Could you not read for a week?
Musings after a week of reading deprivation
Last week I embarked on a challenge - depriving myself of reading for a week, as part of The Artist’s Way course. As I wrote in my previous post, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to complete the task, but the short version of my story is this: I did it.
I did it!
But it was by no means an easy feat. When reading is your “lullaby”, the thing you do every night before sleeping, the thing that makes your eyelids heavy even as you want to fit in one more word … it’s almost unthinkable. It makes me think of a child losing a beloved “blankie” or cuddle toy, the way they are inconsolable without one of their greatest comforts. It’s easy to dismiss that loss as an adult - “you’ll get over it”, we tell them - but the getting over it is hard. We forget that sometimes - when we’re in our comfort zone or happy place, and not the ones having to give up something that we rely on.
The day I was set to begin my reading deprivation period, I felt anxiety bubbling inside. I was on edge, agitated, unsettled for the whole day. If you’re not a reader, you might wonder what the big deal is, but for those who lap up words like I do, you’ll get it. I covered this anxiety by baking cookies, visiting a family member, calling my sister … but these activities merely veiled a growing sense of dread, no matter how hard I tried to reframe my thoughts and feelings into words like:
possibility, opportunity, discovery
So, given that I was anxious before I started, how did I go? How did I manage to overcome the anxiety and create space for possibility, for creativity’s guidance? For my muse?
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron lists a range of things to fill the gap left by not reading: cooking, decluttering, gardening, letter writing, painting, gardening, listening to music and so on. Many of her suggestions were unsuited to the evening, or at least an evening in a house shared with others. So I decided that I would:
write letters to friends
do stretching and Pilates
go to bed earlier
set up ‘Downtime’ on my phone and time limits on social media apps (I need to use them for work, so some access was needed).
Why restrict social media? Because I also wanted to work on something else - I want less scrolling in the evenings, and more focus on whatever I was doing. I’m inclined to cross check things on Google while reading, which often then leads down rabbit holes and back to social media. Regardless of reading deprivation, I want to work on my focus, on being present with whatever I’m doing.
That first night was the hardest, despite all my preparations. Everything was ready - a calming space for evening stretching, meditations ready to go, stationery and a nice pen on the bedside table.
But as I listened to relaxing music, the kind designed to lull you into sleep, I realised that I was not being lulled at all. My mind was resisting the hypnotic pull of the music and remained stubbornly, frustratingly wide awake. At 11pm. At 1am. At 2am. At 3am.
The same thing happened the second night.
A protest, perhaps?
It did leave me wondering what the purpose of this exercise was, more than once. But now I was determined to figure that out, so I repeated this routine each night for the week and it got easier … probably because I knew this experience was finite, that I just had to heave myself over the hump of resistance and then the goal would be within reach.
During the week, I continued writing morning pages, venting my feelings onto blank pages. I wrote out about the agitation I felt, but also the hint of defiance, the feelings of resentment. I wondered if I would have some “bold awakening” and when that didn’t happen, I wanted to throw my hands up in the air. I mused about creativity being something that you can’t control or force, and imagined it as a collaboration between the Creator and myself. I went back to wondering what the point was.
I asked myself if I’d lost the urge to engage with my words, with my writing, because I’d buried myself in the words of others. Did I need to deprive myself of others’ words in order to rediscover that connection with my muse? Was that the purpose?
I allowed my mind to drift to places I’d travelled and loved and places I wanted to go, to things I liked doing but didn’t do any more. I dug deep and asked if I wanted my creativity to be typecast as “writer” when in reality, I often crave and want to explore other forms of creative expression. Or was that fear talking? Did I like the feeling of having written more than the writing itself?
And the big one … do I have another novel in me?
All this … and more. Lots of thought, lots of space to think … no concrete answers or mapped-out paths, no lightbulb moments. I can’t say that I experienced any dramatic insights or discoveries. Reading deprivation wasn’t life-changing in a BIG way.
But there was still discovery. Quiet thoughts, ponderings, wonderings that I’ve allowed to come to the surface, such as:
my creativity is stifled by too much stimulation - my mind is prone to fill with others’ ideas and thoughts and discoveries, leaving little room for my own … (but enough for self-doubt).
my tendency towards perfectionism continues to impact the joy of creating … I need to loosen up.
If I want my creativity to flourish, I need to choose carefully what I put into my mind when I’m in the zone. Maybe it’s best not to read books of the same genre to mine while writing a manuscript (do that as part of the research phase).
I don’t need to check non-urgent things at night (or “check in” on social media) - it’s stopping me from being present, it’s training me not to focus.
the seeds of creativity have been planted but it’s up to me to give them room to grow.
Am I disappointed that there wasn’t a WOW, OMG moment? No. I’m a quiet person. An introvert who prefers small groups over large gatherings. It makes sense that for me, change will happen gradually … it is happening, day by day.
Change doesn’t have to be dramatic to happen.
Where am I at now? I am open to guidance and trust that it will come. I am making room for inspiration and joy, for my muse and I to meet in a much more open and fertile and teachable setting. I am awake to possibility, opportunity and discovery.
Oh … and I have been singing. Mostly in the car, but also learning a harmony. More on that another time.
How are you and your muse going?