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What I Learned from a Week of Reading Deprivation

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Photo by Gülfer ERGİN on Unsplash

I’m doing a round of The Artist’s Way. Last week was Week 4, and it contains the reading deprivation exercise. Basically, she wants her students to read nothing. No new words of any kind. She says that “for most artists, words are like tiny tranquilizers.” Which I get.

When I got to this exercise, I noticed I had a lot of resistance. I had the cynical resistance (language is also made of words. Am I supposed not to talk or listen to anyone talk during this week?), the logistic resistance (but I have so many things to do!), and even the good-girl resistance (I promised someone I’d read and comment on their work, I can’t let them down!). When I realised how much resistance there was, I decided it would probably be good for me to do it, even just to see what happens.

Spoiler alert: I hated it.

For me, the easiest thing was not reading emails and going off social media. I don’t love doing these things anyway, so any excuse for a week off is fine by me. Sure, I now have a week’s worth of emails in my inbox, but I’m not overly fussed.

I decided that I would also not listen to podcasts, as that for me is like reading (maybe more like reading a newspaper than a book, but still). That was surprisingly easy. I thought for sure it would be tough to walk the dog without the podcast, but I found it wasn’t so bad—even an excellent opportunity to examine the streets and the park.

But not reading books was tough. As I mentioned, I have an emotional connection to my books, and I’ve already discovered that I wasn’t able to work while my books were packed. I thought that back then it was because of the move. It’s entirely possible that it was the not-reading.

Cameron argues that the reward for reading deprivation is “a new outflow.” She says that “We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own.” I didn’t feel a new outflow. I haven’t written anything in my book (because it was half-term, but still), and I didn’t feel an urge to write.

This week has taught me a lot about why I read. When I was a kid, books were absolutely an escape from a life I didn’t like and had no control over. But I’m a grown-up now. I’m careful about what I read and when. For instance, my social media time is half an hour in the afternoon. I only open my emails after I finish the writing session for today. And I read books in the afternoons and evenings, instead of waiting for something exciting to happen.

For me, reading isn’t addictive, as Cameron argues. It’s inspiring. My ideas, my words, come from a hodgepodge of podcasts about various topics, books—both fiction and nonfiction, conversations with friends, and TED talks. After all, creativity is combining existing things in new ways.


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