Read less, Do more

photo credit: lipár

As a reading fanatic, it feels a bit strange to be giving you this advice.  In fact, an article with this title would not have occurred to me a week ago.   But that was before my experiment with reading deprivation.

Fans of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way* are nodding their heads right now, but for the rest of you, some background:

This book guides readers on a 12-week journey to regain reliable access to their creativity. **  The major focus of week four is avoiding media in all its forms (reading, television, talk radio, music with words, etc.)  Instead of consuming the creativity and ideas of others, you are tasked with working on your own creative ideas.  Or cleaning your house.

There was nothing easy about this for me.  I spent most of Monday and Tuesday telling everyone who would listen that Julia Cameron was stupid and obviously didn’t understand my line of work.  I argued that because she wrote the book in 1992 it was impossible for her to predict how essential written communication would be in 2010.

Since “no whining” wasn’t on the list, I did quite a lot of it; but I also did the exercise.   I stopped reading blogs (for the most part), turned off the radio in the car, tried to stop visiting the forum for my on-line communication course , mostly avoided  TV, left the novel I’m reading on the night stand.  I didn’t stop doing reading required for work, and didn’t stop communicating via text. (what can I say, I’m weak–and she did write the book in 1992.)

Perfection is not a requirement of progress
Even though my period of “reading deprivation” involved consuming as many or more words than some people consume regularly, by Wednesday, I was dictating blog posts to myself in the car, clarified my real purpose for this website, and started an e-book.  By the end of the week, I was working on a super secret project I’ll role out on March 1st.  (If you are curious, be sure to sign up for e-mail updates, so you won’t miss the announcement!)  Would I have benefited more from doing the exercise perfectly?  Probably so.  But perfection was not an option.  By being willing to do what I could, I was able to reap partial benefits.

Try It

If you are ready to try the whole 12 week journey, I highly recommend it, but in the spirit of low hanging fruit, here are some ways you can mimic the effects of reading deprivation–without the angst.

Commute in silence
No music, no NPR, just you, your thoughts and a tape recorder you can operate without driving off the road.  The  familiar activity of driving, combined with the absence verbal information flow releases your brain’s creativity.  It’s almost as if information flows into and out of your brain from the same “pipe.”   All you have to do to release your ideas  is to stop blocking them with incoming information.

Try something  you think is pointless
Role-playing, interpretive dance, reading deprivation, haiku office memos, what ever crazy thing you can think of.  What you do isn’t as important as the act of opening yourself up to the possibility of learning something new.  By taking a risk and stepping outside your comfort zone you are able to see the world (and your challenges) from a new angle–which is often exactly what’s required to get past them.  So declare tomorrow “Bring your Crayons to Work Day” and see what happens.

Publish something on internet.
If you  paid thousands of dollars for new brochures, used a box or so and are now storing the rest in a closet because they are too expensive to throw away, but also totally useless because your programs have changed, the idea of putting anything out in the world before it’s been well vetted and completely perfect probably makes you want to vomit.

In the world of print media, your instinct is correct, but if you use those rules in your digital communication, you will miss the boat.  When you communicate with your peeps via the internet you can have a brainstorm on your morning commute and share it with the world before noon.  If you notice a typo after lunch, you can fix it within seconds.

Be brave.  Post something new, interesting, specific and personal  about your work on-line.  Do it today.   You can use your organization’s website, twitter feed, blog or Facebook page.  If nothing else, post it here in the comments.  When you are done, come back and link us to your work!

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*This is an Amazon affiliate link, which means if you click it  and decide to buy the book, Amazon will pay me approximately 50 cents.
**Julia would say it’s about unblocking your inner artist.  I don’t think she is wrong, but in my experience most people who need their inner artists unblocked assume they are not  artists at all.  Rather than exclude people who might benefit from this book, I am using the broader definition.

6 thoughts on “Read less, Do more

  1. Hi, Maureen —

    Thanks so much for this post. It just dawned on me that that’s why the shower is so often a place of creativity — it is a familiar activity where you can let your mind wander. I often have some great brainstorms in the shower only to lose most of them between the time it takes to finish up, towel off and get to the computer!!

    I’m in need of a way to uncork some new ideas, so I plan to try these suggestions.


  2. Maureen, I’m so glad to hear the media fast was productive for you. I’m in dire need of such a thing, and your post nudged me to get going on it. Keep us posted on these Artist’s Way exercises — I’m interested in how they apply to the not-necessarily-artistic life.

    I wish there could be an internet-based support group for using the internet less. 🙂

    • I’m glad I could nudge you Sandy–I do love me some media–but the whole experience was really worth it! Also, you made me laugh out loud with your suggestion of an internet support group to reduce internet usage!

  3. Mo, SO GLAD you’re doing the A. Way! I “fell off” the bandwagon of morning pages for about ten days of snow-bound housewifely hell, simultaneously gorging (for me) on Tivo-ed programs, movies, and novels. Boy, did my productivity plummet.

    However, I’m also reminded of a writing instructor who scoffed at budding writers who don’t want to read *any*one else, for fear “their” voice would be contaminated. “God forbid you should write like Chekov,” he snarked. So it’s a balance, for me, of feeding the muse, and not over-eating to the point of illness, if I may totally abuse that metaphor. Yes, you may barf if you’d like 😉

    • It’s been an absolute gift. I’m getting up at 5 am to do them and while morning has always been difficult for me in the past I nearly bounce out of bed with excitement. I am actually having trouble with the artist’s dates though. I’m having a hard time thinking of things I want to do out in public by myself, after work in the dark and the snow. I can’t decide if I’m blocked about it or just being sensible.

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