why reading deprivation

from The Artist’s Way:

If you feel stuck in your life or in your art, few jump starts are more effective than a week of reading deprivation.

No reading? That’s right: no reading. For most artists, words are like tiny tranquilizers. We have a daily quota of media chat that we swallow up. Like greasy food, it clogs our system. Too much of it and we feel, yes, fried.

It is a paradox that by emptying our lives of distractions we are actually filling the well. Without distractions, we are once again thrust into the sensory world. With no newspaper to shield us, a train becomes a viewing gallery. With no novel to sink into (and no television to numb us out) an evening becomes a vast savannah in which furniture — and other assumptions — get rearranged.

Reading deprivation casts us into our inner silence, a space some of us begin to immediately fill with new words — long, gossipy conversations, television bingeing, the radio as a constant, chatty companion. We often cannot hear our own inner voice, the voice of our artist’s inspiration, above the static. In practicing reading deprivation, we need to cast a watchful eye on these other pollutants. They poison the well.

If we monitor the inflow and keep it to a minimum, we will be rewarded for our reading deprivation with embarrassing speed. Our reward will be a new outflow. Our own art, our own thoughts and feelings, will begin to nudge aside the sludge of blockage, to loosen it and move it upward and outward until once again our well is running freely.

Reading deprivation is a very powerful tool — and a very frightening one. Even thinking about it can bring up enormous rage. For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction. We gobble the words of others rather that cook up something of our own.


That last sentence is me — maybe not anyone else, but it sure is me. So that’s the rationale. And to be honest, I haven’t been very true to the spirit of the tool this week. I’m thinking of giving it another shot next week. This past week has just been too suck-ish with issues of body image, grief and illness. Wednesday I’ll try again.

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