How a Week Without My Smartphone Made Me More Creative

How a Week Without My Smartphone Made Me More Creative

I lost my phone in Paris.

(This has something to do with writing, I promise.)

Actually, my phone got stolen in Paris. But the details don’t matter. What matters is that for the last three days of my trip, I didn’t have my calculator-sized, Wi-Fi-seeking security blanket to fall back on.

It took almost a week to get a replacement, an experience that made me more crafty in my attempts to communicate with far-flung friends and family. But the experience also made me realize what I was missing by having my nose in my phone on a regular basis.

What’s a girl without a smartphone to do?

Without my phone, I had to let myself get bored.

When I rode the subway, my choices were to look out the window, or talk to my travel companion (or my favorite: both). When I stood in line at TSA, I watched the other travelers and let my mind wander.

Without Wi-Fi, cell service, or a laptop, I read almost two entire books on my return flights. This was in late March, and I had maybe finished one novel during the rest of the first quarter of the year.

Paltry performance, Rowan.

This post does not exist to make you feel guilty about using a smartphone, or lofty because you don’t have one. I have a love-hate relationship with my phone, and I’m convinced there’s no single perfect method for becoming a productive-yet-content, technology-consuming human.

Being without my phone for more than a weekend made me remember my childhood: How I had devoured book after book, biking back and forth to the library on a near-daily basis, designated reading tote bag packed with young-adult novels.

I grew up in a time when the internet came in the mail on CD-ROMS from AOL. When you couldn’t talk and Google at the same time. When growing up as the only kid at home meant books felt like trusted friends.

Somewhere over the Atlantic, I realized I wanted that experience back.

How I rediscovered reading (while living a smartphone life)

Going a week without my phone didn’t turn me into a writing magician, pumping out novel chapters until the wee hours each night.

Don’t give me that much credit.

But my brief break from technology did make me feel more creative.

I embraced my phone-free time as an opportunity to turn over words and phrases in my mind; to consider my work as a writer and my approach to the craft. To soak up what I read and hope to learn a smidgen from writers I admire.

So when I got my phone back, I did these things to maintain the energy of my temporary digital detox:

1. I reconsidered which social media apps I kept on my phone

Did I need two different apps for the sole purpose of taking photos of my cats, putting cute filters on them, and zapping them to my friends? Not really.

I even (gasp!) deleted Facebook from my phone. I haven’t disappeared from social media, but I’ve pulled back the reins on my personal use. No one I know has commented that they’ve noticed this.

2. I started rescheduling my TV time

A few of my favorite shows returned this spring, and of course, they all run new episodes at 10 p.m. You know what time is perfect for curling up in bed with a good book? 10 p.m.

Instead of scheduling my evening around the newest episode of the hottest show, I catch up on later in the week, usually when I’m at the gym.

Rescheduling my TV consumption — bonus points for multitasking, maybe? — means I can wind down the night away from electronic screens while I relax with a book.

3. I stopped procrastinating

Everyone has a list of “to-be-read” books as long as your arm, right?

I decided to stop putting them all off for “eventually, when I have time.”

Remember when your teacher made you read for 15 minutes after lunch? Fifteen minutes is plenty of time to enjoy a book chapter or a portion thereof. Why wait until my next vacation to try to squeeze in all those novels my friends can’t stop talking about?

I’m picking up novels and other titles I’m excited about right now. It may take me a while to finish reading them, but I find the stack on my nightstand to be inviting, not intimidating.

I haven’t started any new creative projects since I refocused my energy on reading every day, but I’m seeing pops of creativity appear in my day job and freelance work. I’m just beginning to imagine the possibilities for my writing craft.

Have you taken a digital detox of any length? How did it affect your reading or writing habits?

Filed Under: Craft


  • Chris says:

    I have noticed for some time now that I rarely finish anything because I don’t focus. My smartphone contributes a great deal to this problem. I am going to try a disconnect like this. Great post.

  • Amanda says:

    As I lay in bed, having just woken up, reading this on my smartphone…your post speaks to me! I dropped my phone in the bathtub yesterday while bathing my 1 year old (long story) and it sat submerged for 30 seconds. And it’s totally fine. Though I secretly wish it wasn’t…

    Thank you for this post!

