On reading, writing and taking breaks

I’ve been taking a break from writing for a while. For the last few weeks I’ve been taking a break from this blog (and my tumblelog) as an experiment to see what life would be like without a regular writing commitment. The good news (at least I think it’s good news) is that I prefer having writing a staple part of my daily routine. Writing has a strange way of concentrating your focus and your direction. It encourages you to calm down and concentrate your thoughts into a single coherent narrative. In some ways, I think daily (or at least regular) writing is almost a form of meditation. It’s perhaps not quite as relaxing and focusing (especially if you’re on a deadline or you need to constantly look things up) but having a daily discipline is beneficial.

While I was on break from writing I did some more reading to fill up the time. I read more books and I read more blogs on the Internet. In particular I subscribed to a friend’s blog and to the excellent Brain Pickings. I’ve always loved reading, perhaps even more than I love writing. But the interesting thing is that on this break I grew just a little bit afraid of reading. Sites like Brain Pickings are ostensibly “curation” sites, their purpose is to gather the best content fitting a certain (often loose) theme and gather it in one place. In an age of abundant, often overwhelming information, curation and filtering are important services and we need them. One could say we desperately need them. But at the same time, I can’t help but wonder if maybe we’re missing something. In the rush to curate, to collect, to filter and gather I wonder if we forget to create. One thing I felt during my break from writing is that when you’re reading (or watching a lot) your head tends to fill up with ideas and thoughts and arguments (at least mine does). It’s good to have an outlet, a way to organize and then clean out everything that’s in your mind. That’s part of the reason that this break isn’t lasting any longer. There’s too much stuff in my head and I need to get it out.

I think there is a danger in always reading and collecting and never writing. Each piece of writing is a thought, no matter how brief, no matter how hastily formed. As we read we fill our heads with other people’s thoughts, with their experiences and emotions and worldviews. And that’s a good thing, something to be cherished and encouraged. But all that reading and curation and collection, all that absorption of other people’s thoughts only really make sense if we then put those thoughts to good use. For me at least, reading is incomplete without writing. It doesn’t have to be for an audience, it doesn’t have to be perfect or polished or presentable, but it has to be there. While reading gives me access to other peoples’ thoughts, writing gives space for my own, a little breathing space for my mind. And that is very important. Writing is how I take a break from the world, even if the ultimate goal is to put something out into the world.

On a related note, I’m starting to think that it’s a good idea to take regular breaks from things, including (especially?) things that we enjoy or are important to our lives. This includes breaks from work but also breaks from play. Now that my break from writing is over, I wonder what to take from next. I’ve been thinking it should be television. I don’t watch actual television, but I do spend a fair amount of time in front of Netflix, not a lot, but more than I’d like to. Netflix is great, of course, and I love a good story as much as the next guy. But television tends to fill your head with other people thoughts’, much more so than reading. And while I don’t mind good writers like Steven Moffat (of Doctor Who and Sherlock) filling my head, I don’t want it happening all the time and I certainly don’t want to be watching the same thing over and over.

And now that I’m writing again, I know just how to spend all the time that I do save from not watching TV. Stay tuned (pun intended).

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