets preferred keeping to herself at her parents’ home as an adult, corresponding with her few friends largely by letter. During this solitary stint, she hammered out almost 1,800 poems, and a fascination with death and dying underscores her devotion to the isolationist cause.

     

  6.  

    Stanley Kubrick

    Negative experiences with producers sent the obsessive director of cinematic classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining (among others!) away to England, where he enjoyed complete control over his filmmaking. Apocryphally, he would answer the door pretending to be his own butler in order to prevent visiting fans from further interrupting editing sessions.

     

  7.  

    Stonehouse

    This Zen abbot exalted the virtues of a hermitic existence through his lovely instructional poetry, which he penned while enjoying the forests and mountains of Hangzhou. Readers without the luxury of deeply personal time might very well find his works a delightful departure from the mental and physical crowds.

     

  8.  

    Henry David Thoreau

    Scholars continue debating just how solitary an existence transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau led while penning Walden, but that doesn’t override the fact that he definitely thought it a totally rad lifestyle indeed. The entire book stands as a paean to staying as self-reliant and secluded as possible — tenets to which the philosopher adhered to varying degrees.

     

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    Howard Hughes

    Plagued with mental illness and addiction, the last few years of the acclaimed aviator, director, and all-around Renaissance man were spent bouncing from hotel to hotel and city to city communicating with the world largely through aides. He only trusted a small throng of people (known as “The Mormon Mafia” because of their religious inclinations) to carry out his demands, spending most of the resulting free time plotting the reinvigoration of Las Vegas.

     

  10.  

    Jutta von Sponheim

    Hildegard von Bingen considered Benedictine abbess Jutta von Sponheim her inspiration, seeking the reclusive, elusive educator for advice on all matters. The former countess devoted herself so utterly to musical, philosophical, and academic affairs, she lived in a hut outside the convent, perpetually confined to a single room and receiving food through its only window.

     

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    Syd Barrett

    Following a nasty breakup with Pink Floyd, which he co-founded, a drug-and-schizophrenia-influenced Syd Barrett retreated into a self-imposed exile. After two years, he released the two albums recorded while isolating himself from the rest of the world — Barrett and The Madcap Laughs. Their commercial failure led him to further retreat into himself, to the point it is rumored fans didn’t even know he was alive when his death was announced.

     

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    Friedrich Nietzsche

    Nihilist to the core, severe physical and mental illness left the influential philosopher frequently confined to his home, which suited him just fine. In fact, in Beyond Good and Evil, he even describes “GOOD solitude” as “free, wanton, lightsome” — and not entirely solitary, either.

     

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