The Artist’s Way Week 4: Reading deprivation

For Christmas a friend gave me a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  In a vague intuitive way,  I thought  “something good is about to come from this.” It has. It will.

I had the mistaken impression that The Artist’s Way was one of those feel-good books for creative types, to be read once in cozy circumstances and then relegated to a bookshelf, to be removed when you need to feel good again.

Not so. The Artist’s Way is a twelve-week course in recovering creativity and focus in daily life. It is intensive. It brings up hidden things. Julia Cameron also links creativity to spirituality (a nonnegotiable point for her), and any time you venture into that country with an open mind, you embark on an adventure around every corner of which may be something you did not expect.

The tasks vary from week to week. The primary task of week 4 is Reading Deprivation. That means to stop idle-time reading. Cameron might have meant to stop reading entirely, but on a practical level this was impossible, not to mention undesirable. So I set two conditions:

  1. Social media (Facebook, Twitter) 1X/day.
  2. No reading in the evening. AT ALL.

Wait—ONCE a day?

I was an early adopter of social media.  I’ve been using these sites in one iteration or another since the late 1990s. They are about connection. Also  they are about hiding out from work, about being bored with work, and about nothing more than habit.

Here’s what I learned: the number of times I used to check into Facebook was too many, but once a day is not enough. Not for me. I am spending a half hour there every morning rather than the usual 5-6 minutes. I miss half of what I would otherwise have seen and barely respond to anything because that half hour is agenda driven. It is not fun. It is like skimming through 8,000 emails to see if there is anything important.

When the purpose is connection, all kinds of things can be important, including trivia. Sometimes especially trivia.

So when the week is up, I’ll give myself 3X/day and see how that goes.

Not surfing the Internet to waste time (as opposed to doing research) turned out to be surprisingly easy. That does tell me how little the purposeless surfing added to my day. It did nothing, basically.

My oldest habit—broken

I always read in the evenings. Even before I learned to read, books were part of the night, because I was read to. Going cold turkey on this particular habit was a major change.

The first thing reading deprivation did was to produce a flurry of housecleaning. The place now has better-looking kitchen cabinets and a number of other improvements. I stopped short of rearranging office furniture, but I did do a lot of throwing out and sorting.

There was something of the “new broom” about this cleaning. Reading deprivation is a big enough deal that it felt like a harbinger of change.

I was halfway through a new book when reading deprivation week came around and have been looking at it wistfully. A purchase from Abebooks arrived yesterday and I did not open it.

I have rediscovered the music on my seven-year-old iPod. I went through a Gregorian chant phase a few years ago. That’s nice music to get sleepy to.

An odd discovery: when I look at photos in a catalog and do not read the accompanying text, the photos look different. Imagination provides the stories rather than the sales pitch I am not reading. It’s nice.

When I lived in Washington, DC, I bought a beautiful art book from the National Gallery on the 17th century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. That was a fine thing to rediscover. Look at his paintings.

To waste time (I knew I’d find a way), I discovered an addictive little computer game called Balloon Pop. If you know someone whose organizational skills and productivity have always annoyed you, Balloon Pop will derail them. It is part of a sweet and charming animation called Circus. It costs two dollars, and you can give it as a gift.

Just saying . . .

9 comments on “The Artist’s Way Week 4: Reading deprivation

  1. Lindsay, I think she might have meant … no reading period … at which point I might have wanted to search her out and shoot her. Okay. I lost my computer on Christmas day and had a fast course in cyber deprivation … I survived. I could not retrieve my files and have since lost the cadence of my writing schedule … this will return. I finished only one book because I was busy getting some crafts done for a new on-line shop I could not visit … at least busy hands kept my mind at peace.

    But to do it deliberately, to turn off that switch we all have in our heads that compel us to read everything from cereal boxes and advertising copy to full length novels? I don’t think so. What I do as a natural part of my routine is go from reading two to three books a week to nothing at all for two months. But I continue with my own work and reading other things. I think the long book breaks come when my mind is a wash with too many distractions. And yes, music is the perfect companion even when we are not on a reading break.

    I should look into this book, but I don’t promise I’ll like it or “being told” to turn off. My on and off switches are part of my stubborn Italian personality :)

    • I think Cameron might have meant that, too, but I was not going to take on a hopeless task. I have spent week at computer, writing and reading email, working on novel, dealing with paying client, dealing with bank, etc. I have wasted less time on computer — this is good. I have read NOTHING in the evenings, and this feels very weird but bearable.

      I too take long book breaks, though I am not in midst of one now (except for this week). I think the idea of reading deprivation is to break an ingrained habit and see what comes in its place.


  2. I’m working my way through the artist’s way right now (I’m on week 5) and blogging about my experience. I just recently finished “reading deprivation week” and had a lot of success with it. I also cut my facebook visits to once a day, and cut off all visits to any other aggregation sites for the week. I had a bit of a different experience from you: I realized that I didn’t miss it at all. As the week near the end, I would catch myself remembering that I hadn’t visited facebook yet that day, and go on it just to make sure that there weren’t any important messages waiting for me. Since completing the week, my visits and time spent on Facebook have been significantly reduced. This means I get a lot more done throughout the day. Probably the things I missed the most were my podcasts (I cut these out because I listen to them all the time when I’m walking, and I decided to spend the week listening to my own thoughts a little more closely)., and my books. I have always read before bed, and I love reading on transit during my commute to school. Again, this got easier with time. Good luck with the rest of the book. I’m really excited about what the coming weeks have to bring.

    • I too am getting a lot out of THE ARTIST’S WAY. Limiting Facebook visits to 1x/day did end up making me more indifferent toward them, though that may have been indirectly because one visit a day was less fun than checking in and out. It felt like more of a chore. Rreading deprivation freed up creative energy. Thank you for sharing your experience! Someone not doing the course could likely not make heads or tails of what it involves.

  3. [...] doing the twelve-week course in  Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  That was week 4: reading deprivation. This is week [...]

  4. [...] This is third blog about The Artist’s Way course. The first two are Fasten Your Seat Belts and Reading Deprivation. [...]

  5. [...] This is my fourth blog about The Artist’s Way course. The first three are Everything Is Connected, Fasten Your Seat Belts. and Reading Deprivation. [...]

  6. [...] This is my fifth  blog about The Artist’s Way course. The first four are Do Fury Honor, Everything Is Connected, Fasten Your Seat Belts. and Reading Deprivation. [...]

  7. [...] The Artist’s Way course. The first five are Everything Is Connected, Fasten Your Seat Belts, Reading Deprivation, Do Fury Honor, and [...]

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