Giving Up Reading

Periodically, I give up reading.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

Good writers are writers who read. I totally agree with that statement.

But every once in a while, I realize that my reading is actually getting in the way of my writing: I’m reading as a way to procrastinate.

Sometimes reading takes the place of writing, and sometimes it takes the place of thinking about my writing. Neither is a good thing.

The first time I read a suggestion to stop reading (in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, many years ago), I thought Julia was way off. I was working full-time as a physician at the time, so how could she ask me to give up that 15 minutes of bedtime reading that I got in a few nights a week?

She wasn’t asking me to give it up. She was asking me if I wanted to be a writer (artist).

And I did—still do. So, I stopped reading for a week. And realized how much reading I had been “sneaking in” to my daily life. Those few minutes added up to almost an hour a day—mostly over solitary meals.

Instead of reading, I thought my thoughts. And came up with some ideas for stories. By the end of the week, I was sorry to see my moratorium on reading come to an end. But end it did, because reading is as natural to me as breathing, so without conscious effort not to read, I was back to reading at any available moment.

Since that time, I have periodically given up reading. I often give up reading fiction, but more rarely I will stop reading anything. When I do this I:

  • journal more,
  • write more,
  • get more ideas for stories, articles, etc.,
  • write more cards and letters,
  • stay present more.

The end result of a week of not reading is, as Julia intended, a welling up of ideas, images, and thoughts that flow into my writing and into my life.

Not reading improves my writing, not to mention my productivity. I never would have believed it if I hadn’t tried it myself.

Today I’m going to stop reading again for 1 week.

Try it yourself and let me know what happens for you.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, is currently a full-time mother, part-time life coach, part-time writer. She is a Master Certified Life Coach, trained by Martha Beck, among others. She is passionate about her son, her writing and using her mind to create a wonderful present moment.  Find her life coaching blog at http://www.dianemackinnon.com/blog.

47 thoughts on “Giving Up Reading

  1. Love Julia Cameron! I’m guilty of using reading as procrastination from writing…will see what a temporary fast does to up my productivity – great idea.

    • Hi Yvette,
      Thanks for reading. Yes, isn’t Julia Cameron the best? Doing The Artist’s Way for the first time was an eye-opening experience for me! I still do many of the exercises in the book-especially giving up reading. I’m such a reading junkie, I just have to. Let me know what happens for you!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  2. Diane great post and I must admit I spend much of my time reading which means I’m not writing. I’m like the stalker lurking on people blogs and web pages, on Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon…Pretty much everywhere. Sometimes I just have to avoid the internet to prepare my own content for, well yes, the internet.

    • Hi terry6155,
      I agree. Reading isn’t just sitting with a novel–I can spend a lot of time going from one blog to the next! Which is great when that is my intention, not so great when I only meant to spend 5 minutes on it. For me, going cold turkey (for a day or a week) is easier that telling myself, “I’ll just look at this one post…”

      Happy writing!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  3. Oh Diane, Diane, Diane – you are such a BRAVE soul.
    My name is Laura and I’m a biblio-holic.
    I’m a reading addict.
    I “use” every day – and read as many in a week as I can. One day a week I set aside a morning just for professional development (my excuse to maintain my habit) and jump from one good book to another on craft, writerly inspiration, or even magazines where I read mastheads and look for trends and analyze markets.
    Sometimes I even read junk novels, that’s how badly addicted I am.
    (No, not Fifty Shades…I cannot bring myself down that low.)

    The withdrawals would be really bad if I gave it up. 🙂

    I’ve tried but after a couple of days I get antsy. I can’t think, I can’t write.
    I NEED other writer’s words! Shameless! LOL

    • Laura, regarding “Fifty Shades”–I have to tell you about this incident. Friday night was our Sunday School class Bunco party. At one of the tables, one woman mentioned she loved to read. We were discussing that when she said she had read all three of the “Fifty Shades” series. I was a little shocked, to say the least. Then our retired District Superintendent’s wife said she had read the first one. Our class secretary said she was on the library list for the book. I wish I had asked for a show of hands of who had read it. And to top it off, on the news last night, they reported that there are a lot more pregnancies now and that’s attributed to “Fifty Shades.” I remember reading somewhere that men are more aroused visually and women are aroused by reading. Good thing my Sunday School class is all past the child-bearing age. LOL

    • Hi Laura,
      Thanks for your comments. I could say the same, but I really have benefited from stopping my habit–for short periods of time. Although I have given up fiction reading for months at a time–because that’s my true addiction.

