How to Deal with Reader’s Block as a Writer

You know the feeling. You crack the cover on a brand new book you’ve been waiting to get your hands on, and three pages in you notice you’re not quite sinking in to the story. You give it a few more pages—after all, you’ve been waiting so long to read this one and it received a ton of hype on Twitter (so you know it MUST be good)—but even so, you don’t find yourself connecting. OK, fine. Maybe you just didn’t gel with that particular title—but your TBR is towering precariously on your bedside table and you’re by no means out of options. You grab another. Same story. Another. Same again. Good god, they can’t all be bad, can they? By the time you’re flinging the fourth book across the room, wiping the mascara from your tear-streaked face and wondering if you’ll ever find another book that brings you pleasure again, a slow thought begins to take hold: the problem isn’t the books . . . it’s you.

My friend, you have reader’s block.

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Reader’s block, or reader fatigue, is real and it can be devastating—doubly so for writers who find they suddenly take no joy in the types of stories they spend their lives creating. If you’re lucky enough to write for a living, it can be terrifying to find yourself suddenly unable to connect to that land of make believe. I’ve suffered this sad state of affairs more than once over the past several years and didn’t realize how common it was until I started talking to friends about it and hearing their reports of the same. It’s no way to live, friends, and so I thought I’d share few strategies I’ve used to break myself out of this sorry state.

 

TRY ANOTHER GENRE

I myself am an SFF-loving girl and almost everything I read has some sort of fantastic or speculative element. Sometimes, though, in my quest to read ALL THE BEST SFF TITLES, things can start to feel a bit… formulaic. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good [Young Adult Fantasy] in which a [Strong Female Protagonist] overthrows [antagonist] to save [her community]. But if I read two or three similar titles in a row, the next in my pile starts to look a little less exciting.

If you find yourself in a similar rut, where it feels like there are no surprises in the books you’re reading, shake things up with a different genre. If you like fantasy, try a mystery. If you read romance, try breaking things up with a thriller or even a nonfiction title. The best part about this strategy, for writers at least, is that reading new mediums can help you improve your own writing by exposing you to new and different things.

 

CHANGE YOUR MEDIUMgirl-1990347_1920

If regular old ink and paper isn’t working for you, try listening to an audiobook or reading a graphic novel instead. This more than anything else has helped me get out of my reader slumps without actually giving up reading.

Graphic novels in particular have been a GODSEND for me over the past year or two. There are so many titles to choose from, and public libraries are expanding their collections—some even offer free digital reading apps with thousands of titles, so you can sample new series at the stroke of a finger.

 

MEDIA FAST

First introduced by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way as a tool to overcome writers’ block, a media fast encourages you to eschew all types of media—books, television, social media, the nightly news, etc. Cameron’s philosophy is that by cutting the line of media consumption, you’re freeing yourself to create. It’s a great tool for writers, but it can also be a great tool for readers suffering from overconsumption of books and other media. If you’re experiencing a bit of reader fatigue, taking a break to do something else may be just what you need. 

Note: Cameron’s rules for writers engaging in a media fast are pretty strict, but in this case, you get to decide whether you fast encompasses more than just books—and you get to decide when it’s over.

 

DNF!

This is my year of unapologetically DNF’ing books I am not enjoying. For those unfamiliar with the GoodReads jargon, DNF stands for ‘did not finish’, and for some readers, the very idea is sacrilege. It’s time to get over that feeling. Life is too short to waste on bad books, and in today’s rush-to-the-finish marketplace, the chances of picking up a book that feels more like a rough manuscript, even one put out by a major publisher, is much higher than it was ten years ago. And when you force yourself to read something you don’t like, those feelings may carry over to the next book, dampening your enjoyment of that one, too. So go ahead, put that wildly hyped book you just aren’t enjoying down—it might save your (reading) life.

 

Dealing with Readers’ Block is no fun, especially when your life revolves around books. (As a reader, writer, and librarian, I’m in a good position to know!) So if you start to feel that frustration rising, DON’T PANIC!, and give some of these strategies a try.

I’m curious: How many of you have experienced a feeling of reader fatigue or readers’ block…and what were your strategies for coping? How did you regain your love of reading? Share with us below!

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20 comments

  1. Great post! I love Book Clubs for popping me out of a reading rut – those groups often get you reading a title you wouldn’t normal pick up. And if you hate it or pop it in the DNF category at least you can gripe about it over wine with some friends 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post! I tend to do at least half of my reading by audio, so I can’t say this trend has happened to me lately. Maybe because hearing other voices (other than my own) brings a new element to it or maybe it’s because I’m reading while driving rather than feeling like I’m wasting precious time on the wrong book.

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    1. Marcia, I find myself listening to a lot more audiobooks lately, too–mostly because of driving to work as well! But I’m also finding it less stressful than actually sitting down to read a book lately even when I’m at home. I’m not sure why it is either!

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    1. Carol, I think you nailed it on the head – it’s an issue of self protection! We have precious little energy and need to conserve what we do have for our own art and whatever fuels it!

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  3. What an interesting post! My reading taste runs the gamut from fairy tale retellings to historical fiction to classics to picture books to sci fi to (fill in the blank). Whenever one genre gets repetitive, I switch it up!

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    1. Enjoying lots of different things definitely helps! Though I love my YA fantasies dearly, an imaginative middle grade, or beautifully illustrated graphic, or magical adult literary are my second-round go-tos.

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  4. I’ve been on a jag of reading all the classics that I missed and at times I can find them daunting but if I go back to my “going home” genre, which is usually a cozy mystery most of them by Alexander McCall Smith fit the bill, I feel refreshed enough to tackle anything.

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  5. I’ve experienced this! To the point where I recently read a really popular picture book and it left me completely flat–nay, it angered me that it was so popular! But when I showed it to my adult daughter, she was all, “Oh, this is adorable! What’s your problem with it?” I think I’ll read a middle grade this week to cleanse the palette ahead of ReFoReMo. Thanks for naming this condition!

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  6. Wow! What a refreshing and wonderful post! I never really thought about it this way, but I’ve been experiencing this with some of my favorite types of books and I’m so relieved to read your post. Switching genres has helped me the most! Thank you!

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