This is torture. Julia Cameron has taken away one of the things which I feared to lose most: reading.
But doesn’t Stephen King and every other successful author say reading is the key to great writing? If writing is like exhaling, isn’t reading like inhaling? How can we possibly write well without reading what’s out there?
Ok, ok, let me explain.
In the Week 4 Challenge of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, we’re asked to give up reading for a week. I chose to give up reading for pleasure (though her chapter hinted at even giving up required reading for college classes and work). Don’t worry; I’m still reading my work emails and bills and my daughter’s medicine labels and road signs. Her reasoning is that the deliberate silence of the other voices which fill our daily lives would allow our minds to focus on our own voice. This made sense to me. From reading to radio to TV to YouTube videos to other people, other voices chatter at me all day. That’s probably true for most of us in this media-saturated age.
If you know me, you know I’m typically reading 6–7 books at a time. They’re stashed all over where I live: by the bedside, in bathrooms, in my car, and filling up the data on my phone. I love escaping into stories at the least opportunity, whether I’ve got fifty minutes or five. To give up reading for an entire week seemed impossible.
But I’m trusting Julia Cameron’s approach, which has helped many creatives rediscover their mojo. She acknowledges the hardship (“For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction”) and says this: “The nasty bottom line is this: sooner or later, if you are not reading, you will run out of work and be forced to play.”
So I did it.
Multiple times I reached for a book or my phone to open the Libby or Kindle app out of habit only to remember my decision to abstain. I did what you’d probably expect of a reading addict: transferred to other addictions by filling the time with phone games, TV, and phone calls to friends and family. My writing output stayed about the same (I’m working on the penultimate episode of Extinction Isn’t Everything, and it’s a blast!).
Here’s what I discovered:
- I had a greater sense of inner quiet.
- I missed reading and the instant excitement of leaping into a story.
- I prayed more.
- I observed my surroundings and people-watched more.
- Julia Cameron was right: I took on new, non-writing projects. (I began crocheting a blue and purple Sisu the Dragon hat for my daughter’s upcoming Halloween costume.)
A long time ago, somewhere between childhood and teenagerhood, my mom took me on a retreat located at a beautiful Christian summer camp in Alabama where she and I had both attended as kids. I remember the sun’s warmth on the arm of the smooth wooden swing as we rocked back and forth and told each other what we observed about each other and ourselves. She told me she felt I was sensitive to the Holy Spirit, which staggered me and humbled me, and which I still hope to be. And I, recognizing her as this monumental extrovert which I aspired to be like but never quite could, said: “I think I’m a quieter person than I’ve allowed myself to be.”
I can only think that kind of revelation has stayed around because there might be truth in it. This memory came back to me a lot this week.
Would you be able to give up reading for a week? Or TV? Or radio? Or music? What might you discover if you quieted those outside voices?
Artist Date update: The Greensboro History Museum
It was another busy week, so I treated myself to the low-hanging fruit of another easy Artist Date: a local museum, free to the public, and chock-full of inspiration! Cue the Greensboro History Museum.
From arrowheads to the Woolworth’s Lunch Counter sit-ins to the birthplace of Vicks VapoRub and home of Dolley Madison and a flood of other rich stories of creative artisans and leaders who lived right here, you best believe I was inspired. Once upon a time I found history pretty boring, thanks to a slew of history teachers doggedly striving to imprint all dates and minutiae of state-mandated history standards on us for end of year exams, and thanks to my nature as someone eager to please, so dutifully memorizing dates and churning facts into my brain in time for chapter tests and then out again.
Then, in high school and college other teachers illuminated history to me as the stories of people past. People who laughed and cried and hoped and stubbed their toes just like me, but with wildly different contexts. Now history overwhelms me. The innumerable generations of nations living and dying and trying to be remembered in their own ways. So, entering a history museum fills me with those emotions: the familiar flare-up of the expectation of boredom, the subsequent self-inflicted impossible task of trying to study every placard as if for a test, and finally, the relaxing and immersive feeling that these are just people, and I’m one of them, living in a time which will once be considered history, too. I felt a new sensation, too: a new sense of paying homage to my grandmother, Sumama, who passed away this year on Easter. She adored museums, and I could never understand why.
Maybe I’m on the path now to finding what she found.