I spent most of 2013 suffering from reader’s block. Whenever I thought about reading, it didn’t sound like fun; it sounded like effort. I could easily think of any number of things I’d rather be doing. When I needed to read something for work, I had no problem doing so, and even enjoyed much of what I read. But as soon as I closed the file or put down the book, reading for pleasure felt impossibly far out of reach.
Fortunately, there are ways around this problem. Here are six steps for beating reader’s block and getting back that passion for reading.
1. Treat your book aversion like any other sort of anxiety or phobia.
For some people that means gritting your teeth and jumping in. For others it might help to have support from a friend: make a reading date, or read aloud to each other. One might medicate, or meditate, or sit in a favorite peaceful place. Whatever you do to overcome other anxieties can also help you overcome this one.
2. Whet your appetite.
Read an article, a poem, or a short story–ideally a really superb one that reminds you just how great the written word can be. If you’d rather try a longer book, place a bookmark 20 pages in and stop when you get there. Set a timer for reading, or read on your commute so there’s a defined end-point. Leave yourself wanting more.
3. Read something that won’t make you angry or upset.
It can be a book you’ve read recently, or something recommended by a trusted friend who’s aware of your particular hot buttons and concerns. Later on you can challenge yourself to read unvetted books that might be rife with sexism, racism, homophobia, gratuitous violence, or other elements that make you want to throw the book at the wall. Right now, stick with something safe.
4. Read a book that’s very familiar, or entirely unfamiliar.
A book you know backwards and forwards will soothe you. A book in a totally unfamiliar genre, category, medium (such as an audiobook if you’re used to text), or style will shake you out of your rut. If you read professionally, go for something that’s very distinct from the books you deal with at work.
5. Read something lighthearted.
If an immersive or heart-wrenching reading experience sounds daunting, try a book of elephant jokes, or a bathroom reader, or nonsense rhymes, or anything else that’s very much not intended to challenge you emotionally or intellectually.
6. Savor the desire to read.
This may sound counterintuitive, but once you start feeling the urge to read again, don’t immediately or constantly indulge it. Enjoy knowing that you’ve broken the block. Every time you pick up a book, before you open it, take a moment to really feel your desire for it. Do you want to find out what happens next, or encounter old friends among the characters? Do you want the delight of the humor or the thrill of learning something new? Are you enjoying the cadences of this particular audiobook narrator, or of a close friend reading you poems that are dear to their heart? Immerse yourself in the wanting before you immerse yourself in the having. That way, the next time reader’s block threatens, you’ll have a new weapon in your arsenal: the visceral memory of the longing for a good book.
I broke my reader’s block with Patricia Kennealy-Morrison’s Keltiad magical space opera trilogy. I made myself wait four days between choosing it and reading it, and then drew it out over the course of a week. (For me, three familiar novels in a week is a nice moderate pace.) I’ve adored these books for 25 years, and they hold up surprisingly well to rereading. They’re fluffy, sure, but that just serves to remind me that reading doesn’t have to be a tremendous intellectual or emotional challenge, and I can do it even when I’m brain-fried. Instead of analyzing their flaws, as I would probably do with a new-to-me book, I’m eagerly paging ahead to longtime favorite phrases and scenes. This is reading for pleasure, pure pleasure, and I’m loving every moment of it.
When I finish the trilogy, I’m not sure what I’ll read next. I might just take a day or two to enjoy being back in the game. I can read again! It’s not gone forever! I am so glad, and so relieved.