Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Sound of (Multimedia) Silence

Aaah... TV. The internet. Newspapers and magazines. Books. Computer games. Where would we be without them all, eh?

Ever tried finding out for yourself?

There is a fabulous selection of books by Julia Cameron called 'The Artists' Way'; each one is basically a course-in-a-book that... well, I suppose the best way to describe them is to say they change your attitude to exploring your creativity. (If you're someone who dreams of getting into a creative field but has guilt/confidence issues about investing your heart and soul into it, you need to read at least one of these books. You will be forever glad you did.*)

Anyway, one of the exercises given to you as part of that course is to take what amounts to an 'information vacation.' For one week, you must abstain from: watching TV, surfing the web, listening to the radio and reading. Yep, that's one whole week - the whole seven days, baby.

The reasoning behind it is that all these forms of multimedia fill up your creative brain passively, with stuff you didn't necessarily ask for - like junk mail or spam in your Inbox. After a while your brain gets so used to being bombarded in this way it gets lazy and stops thinking up ideas for itself - and that's when your creativity gets stale and unoriginal. So what you need is a purge - a Media Detox Diet, to give your creative brain some quiet time to fill itself up with its own, new thoughts and ideas.

I first attempted this exercise several years ago, with a group of online writer friends. And I think we were all perturbed and sceptical in equal measure. A group of writers, not being allowed to read? How was that even humanly possible? And if anything, I think we were all fully expecting to be less inspired at the end of the seven-day period, not more - after all, without our daily diet of news and entertainment, where would all those creative sparks come from? Thin air?

The next step of course was clarifying The Rules. Being creative types, there were a lot of things we thought of that "maybe didn't really come under the remit of 'media' as such..?" *hopeful face.* So here's what we came up with regarding what was banned and what wasn't:

# TV - No dice; non-negotiable. That big flashing box stays OFF, 24/7, for the whole seven days. (And yes, DVDs and videos do count as 'TV!')

# RADIO - As for TV. It is, after all, basically TV without pictures.

# MUSIC - Anything instrumental is fine. Anything with lyrics - sorry, banned.

# COMPUTER - Internet is banned completely - and yes, that does include FaceBook, Twitter, Tumblr et al. You can write a blog entry, but you can't read any - same goes for emails. Computer games: puzzle games like Tetris and Jewel Quest - yes, okay then, but no cheating and reading the game rules/credits/options menu! Any games with characters/quests/storylines/dialogue - no way. Banned.

# READING MATERIAL - All books, magazines and newspapers are banned. And yes, so is anything on Kindle or other eBook gizmos (we didn't have them then, but they would have been nixed if we had.) Recipe instructions ('cos you've suddenly, inexplicably, taken a massive interest in cooking...) - you big cheater! No!  You can read the backs of packets if you desperately need to be sure you're reconstituting those instant noodles just right - but save your Great British Bake-Off ambitions until the end of the seven days.

Oh okay then... you can read road and street signs - but for safety and navigational purposes only, y'hear?

# SUPPLEMENTARY RULE - Regarding engaging in conversations with friends, family and colleagues about any of the above (i.e. "Soooooo..... anyone catch what happened on Downton Abbey last night then? 'Cos I missed it...") Obviously it would be next to impossible to prevent other people discussing all the things you're currently banned from indulging in - but if you are encouraging them this WILL be considered cheating.

How harsh all of the above sounds depends very much on your own lifestyle. For me, the TV part was pretty easy; I don't watch much telly anyway, and I've never really been one of those people whose entire week is ruined if they miss an episode of a programme they like. Same with radio - and even the music ban wasn't hard while I could still listen to instrumental stuff. Computer games - little bit harder, since I'm partial to the odd RPG or two, but doable. The biggest killer BY FAR was the reading part; swearing off magazines, newspapers and books for seven days was cold turkey of the highest order. And although the internet ban wasn't tough for me back then, I reckon if I did the exercise again it definitely would be now.

But I guess the million-dollar question is... how did it go?

Well, the first day was fine - "yeah, no probs, I can do this..." Day Three and I was beginning to wonder if reading the nutritional information on tins of beans really counted as cheating, because - oh! that stuff was fascinating..! By the time I got to Day Five I had rediscovered several crafting hobbies and was stringing beads and weaving scoubidous with a slightly manic expression on my face. And trust me, I was starting to effin' hate Jewel Quest.

But by the time I completed Day Seven I was actually sad the exercise was over. The multimedia vacation truly had felt like... a vacation. I realised just how much time there really was in the average day - without multimedia, there's loads more of it. I really did have the time to write a novel if I wanted to; it had always been there, I'd just never known how to look for it before. And, far from my Information Detox Diet leaving me with a head full of nothing, my brain was practically bursting with new ideas and scenarios. It had filled the void, all on its own. My friends all reported similar results, and many of us resolved to repeat the exercise again in future, whenever we felt blocked or stale as writers.

So... if you're worried you've become a slave to multimedia I'd say give this a go. Alternatively, if you're pretty sure you're not a slave to multimedia I'd say give this a go, because - ooh boy - you might just get a surprise. You'll find out just how big your life - and your creativity - can be. At the very least, you'll discover you have much more 'spare time' than you ever imagined.

If you feel like picking up the gauntlet, let me know how you get on...


*Embarking on an Artist's Way course is a totally worth-it exercise in improving your writing - or indeed any other creative endeavour - provided you are able (and willing) to make the time for it. If you're living a completely manic life where you don't even have time to drive over the flowers on your way to Somewhere Important, never mind stop and smell them, attempting the steps of this course will just make you depressed and frustrated with that life. (This may be a great thing if you were secretly looking for a reason to ditch your max-stressful routine for something more spiritual - not so great if it's the only way to get your bills paid.)

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