What is Reading Deprivation Week?

Hint: It’s part of The Artist’s Way

Does the thought of prohibiting yourself from reading for an entire week scare you? Does just the thought of it make you nervous?

What if I told you it would also include a ban on social media, email, and Medium? Anyone feeling a little hot under the collar now?

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

That’s what I thought.

A little over a month ago, I started a group to read and do The Artist’s Way. The Artist’s Way is a book by Julia Cameron with interactive activities for people to release and awaken their creativity. Here is the article I published several months ago to recruit people to this group:

A few key features of The Artist’s Way are that it’s broken down into weeks — each chapter corresponds to a week. It lends itself nicely to being read in a group. Many famous people credit their success to reading, and doing, The Artist’s Way.

I capped my group at 15 people, who each committed a small amount of money to participate. We meet weekly via Zoom, and are connected on Slack throughout the week. We are currently in Week 5 of 12.

Last week, Week 4 of The Artist’s Way, was different than all those weeks that came before it. It is infamously known as “Reading Deprivation week.”

It is as ominous as it sounds.

What does “reading deprivation” mean?

Julia Cameron springs this exercise on the reader towards the end of Chapter 4, otherwise entitled “Recovering: A Sense of Integrity.” The overview of the chapter reads: “This week may find you grappling with changing self-definition. The essays, tasks, and exercises are designed to catapult you into productive introspection and integration of new self-awareness.”

Cameron also warns the reader not to “skip” the “tool of reading deprivation.”

It is our first warning that we should beware. But for innocent first-time readers, they have no idea what is to come.

Under its own heading, “Reading Deprivation,” Cameron makes her next plea to the reader: “If you feel stuck in your life or in your art, few jump starts are more effective than a week of reading deprivation.”

An effective plea, don’t you think?

Here’s the reason:

pretty much every single person reading The Artist’s Way feels “stuck” in their life or art. That’s pretty much the point of reading the book.

So, no one reading the book should feel like they can escape the grip of reading deprivation week, in one way or another.

But what’s the point? What is involved?

Cameron makes the point of reading deprivation fairly clear: it’s meant to clear out all of the distractions and force us to reflect on our inner silence. It is meant to slow you down. She says that words can be like “tiny tranquilizers,” and that we have a quota of what we can ingest each day. When we take in too much, it clogs our system and we feel “fried” or burnt out.

Reading deprivation is not meant to be easy. Cameron explains that when she’s teaching The Artist’s Way as a class, she knows that she will be making all of her students angry at the beginning of Week 4. No one likes to hear the news that they can’t read for a week. Cameron says that she often has to deal with “rage.”

Apparently people get angry because they have important things that they have to do. They insist that they must read. Cameron responds that these “excuses” are strong attempts to “wriggle out” of the activity of reading deprivation.

No excuse is greater than the need to unblock your life and your art.

I personally did not react with rage, but I did start beating myself up a bit. I meant to do the reading on Monday and not Tuesday, so I had already missed a day or two of what would be reading deprivation week. I was a little frustrated with myself, but not angry.

Others in my group were angry. Some did not participate. But, when I added an extra level to the challenge, that’s when things got interesting.

Julia Cameron wrote The Artist’s Way in 1992 — a time before social media ruled our lives. If there is ever reading that we do mindlessly, it is reading we do on social media — that’s my opinion anyway.

The scrolling is mind-numbing. I see words go by and I barely read them at all. And sometimes, I see something on social media that leads me to a longer article I would like to read.

I could see how social media would be a danger to reading deprivation week.

So, I challenged the group to refrain from being on social media for the duration of reading deprivation week, as well. No Facebook, Instagram, audiobooks, LinkedIn, or Medium. No Medium?! Yes, no Medium.

I included Medium in my ban since I couldn’t read anyone’s articles. To me, Medium is about community. If I can’t support my fellow writers, I don’t think it’s fair or appropriate for me to be sharing my work and expecting them to support it.

I also limited my emails and texts by turning off notifications. The only things that remained available for my entertainment were Pinterest and podcasts. I could also watch TV on a limited basis, but since I don’t love watching TV much anyway, that wasn’t a huge distraction.

