Diminishing Your Creativity By Reading Too Much?

I’ve never been much of a reader. I never even wanted to read the GOOD books in high school; I got CliffsNotes for Lord of the Flies. The book was only like 80 pages and the plot even intrigued me, but I just couldn’t bring myself to sit and read. Around the time I started college, I began to explore my faith in Christianity further. In addition to the books of the Bible, I actually began to read books on different faith-related topics and would write a written reflection on some of the things I was learning. Unlike reading, journaling has been something I’ve enjoyed doing for a long time. As I left college and entered the field of education, I began to read books on classroom management, creativity and education reform, reflecting on many of the things presented and doing my best to act on the things I was learning.

In order to expand my horizons, I felt I should spend time reading fiction as well, being that my bookshelf was chock full of non-fiction. I figured I’d start small, so I read A Wrinkle In Time. It took me several weeks to complete the book, reading it occasionally before I went to sleep. I enjoyed the story but most nights would rather play on my phone than read a book. After I finished it, my wife asked me what I thought. I said I liked it. That was about it. I didn’t really have much to say about the plot or what I felt it meant, it was just a nice story. I had a lot of thoughts as I read it, but when asked about it most of them sort of eluded me.

My next book I was able to read in a week since I was on an island for spring break with limited internet access. It was Catcher In The Rye. I enjoyed it. Within minutes of finishing it, I went online to read about the book since I knew there was a lot of controversy surrounding it. Without ever really stopping to think myself on what it meant, I had read through all the different interpretations, controversies, and cultural influences. I felt like I probably should have waited and struggled in thought a little bit and created my own interpretation of it all; perhaps that would have made the read a little bit more meaningful.

This summer I had a big list of books I wanted to read, and I had plenty of time to read them (and still do). As of yet, I’ve completed only two of them; The Alchemist and Brave New World. These two books were the first ones I actually wrote out a review for. I wanted to post them in a blog but felt that I’d just be adding to all the garbage on the internet without really contributing anything new (sort of like right now). I started the reviews because I felt I should come away with SOMETHING on these books.

After I wrote my review for Brave New World, I read it to my wife. She sort of laughed and told me I didn’t really review it, I just summarized the whole story. She was right. I ended up adding a few thoughts of my own about the civilization presented in the book. These reviews were starting to turn into half-hearted book reports that I knew weren’t getting graded.

I began to wonder why I even wanted to read these books or write these reviews.

I found an interesting quote by Einstein:

Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.

Now I’m not using this quote to justify my lack of enthusiasm for reading, or that people are somehow more creative if they think reading is lame. That would be a stupid argument. However, I imagine during Einstein’s lifetime, most people spent their leisurely time reading, or maybe listening to the radio. I think he was giving warning to just continually reading, reading, reading and not embarking in any creative pursuits. The same could be said today about watching too much television or playing too many games or spending too much time on the internet.

Excessively consuming and rarely taking opportunity to create makes the brain lazy.

I think the reason I felt the need to create those book reviews, as unimpressive as they were, was because I didn’t want to just be a consumer of these stories; I wanted to do something with them, learn from them, create something out of them. Just as when I read all those books on faith, education and sociology in hopes to develop my own thoughts and philosophies, I think I was reading these works of fiction to perhaps gain a different perspective on humanity and culture. I felt that thinking through those elements and creating these little book reviews would make the reads worth my while.

We actually perpetuate this consumer-focused mentality in the classroom, training students to take in knowledge with few opportunities to create something. Listen to me, study this, take that test, stop drawing when I’m talking, quit making origami during the lesson ( all things of which I’ve said in my classroom :/ ) We’re creating passive consumers instead of active creators.

We see this in our personal lives as educators as well. We scour the internet, pinning dozens of ideas a week and bookmarking loads of websites that could make us better teachers, and far too often we don’t DO anything with it. I’ve spent excessive amounts of time this summer researching productivity tools and tips to help myself become more efficient. Ironically, it’s been at the expense of neglecting the work I had originally set out to do that day.

There’s obviously a time for reading books just for fun, for watching movies that don’t make you think, for looking on Amazon at things you’ll never buy, and for scrolling through your Facebook feed until you hate yourself, but we need to make more time just to create.

There’s a few people I’ve encountered that get this:

I recently found Jonathan Mann on YouTube. He’s written a song every day since Jan 1, 2009. He doesn’t even care if most of them suck, he just wants to create!

From a faith perspective, Erwin McManus speaks a lot on how it’s our responsibility to create things that bring goodness and love and hope and faith to this world. Otherwise, we’re idly standing by while others create things that bring hurt and darkness and pain.

Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind discusses the economic and social importance of developing your creative spirit as many jobs of the future require creative problem solving and thinking.

I started this blog about a week ago to have a place to think out loud and promote conversations on various education related topics. I also started it to have a place to create. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you and I hope you weren’t putting off doing something creative in the process. đŸ™‚

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2 thoughts on “Diminishing Your Creativity By Reading Too Much?

  1. It’s funny. Even after studying English in college and now about to teach it, I don’t LOVE reading. When I do read, I usually really enjoy myself a lot (whenever I have airplane trips, I can read for 10 hours straight), but it’s hard for me to get started most of the time because there is so much to do.

    I read a Wrinkle in Time last summer, and it was good for adolescent literature, but didn’t leave me wanting to talk to people about it all the time like most books I read.

    Brave New World is one of my all time favorites. Its ideas are so good that summarizing them actually is still insightful.

    But with the overall message of the post, I completely agree. Too much consuming and not enough creating seems to be a big problem with most people. Especially because information access is at an all time high, and it’s almost impossible to not be caught in lengthy internet scrolling-loops that steal our time for imagination and originality these days. When I start teaching this fall, I definitely want to focus just as much on what the students are creating as the material we’re “consuming.” And it’s great of you to be blogging and writing reviews to model that for them!

    P.S, I’m almost done with my “assessment” blog post, and I’ll be happy to hear your thoughts.

    1. I’d love to read it! Where is your blog site?

      Enders Game was one of those books I read a few months ago as well (I saw your updates about reading it). I really should have stopped to reflect on a bit of that; it was so good đŸ™‚

      I originally figured I wouldn’t do class blogging since most my students don’t have an email account, but I just found one where the teacher can set up an account for everyone in the class. I use Edmodo in my classroom but it’s not really a great blogging platform for students. I’m going to spend the next 4 hours researching this. I was originally going to work on our class math website. NO TIME FOR THAT NOW! TIME TO CONSUME!

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