Whenever you’re in the muck of a creativity block, your first instinct might be to run to your favorite books for rescue. To bathe in their wisdom. To let their words stir you and rouse you to create.
Whenever I’m stuck, I always turn to the books I trust most to nourish my brain when it seems barren.
Go read is wise advice to follow when you’re feeling creatively blocked or lost in life. That’s the advice you’ve probably heard from numerous teachers, mentors and countless renowned writers and artists.
In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King stresses the importance of reading for becoming a good writer:
“… You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but ‘didn’t have time to read,’ I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”
But in her beautiful book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, author Julia Cameron instructs readers to do the opposite: Don’t read. Anything. For a week.
According to Cameron, “If you feel stuck in your life or in your art, few jump starts are more effective than a week of reading deprivation.” She says that for most artists, words are akin to “tiny tranquilizers” or “greasy food.” It clogs our system, and too much of it leaves us fried.
However, spending a week without reading helps us pay attention, to the magic of both our exterior and our interior worlds. “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.”
We also absorb our own thoughts and feelings, Cameron says, instead of solely soaking up the words of others. We give ourselves the opportunity to create something of our very own.
When Cameron used to assign reading deprivation to her students, not surprisingly, she’d receive a lot of chilly feedback. Then students would inevitably ask what the heck they should be doing if they’re not reading. You might be wondering the same thing.
These are just some of Cameron’s suggestions:
- Listen to music.
- Go dancing.
- Pay the bills.
- Paint a bedroom.
- Rearrange the kitchen.
- Work out.
Reading deprivation may feel like you’re closing a vital door to your creativity. But you may be surprised to learn that you open up new, diverse worlds, instead.
As Cameron writes, “…sooner or later, if you are not reading, you will run out of work and be forced to play.”
What would you do during your week of reading deprivation?
Have you ever tried this technique?
What was your experience?