Artist's Guilt

In response to Mr. Pond, The Ethic of Exclusion

"The ethic of exclusion is the primacy of solitude in the life of an artist," Mr. Pond says. "Because we are continually defined through others and shaped through conversation, we need the harrowing of solitude to allow us to create."

The question of the ethical rightness of creative solitude is something I struggle with on a regular basis. This is a big world with a lot of problems, a lot of needs. A lot of needs, more than any one person can ever fulfill. So what on earth am I doing at my computer, spending hours and days agonizing over commas?

[Note: I am not questioning a balance of time between different activities. I'm questioning the worth of doing this at all.]

I don't have a good answer for this. Oh, I have answers. Mostly in the forms of limits—I know from experience that too much time spent volunteering, being outside of the house, being social, and so on and so forth, will set me up for a run-in with the biggest, meanest monster I've ever fought. But limits sometimes feel too arbitrary to make good answers.

Mr. Pond offers this defense of exclusion:
"The subtle truth of solitude is that it unites us with everyone else. The reality of creativity is that when we are most alone, we are most together."
 That's an interesting thought. I'm not sure I'd accept it as always true (we can be alone for purely selfish reasons, using creativity as an excuse—though selfish motive can also drive us to be with people) but I think it can be true.

Perhaps guilt over time spent polishing a blog post or novel is overly pragmatic, too much in the spirit of the times. We have the resources and the excuses nowadays to be just philanthropic enough to assuage our consciences and make ourselves look good, and to then spend the rest of our energy fulfilling ourselves. But however imperfectly I may live it, my faith demands of me something very different from self-fulfilling philanthropy. And the Church, which does more feeding and clothing than any other organization worldwide, yet has value for solitude.

"Whatever you do," says Scripture, "work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord..."

The balance of any one person's time is beyond my judgment. The balance of my own is something to keep searching for. But writing, that deeply solitary pursuit, is work that I would probably be doing in some form even if I were constantly busy, even without access to laptops or desktops or notebooks or pens. I've got some experience with some of that. And I'm a lot less crazy if I actually take some time to sit down, be quiet, and write.

It feels weird to talk about working for God for two reasons: one, that makes it sound like I write Christian fiction, and in the common understanding of that term I do not; and two, it might sound like I'm claiming inspiration, and far too many things are blamed on God already. But in the sense of believing in God, loving him, and wanting to please him, then yes—I try to write for God as I try to live for him.

When it comes to writing, it's not often hard to do it with all my heart.


  1. Just want to point out that I wrote 'when we are most alone'--as in true solitude. Selfish loneliness isn't solitude. That's hanging about in the company of me! :)

    Also, wonder if you've seen this? I've not been able to read it yet but it looks fascinating.

  2. Thanks for the clarification! Sorry if I missed it in the original post. I wrote this in a bit of a sleepy haze.

    No, I haven't--but oh, am I ever going to! I just went through part of it and can't wait to read the rest. JPII was an amazing writer.


All comments are currently moderated. Friendly comments are welcomed with fairy music, magic wishes, and possible unicorn sightings. Troll comments will be Transfigured into decent-looking rocks or Vanished. Spam comments will be shot down with blasters.