The Results and Highlights

First, I doubt that I would have been able to successfully complete 5 days of reading deprivation without my Artist’s Way reading group friends. We were there for each other throughout the week, and helped each other up when we were feeling down. We encouraged each other to keep going. It was wonderful.

For those who have never read a book in community, I would highly recommend that you try it. It can be a beautiful and enlightening experience.

Starting reading deprivation week, I was nervous. I hadn’t taken a break from social media in years. I had no idea what to expect. Even though I wasn’t experiencing rage, I was certainly experiencing fear.

I was also nervous about not posting here on Medium. How badly would my MPP be affected? Would all of my Medium friends desert me?

Also, my husband was out of town for work, which meant I was alone for 2 of the 5 days. Since I work from home, that meant that I would likely have limited engagement with anyone. I feared becoming a crazy dog lady. (The reality is that I probably am already a crazy dog lady, regardless of reading deprivation week, but I digress.)

While I was home alone, I did a lot of clay work. I spent my days making beautiful pieces of art and jewelry out of clay. I listened to podcasts and walked my dog.

Some of the fruits of my labor. Photos and art by Author.

Once my husband returned home, we made our way back to the lake house where we have been staying and working for a few weeks. My parents and in-laws also came to spend time at the lake, and we all stayed in the house together.

All of the restrictions of reading deprivation week became a bit more challenging, then.

Introverts will agree with me that there’s nothing like a house full of people to make you want to hide in a corner and read. Without that option, anxiety ran high, but I didn’t give up on reading deprivation…somehow.

How did I do it?

Well, here are 5 of my most significant take-aways from reading deprivation week:

  1. I can do hard things.

Completing reading deprivation week reminded me, first and foremost, that I can do hard things.

I do not have a great mantra practice. I often forget mantras when I need them most. However, a friend of mine told me this very simple mantra, “I can do hard things,” when I was really struggling. It has been my favorite mantra ever since.

I was nervous doing reading deprivation. I wasn’t sure what would happen. Would I cheat? Would I feel lonely or bored all the time?

Recognizing that you’re scared and doing it anyway — that is the bread and butter of doing hard things. I took the leap and I succeeded. This is what builds confidence in yourself.

I can very much feel an increase in my sense of integrity after doing reading deprivation, if nothing else. I didn’t cheat and I didn’t feel alone. I am proud of myself for doing it and sticking with it.

2. What is important reading?

Before Reading Deprivation week, I had no filter. I was trying to read everything and anything. On top of it, I had no awareness of how much time and energy doing this was draining from me. Time and energy that I could have been using to create — to write and sculpt and so much more.

By taking a step back and away, even for a short time, I began to gain a sense of what is productive reading, and what is just junk. Reading that helps me grow and nurtures my soul, versus reading that is mind-numbing and distracting me away from living life. It is embarrassing to realize I really didn’t know the difference before reading deprivation week, but I’m thankful I’m starting to get the hang of it now.

Author’s note: if I haven’t read any of your work after reading deprivation week, that doesn’t mean I think it’s junk and not worth reading. I have lots of friends and people I follow on Medium, and catching up after 5 days isn’t easy. I wanted to be clear about this so as to not offend anyone — I’m still trying to catch up, slowly.

3. Reading too much can cause decision fatigue

Who would have known that trying to read everything all the time would cause decision fatigue? Every time I interact with a social media platform, I’m making decisions left and right.

Which social media platform do I want to use? Do I want to post something? Do I want to read something? What article should I read?

All of it contributes to decision fatigue.

The idea of decision fatigue is that we get a limited number of decisions we can make in a day before we just collapse. This isn’t just for big decisions, it’s for all decisions. So, if you cut out some decisions that you don’t really have to make, you can more easily make decisions in other parts of your life that are unavoidable — one you have to make, or want to make.

When I wasn’t using social media and reading all the time, I could feel that I had more energy. It was also evident because I was able to get so much work done! It felt like a relief and a surge of energy at the same time. It was magic — the magic of reading deprivation.

4. Less distractions means more awareness

I noticed myself being more aware in the moment with less reading distractions. I noticed that I was paying attention more to what people said to me and around me. I wasn’t trying to figure out what to take a picture of for Instagram, or if I could write an article about any particular thing happening in my life — I was just living.

