Open-floor plan offices and working in coffee shops is all the rage these days; privacy is no longer a key priority for creatives. In her new book, The RiseSarah Lewis explains how privacy may be more valuable to your creative process than you think. Besides the obvious quiet, it also provides you with a safe haven of sorts, where the fear of failure is diminished and mistakes easily shrugged off.


Part of the creative process requires undisturbed development in what poet Rainer Maria Rilke described as some dark and unsayable place. While speaking to young poet Franz Kappus about the importance of learning how to immunize creative work from criticism, he emphasized that “each embryo of a feeling” should have the benefit of this cocooned space. . .

We make discoveries, breakthroughs, and inventions in part because we are free enough to take risks, and fail if necessary. Private spaces are often where we extract the gains from attempts and misses. . .

Celebrated soprano Renée Fleming recalls it took a decade before she could sing anything in front of anyone, then another five years before she could sing consistently. “It wasn’t until my late thirties that I could get on stage and reproduce what I was doing in the practice room,” she said. . .

In a Paris Review interview, August Wilson recalled the moment when a waitress at a restaurant noticed he often came in and wrote on a paper napkin. She asked, “Do you write on napkins because it doesn’t count?” “It had never occurred to me that writing on a napkin frees me up,” the playwright said. “If I pull out a tablet, I’m saying, ‘Now I’m writing,’ and I become more conscious of being a writer. The waitress saw it; I didn’t recognize it, she did. That’s why I like to write on napkins. Then I go home to another kind of work — taking what I’ve written on napkins in bars and restaurants and typing it up, rewriting.” His napkin became an incubator, a safe haven, a way of silencing the brash inner critic before it was time for it to have its say.

 You can buy the book here.

  • Bryan Chapel

    I can relate to the napkin thing. My desk is littered with Panda
    Express/Panera receipts, napkins, bits of cardboard, half torn post-its
    (apparently I don’t need a whole post it…), and a whole stack of
    pristine, unsullied notebooks that I can’t bear to blemish for fear of
    making a mistake on the first couple of pages. Weird. I should really
    get over this.

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