  • K R says:

    My two cents. I am not on social media. I usually keep my smartphone away from me in another room and attend only to calls on hearing the bell ring. I check my emails three times a day, i.e., in the morning, noon, and evening. I end up finishing at least five books a month – usually serious literary stuff from the great masters like Tolstoy, Hugo, Dostoyevsky and so on, apart from esoteric spiritual scriptures such as the Upanishads and Advaita Vedanta literature. Plus, I end up doing several hours of meditation daily. I cannot think of leading my life any other way, howsoever much technology advances and the world around me keeps changing. By the way, I am 49 years of age and not yet a fossilized specimen of a much earlier generation! This is just to express the happiness that I derive from just being as I am and to serve as an encouragement to others who are also so-inclined to develop themselves rather than to be enslaved by societal peer-pressure and mores. Cheers!

  • Gill Morris says:

    Love this article, so true. I bought my first smartphone last year and had no internet on it when I was out and about, but then I succumbed and I must admit it’s handy for google maps, but I’d rather not be online 24/7. I went out with a friend a few weeks ago and we purposely didn’t take our phones and we were lost! If only to know what the time was. When I’m writing I have to make an effort not to check my phone or open FB. I like you have a love hate relationship with my phone and all this technology.

  • C T Mitchell says:

    Loved this article. It’s so true – smart phones and technology may have made things ‘simpler’ but at the same time we’ve become more time poor.

    It’s good to get away from technology – do some simple things like reading (a paper book) and writing (with a pen and paper)

    But don’t get me wrong – I can see a place for smart phones and technology when I take CONTROL

  • Harrison says:

    I lost my smartphone three months ago and I accept the fact that it was wasting a lot of my time, since I lost it I have read a good number of books, I have written articles and I was able to make more money. Even if I buy one, I will try to keep it away.

  • Enjoyed this post and shared it on Facebook. We have become a society that is too busy to communicate and too distracted. Many accidents result when people are on the phone instead of looking where they’re going.

  • Brit Haines says:

    You never really realize how much time you spend on your phone (and just how different today’s technologically savvy world is) until your phone breaks or gets stolen.

    I went through a similar experience, which is why I now always carry books in my purse.

    If I get bored, I have a book. If I have a 20-minute wait at the DMV, I have a book. If I arrive at work 10 minutes early, I have a book. Not such a bad way to live.

  • Marc says:

    It’s not so much smartphones per se, but the Internet and being online.
    I only ever really use my phone when I’m out and about; Whatsapp, that kind of thing. But when I’m writing, I’m on my PC and the temptation to open up a browser to check the news or some inane post of Facebook is always there, so i try to resist as best I can.
    Perhaps pulling the plug when I’m writing is the answer, but I’m saving to the cloud and round and round it goes.
    A shed in the wilderness would probably be the ideal…

  • I’ve never installed social media on my smartphone, but I do have more than one reading app. My Kindle app syncs with my Paperwhite at home. Voila–I can continue my current read while I stand in line at the bank.

    I wouldn’t want to go without being able to text myself writing ideas, scribble notes, and look up words in my dictionary or thesaurus. Could I live without a smartphone? Yes. But it would handicap me.

  • Scott says:

    I broke my phone just over two months ago and chose not to replace it. I figured it was an experiment. I started carrying books with me everywhere I went. I hadn’t finished one since last summer, and I’ve read five since my phone broke. And with less reliance on social media, I’m wasting far less time with it even on my computer, since I’m less caught up in it and not caring as much. All in all, this is a huge win, and though my kids aren’t thrilled about not being able to reach me instantly any time they want, I’m seriously considering making it a permanent change…

  • Judith Haran says:

    I’ve put off getting one for as long as they’ve been available. Fortunately I work in a business where they are not required or even useful. I miss the instant camera, but it’s great not to be staring at the phone all day, as everyone else seems to be doing. I already have so little free time that I cannot imagine how I would handle another device (other than my laptop and ipod, that is).

  • I put off getting a smart phone as long as I could, but now that I have one, there are some benefits as far as writing is concerned, such as having a quick camera at a conference, or being able to show my website or whatever to another person.

    But the drawbacks are huge. Time that used to be spent reading a book (say in the dentist’s office) is now wasted scrolling through facebook.

    So I agree with everything you’ve said and done in this post.

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