The Artist's Way Week Four – The Gift Of Media Deprivation

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Hi folks – due to laptop issues I’ve shared less of my Artist’s Way journey than I wanted to. I’m currently on Week 7 of 12 – over half way! – so feel it’s time for an update. Today I want to take you back to Week Four, the most difficult yet game-changing week so far.

In Week Four of The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron’s nurturing tone turns tough. She advocates media deprivation – an entire week without consuming content. No Instagram, no podcasts, television or radio. Reading the back of the bran flakes box is forbidden. Worst of all: no books.

I did what I usually do when someone tells me something I don’t want to hear - buried my head in the sand. I postponed media deprivation, opting to redo Week Three because I didn’t feel prepared. Come Sunday night I rebelled again.

Books are my sleeping pills and the third draft of my novel was giving me more than a few sleepless nights. This hour of despair was the worst time to go cold turkey on books. Or any media, for that matter.

A line in The Artist’s Way irritated me:

For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own.

I felt attacked. I work on my novel every day, try to limit social media intake and don’t consume much media apart from books. If anything, I deserved more reading time.

Apparently, the stronger you resist media deprivation the more you need it. I determined to prove otherwise. In my case at least, the deprivation was unnecessary and unfair. Oh dear.

The ‘hard to swallow pills’ revealed otherwise. Mornings were easy – I’m at my most focussed when working on my writing. By afternoon, however, my fingers twitched for a good ol’ scroll.

Somehow, I survived lunch without looking at my phone. But when it came to my lunch walk without listening to a podcast, I realised how difficult the week would be. An evening without binge-listening The Glass Cannon?  No googling obscure bits of folklore? No Friday night film? No book before bed? Only my own thoughts for company?

I had to admit I was just as content addicted as everyone else.

The worst thing about it (at first) was my inability to find a replacement distraction. I wondered how I lived before podcasts, as if I was incapable of entertaining myself.

As humans we crave entertainment, especially stories. But perhaps the constant influx of advice, information and content comes at a cost. The cacophony of voices drowns out another, more important voice – our own. We begin to doubt ourselves.

Continually bombarded with inspiration and ‘how tos’, high on ideas but short on action, the burden of unexecuted ideas weighs me down at night, to the point where I can’t even finish the ones I started.

To comfort myself I reach for a book. Maybe for you it’s a podcast, scrolling social media or watching television. But what if that numbing pill wasn’t there anymore? Last week I found myself reaching for books, my phone, the microwave manual and thinking, “Oh, I can’t do that. Now what?”

That ‘now what?’ moment might be the best gift of media deprivation.

Now you take control. You decide what is deserving of your valuable time, not a computer.

Once the distractions are removed it’s embarrassing how much time there is. Evenings become long, quiet stretches ripe for contemplation. The post-lunch scrolls an opportunity to walk or write a poem.

On the first night of media deprivation (after some listless wondering) I wrote a short story. A daft tale with no other purpose than to make my sister laugh. It was a return to my early teens, when I used to write stupid stories for my friends about people we knew at school. No agenda, just simple play.

As Julia Cameron says, “The nasty bottom line is this: sooner or later, if you are not reading [or scrolling!], you will run out of work and be forced to play.”

I remembered another favourite activity from childhood – drawing. A few blissful nights were spent filling pages with Brian Froud faeries and figures from folklore. I wrote half of another story which could become a novel. I went to Gaelic class, reconnected with my personal style and journaled. At the café, instead of reading or scrolling Instagram I drew my cup of coffee.

I wasn’t perfect. At the weekend I cheated and watched a documentary. By Friday night I longed for company and minimal creative effort – every evening I’d pushed myself to create over consume, as well as write during the day. With hindsight I could have played a boardgame or went to the pub.

The easiest part of media deprivation was giving up Instagram. I felt relieved disabling the app and dreaded returning. Sometimes Instagram inspires me, other times I’m left questioning my worth as a person. It’s this ambiguous relationship that I’m tiring of. I don’t want to leave Instagram but I need to listen to my gut and re-examine how I use the app on a day to day basis.

Without realising it we drown our inner voice every day. A walk has become an opportunity to fill our ears with business advice, productivity hacks or how to triple our creative output. The calming walk becomes a confused blur of inspiration, comparison and envy.

Podcasts and blogs are useful, but do we consume more than we need? Most of the time it’s the same advice repackaged in a different way.

Maybe the voice we should give more time to is our own – not the negative one that says you aren’t good enough – but the deeper voice that tells you who you are and where you’re heading. Your intuition, in other words.

After a week of media deprivation, a veil lifted. I had a clearer sense of who I was as a creator and the things I wanted to make. With no one to compare myself to I created without fear. I realised what filled my creative well and what polluted it.

If it sounds hard – it is. But maybe some tough love every now and then is the motivation needed to re-examine our lives and make big changes. I believe media deprivation is the perfect tool to do so.

Consider it a retreat without leaving home – all distraction, excuses and noise fade away leaving a still, quiet place from which you can hear yourself think.

InspirationOonagh Moon