      One weekend when one of the Harry Potter books had just come out, everyone in the house was reading it. We had 4 copies (2 borrowed from Muggles, apparently) and my husband and I and my two stepchildren were all reading the books. I’d gone with my stepdaughter and some friends to get a copy at midnight Friday night and I did absolutely nothing that entire weekend except cook meals and read. I’d read until we all got hungry, go throw a meal together, eat, then back to the book. It was a great weekend!

      Thanks for your humor and your honesty!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  4. This struck a chord with me too. I retired from teaching last year, June 2011. It seemed I could get a lot done with reading at school, meetings, and yes before bedtime, as you mentioned. And I still fit the writing in. Yet, I always felt I wasn’t reading enough. I wasn’t reading what others were raving about. I’d read a blog or article or interview about a highly praised author, and I had no idea of what they wrote. So, imagine my surprise when I thought it would be different when I “had more time after retiring.” It’s all a juggling act of sorts.

    • Hi timdesmondblog,
      Thanks for your comment. I agree, I never feel like I’ve read enough. But sometimes, I just have to put the book down. Otherwise, I feel like there are ideas in me that I’m not giving a chance to blossom.

      Keep juggling!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  5. Hi Diane,
    Yes, yes, yes! I had a psychotherapist back in the 80’s who told me to stop reading for a week. I went cold turkey and have a better understanding of “jonesing” as a result. But by the end of the week, after cleaning my apartment to within an inch of its life, I had no other way to procrastinate, and I started to write. A novel. And to accept myself as a writer. Giving up reading can be a powerful experience for word addicts and for those who allow the blank page to scare them away from their desks.
    Great post!
    Deborah.

    • Wow, Deborah,
      Thanks for your comments. What a great story! Maybe I need to give up reading for longer–although I’m not sure how long I could do it. I haven’t been reading this week and am reminded once again that too much of anything is not a good thing. I definitely use reading to avoid that blank page. It’s good to know that about myself.

      Happy writing!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  6. Hi Diane,
    It is really good to have “not reading all the time” confirmed by others. I used to consume books but for some reason I lost interest over the years. I’m a slow reader to begin with, and these days I prefer to savor what I read. And I think because of that, I have become extra choosy. I put more books down than I keep. I’m also a “live in the moment type” and I love to be in tune with myself and do not regret it. As a result, I always have ideas. I “runneth over” with them. Also, it seems that the “right” books come to me at the right time so I feel like the time I do spend reading is well spent. It’s great. Keep it up!

    • Hi Nicole,
      Thanks for your comments and thanks for sharing your perspective. It’s always fun to hear about how other people think about things like this. I used to be a person with no unread books on my bookshelf, but those days are long gone. Now I have so many I haven’t gotten to yet that I don’t feel bad about putting one down if it doesn’t do it for me. I forward books, so I know someone else will surely enjoy whatever books I’m done with, read or unread.

      Enjoy your reading time!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  7. I do this sometimes. When I do read, I only read things that are meaningful to me (no newspapers, except for a few days after September 11th). T.V. is also a big time-stealer. When I don’t read, I play more music (myself), listen to music, paint, clean up clutter.

    • Hi thekalechronicles,
      Thanks for your comments. Yes, I find I need to periodically get off-line and avoid “junk reading.” It is a big time-stealer. I’m not much of a TV watcher, thank goodness, but I think that is an even bigger time-stealer. When I do read, I want to read intentionally, not just because I’m on-line while I eat at my desk. This past week of not reading has reminded me of the difference between reading for pure pleasure and reading because it’s there.

      Happy writing (and reading, and making music!)

      Warmly,
      Diane

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  9. I ran into a brick wall because I was trying to “hone the craft” and it stressed me to the point of quitting [writing]. I think it was information overload. I’m giving myself time to recover now after realizing I was starving the artist. I’m still writing, I can’t stop. But I’m taking a break from the part of educating myself to be a better writer from another’s standards. I feel as long as I’m writing on a weekly basis then I’m educating and honing.

    • Hi Audrey,
      I agree, if you are writing on a weekly basis, you are honing your craft and learning more about writing. I’m a fan of the “10,000 hours” theory–you’re not a master of your craft until you’ve put in your 10,000 hours. I always say that it took me 10 years to become a good doctor, it’s going to take at least that long for me to become a good writer.

      Happy writing!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  10. Excellent. Every writer is guilty of the “read fix.” Perhaps a form of insecurity. Excellent source of introspection, this post, each time we pick up a book.

