Five Hundred Words a Day: Not Reading

I’m on week four of The Artist’s Way. Each week, the author asks you to do certain tasks to help your creative recovery. So far, it’s been more rewarding than I could’ve anticipated. But this week, one of the tasks is to not read.

For the whole seven days we’re required not to read, at all. The book was written pre-mobile, pre-social media, and therefore her examples are to stop reading newspapers or novels or magazines (she includes television or the radio in this ‘reading’ too). What she doesn’t anticipate in this, the 21st century, is that we are surrounded by words and avoiding reading is bloody hard.

When was the last time you got a phone call? On day one of not reading, I turn on my phone and I have a text message; that counts as reading. I want to update my Instagram because I’m promoting an exhibition; casting my eye over my written updates is, indeed, reading. Over the course of 24 hours I get around 15 WhatsApp messages. I am reading all of them and really, really failing at this challenge.

My work is as a copywriter and marketing consultant. I need to research hashtags for a client: reading. I need to proof a piece of work: reading. Next, I have to do the homework from my Spanish class. I read three paragraphs in Spanish, knowing I also need to go back and revise reflexive verbs which involves more fucking reading.

We’re told we live in a culture of images, in a world swirling with digital creations and memes and small little bundles of megapixels. And yet – so much of our communication is still written, perhaps more than ever before. You want to be entertained? Read the Daily Mail sidebar. To be informed? Sign up to the Medium newsletter. Even if you don’t take part in social media, you will be swamped with words all day, every day. If you do the crossword, you even have to find out more bloody words.

In The Artist’s Way, she argues everyone can go a week without reading, no matter their job or hobbies. I am already failing at this task but I’m sort of okay with it, because now I am so much more conscious of exactly how many words I take in, all the time. Too many, probably, because the author argues when we stop ingesting the language of others we start doing more interesting things. We start creating, rather than only observing or absorbing. And strangely, she is right, even with my limited ‘not reading-ness’.

In the morning pages today (another practice encouraged in The Artist’s Way), I realised I better keep writing because I couldn’t sack it off and go and read something instead. I kept writing, and what I wrote was “Here are my ideas for that conceptual novel I want to write.” It turns out I want to write a conceptual novel. Who knew?

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