Teeny Tiny Tranquilisers


A couple of weeks ago, I was banned from reading for an entire week.

Still with me? Or have you fallen to the floor in shock and awe at the pain this makes you feel just thinking about doing this? Before you start writing on my behalf to the UN Human Rights Council for crimes against humanity – I did freely choose to participate in this torture. It was part of doing Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way – a self directed 12-week course to cultivate my creative self.

Teeny tiny

Week four of the Artist’s Way is the ‘no reading’ week. The proposition of it made me puzzled and slightly (read: massively) annoyed. Surely we’re supposed to read to stimulate inspiration, and further cultivate our craft by learning through the genius of others? But this was no dice with Ms Cameron. She explains kindly, gently, but firmly why it’s necessary to do the reading deprivation week: “For most artists, words are like tiny tranquilisers. We have a daily dose of media chat that we swallow up. Like greasy food, it clogs our system. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own.”

Words are like teeny tiny tranquilisers. And it was time to go cold turkey on my drug of choice.

The Challenge

I honestly woke up the first morning of my challenge with mild anxiety. “How on earth (okay, language may have been a bit more blue) am I supposed to get through an entire weekend, let alone A WEEK, without picking up a single one of my books?”. I swiftly got up and took the pile o’seven books I had on my bedside table and shoved them out of site on a shelf in my living room. I could hear them weeping for me.

I then promptly came up with a list of non-reading activities, which included:

Drawing, writing, painting, meditating, ironing (joy!), yoga, running, being in nature, cooking, journalling, reflection, a bit of blog planning, and connecting with loved ones.

Later that day, I found myself scrolling through Instagram (come on, it’s just photos). And I began to think –  ‘surely this isn’t supposed to be the point – the aim of this week is to be thrust into the sensory world – to observe, to be, to produce our own art‘. But my little brain protested saying, ‘technically she didn’t say anything about photo based social media’. So I hopped on to the internet (as you can see I took to this task swimmingly from the outset), to do a quick google on the Artist’s Way redux 21st Century – because 20 years after it was written, we live in a very different world with even more distractions galore. And it turns out this deprivation week is a ban on media in toto (that includes you, Instagram), as much as possible. Cameron does stipulate that you shouldn’t do anything that would get you fired from your job.

So I deleted Facebook and Twitter off my phone. Instagram was allowed to stay and was only allowed twice per day.

Any non-essential emails were not read. Of course there were a few things that needed to be read at work, but it’s amazing how much work can get done when you’re not drowning in reading everything that comes to your attention. Major productivity plus. I allowed a couple of times during that week on my blog. And I watched the Socceroos qualify for the World Cup. And an episode of Offspring. But other than that – I was on a strict no consumption of media diet.

Lessons learned

So what did I learn? That I’m a complete and utter information junkie. Whenever there was a spare moment sitting around the house, my eyes would wander to find anything, ANYTHING, to read. A rogue piece of junk mail lying about, and I’d be thinking, ‘and just what does Aldi have on special this week, hmmm? Gah! I’m reading again’. The compulsion to reach for my phone to scroll through twitter or check emails was almost too much to bear sometimes. It amazed me just how automatic and unconscious this had become for me. It was really quite a shock.

I’m very happy to report that the week did bring ideas and inspiration by the truck-and-trailer load. The unblocking certainly worked. I had so much more time  to just be with myself and reflect, plan, delve deeper in to some things I’d just been skimming the surface of. Without  all of the reading I do, there was just – more space.

But even as I acknowledge these positives, truth be told, I was counting down the days until the challenge was over. It was a long week. On the Saturday I could break my media fast, I was a bit like a kid in a candy shop – planning ALL OF THE THINGS I was going to read that day, and how much. I gorged on my books, magazines, read a back log of blogs, and put twitter and facebook back on my phone. Just like a true junkie.

The value that this challenge has brought me is now I’m conscious of the amount that I spend in states of information seeking, tranquilising myself – and how unconscious this has previously been. I know it’s a drain on my energy and if I want to create at my highest potential, I’m going to take steps to stop it from being as such. I’m playing with the idea of a day ‘switched off’ from information gathering every couple of weeks (or maybe weekly), and an entire weekend away from the computer and smart phone, regularly – to allow creativity to flow unencumbered. It will be tough, but I think it’s doable.

Thankfully, this challenge finished up the day before my scheduled hair appointment. Sitting in the hairdresser’s chair for three hours without anything to read? Now that’s a crime against humanity.

What do you think? Would you be up for a no-media consumption week? Have you tried it or something similar? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Image source


  • Jessie

    Thank you for writing so clearly about something I can completely relate to, but rarely let myself consider (so quickly filling up that questioning space by reading more words…). You have expressed this so well and I am really impressed by your strength to get through the whole week, and struck by how much an awareness and conscious thought about our drives to read/connect can help to find a balance between starvation and excess. Thank you!

    • Carly

      Thanks, Jessie. It was so tough, but worth it. As you say, it’s very much about balance – and awareness that for many of us we consistently err on the side of ‘high’ when it comes to media and information consumption xx

  • Kate

    Wow! That must have taken some serious self control. I can very much relate to consuming words to fill the spaces. I’m exactly the same with the significant stack of books beside my bed. I’ve had detox’s from email and social media for a few days, but haven’t gone on a complete media detox for a week. I’m not sure I’d cope!
    I’m glad I stumbled on this now though. Reminders like this bring my awareness back to this need to fill the space and to consciously choose otherwise.

    • Carly

      Thanks, Kate! It’s well worth the try, even though it’s definitely daunting. I think being conscious and aware of needing to fill space is really the key – sounds like you’ve got that down pat! xx

  • Helen {The Little Sage}

    Oh Carly, I’m about to find out! I’m week one of The Artist’s Way… Wish me luck!

    • Carly

      Yay! I hope you’re enjoying it. Media deprivation fits in perfectly with your intentions for July – it’s super for your intuition. Much less white noise to contend with. xx

  • Mary Beth

    I’ve been wanting to do a winter cleanse and include a no-social aspect to it, and your beautifully written description of how much it opened up your creativity has inspired me to do it. Thank you!

    • Carly

      Pleasure, Mary Beth! It’s definitely a challenge but I think you’ll gain a lot from doing it! Would love to hear how you go xx

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