More than that, though, I really connected with my creative energy for those first few days. I had the “maker bug” — I was doing all sorts of artwork and being creative. I was what some people call “in the flow.”

Interestingly, though, being “in the flow” didn’t feel like I was less distracted. In fact, I found myself to be more distracted than ever.

But, here’s the key: I had more awareness of being distracted — a sense of hyper-focus that I felt like I couldn’t control.

I have noticed before that when I sculpt, I become a zombie. I become obsessed with what I’m doing, and I can’t stop myself until it’s finished. I didn’t really think too much of it — isn’t it a good thing to be “in the flow”?

Doing reading deprivation allowed me to see that going into a creative trance can be as numbing as reading, or any other mind-numbing activity. It’s very powerful, and I need to learn to control it. Though I don’t yet have the solution for this hyper focusing issue, I would never have had this level of self-awareness if I had not been doing reading deprivation.

Now I have a plan and a strategy to try to tackle the hyper-focusing. Stay tuned for an article in the coming weeks with my results and reflections.

5. There is a “downtime” feature on iPhones!

To participate in reading deprivation week, I decided to somehow remove all of my social media apps from my phone. If you have ever done this before, the phone is resistant. It scares you by saying that if you delete the app, it will delete all of your data from the app as well.

Having to remember and deal with passwords is not something I enjoy.

So, I ultimately decided to turn off all notifications to my apps, and put them in a folder on the last page of my phone labeled “NO!!!” Luckily, that did the trick.

During our group de-brief, I found out that there is actually a way to set timers on how long you are to use any app of your choosing. This feature is called “downtime.” For example, I can tell the “downtime” feature that I only want to be on Facebook for an hour each day. Then, it will tell me when my time is up.

Moving forward, this is very valuable information as I integrate what I have learned into my life on a more permanent basis. I’m looking forward to a lot more downtime.

Conclusions and Reflections

Even though I was scared to participate in reading deprivation week, I am infinity grateful to myself for pushing forward. I didn’t back down from the challenge, and I didn’t cheat on the rules I set for myself. If the lesson was integrity, I feel like I may have earned some in the way I see myself.

Reflecting on our group de-brief, many of us who participated in reading deprivation decided to continue to limit our phone and social media intake.

I think this is really fascinating, given the fact that many of us were so resistant to giving up reading and social media. Some were so resistant that they chose not to participate at all. They couldn’t give up reading.

For those of us who participated, all it took was a 5 day break for us to see how toxic reading and social media can be as distractions. It’s like reading deprivation broke us out of a spell, and we all began to see reality again. None of us were eager to fall under the spell again once it was broken.

As I mentioned before, I’m looking forward to setting up my “downtime” notifications. I have not turned on my email, Facebook, or Instagram notifications — and there’s a good chance I never will. The only account that I turned notifications back on for is Medium.

I missed posting on Medium, but I also realize it can certainly be a huge distraction. I have to recognize and remember that I can’t get lost reading other people’s work when I have to do my own.

Prioritizing your own creative energy is the only way to maintain momentum for yourself.

I learned that through reading deprivation.

Would I recommend reading deprivation to a friend?

In some ways, yes, I would. I think it’s probably most beneficial in the context of reading The Artist’s Way, because you might get more out of it, but I think it’s beneficial for anyone to take a break and step away reading and social media. It’s beneficial for everyone to step away, get quiet, and reflect. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

If you’re interested in participating in a reading group for The Artist’s Way, I am planning to do this again next year. Feel free to contact me directly for more information on my upcoming book groups.

Thank you for reading!

Sam Kimberle is a Writer, Poet and Artist. Her primary creative mediums are words and clay. She received her B.A. from Dickinson College in Religion and Philosophy, M.A. from Temple University in Comparative Religion, and J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law. Instagram: Sam Kimberle, Facebook: Sam Kimberle, Writer Creative Entrepreneur

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Perpetual student, searching for my ikigai. I am an Artist in artistic recovery care of Julia Cameron. Top writer in poetry. ❤️POM-Poet!❤️

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