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  12. I love to read. I even started the book club in our complex. I received the nicest note today. This woman has never attended the meeting but she does read the books.

    “I always thought I didn’t care for historical novels but thanks. You changed that. The last two books I really enjoyed. But still like my kind too. Thanks.”

    I’ve really been on a reading jag lately and have so many books available and so little time. As soon as my supply diminishes a bit, I’ll give a week without reading a try.

    • Hi saranell,
      Isn’t it great when you can talk about books with another person? Congratulations on your book club. I started one once when I lived in Maine and it was a lot of fun.

      Let me know what you think whenever you try giving up reading.

      Warmly,
      Diane

  13. I, too, periodically give up reading and journal and meditate a lot more! I also just sit and listen and look a lot more! Invaluable preparation for more effective writing, I find!

    • Hi granbee,
      I agree! I’m just present more when I don’t read. Reading isn’t always mindless or procrastination for me, but there are times when I know that’s what I’m doing and that’s when I choose to stop–for a while. And my writing improves, along with the rest of my day.

      Happy writing!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  14. I can see the sense in this and I think I will give it a go (when I’ve finished this book….ahem…). No seriously, I can see where you’re coming from with this because if you’re anything like me then the book that you are reading inhabits as much of your non-reading time as it does when you’re actively engaged in reading it. I call it my mental furniture – the setting, the characters, the historical period, whatever. My brain at the moment is in full Wars of the Roses mode and my thoughts are coloured by ladies in gowns, warriors, armies, muddy battlefields, scrawny kids etc which is no good as I’m trying to write a modern story about the trickiness of forbidden relationships. How can I concentrate on my Yorkshire doctor when my brain is coloured by 15th Century speech patterns and codes of behaviour??!

    Good idea. I will definitely try this.

    • This is an EXCELLENT POINT! I was just talking with my critique group members last night about this – how I need to take a break between each critique because otherwise, I might bring my expectations from one piece to another. That’s unfair when each person may be writing in a different genre, has their own unique style.
      This “carryover effect” can apply to your writing when you are actively engaged in reading.
      To avoid this, I don’t work on a piece whenever I am researching or doing related reading in the same genre. I read unrelated books, technical stuff, mostly about writerly technique. Otherwise, the work could easily become tainted with the flavor of someone else’s writing.

      • Hi Laura,
        I, too, avoid reading related genres when I am writing. Thanks for sharing.

        Warmly,
        Diane

    • Hi sterlingsop,
      Thanks for your comments. I agree with everything you said. I’ve told my husband many times, “I’m sorry I didn’t answer you right away, but I was in the middle of the 17th century–it takes me a while to get back!”

      Let me know what you think when you try not reading for a while.

      Warmly,
      Diane

    • Hi Benjamin,
      I couldn’t imagine doing it the first time I read about it, either, but I found it to be very helpful with my writing.

      Let me know what you think when you try it.

      Warmly,
      Diane

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  16. I was actually thinking about this the other day. I haven’t written anything in weeks and I am starting a writing course today. The only way I could think to stop this writer’s block was to stop reading and start forcing myself to write. This decision also just happens to fall at a time where I have finished a series and haven’t started another yet.

    I am glad I am not the only one who is going to try this. Good luck.

    • Hi ellekam,
      Good luck with not reading–and with your writing class. How’s it going? What did you think of not reading?

      Warmly,
      Diane

      • Sadly my not reading turned into reading for class. I thought it was a writing intense course when really it is a “lets get you published in a lit magazine” course, so there is a lot of reading. I will be trying the not reading angle after the course is over. I will have a small break before I start my actual writing course focusing on the “coming of age novel,” so I need to get working on my coming of age novel.

        I will be sure to let you know how it goes.

        Thanks,

        Elle

  17. even i do quit reading periodically..or sometime i will be forced to stay from reading..!! but then the energy afterwards wen we regain reading is aewsome:)

  18. Read somewhere recently (don’t remember where — that’s one of the problems with reading too much!) “I don’t read because I don’t want to be influenced by anyone”. Personally I do stop reading novels etc sometimes to get some work done — not necessarily work involving writing — but then I follow Marilyn Monroe’s example and just read poetry.

  19. I believe in you, too. I’m a writer who has gone dormant just because I’ve often thought that the more I read the more ideas come into my thoughts. I think I’m going to try your idea and see how far it will take me. I’ve a manuscript that has been gathering dust for the last 2 years now. I think it’s time to dust it and see how many sentences I’ll thread along in a week’s time. Thank you for this idea. More thanks when it’s proved right.

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