How I Overcame Reader’s Block (And So Can You!)
As a kid, I adored reading. Okay, more specifically, I enjoyed reading about dragons, but that’s not the issue here.
It frequently coincided with my equally as intense love of climbing trees, and some of my fondest memories involve being perched in a small tree and reading some hopelessly goofy, dragon-related literature while my mom and toddler siblings used the playground equipment. If no climbable trees were available, I’d settle for reading under one and drinking a thermos of chocolate milk while they ran around in the park.
As I got older, my tastes got a little more eclectic as I encountered Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Anne Shirley, the residents of Narnia and Middle Earth, respectively, and much to my mother’s horror, Stephen King, but my passion remained more or less the same.
Bottom line is, I loved reading. It was my paramount joy, my primary source of entertainment, and I didn’t think that would ever change.
So imagine my shock when, around my sophomore year of college at the age of seventeen, it occurred to me that I hadn’t really read for pleasure since I discovered the Hunger Games a year or two prior. Moreover, and equally as horrifically, when I tried to read I found I couldn’t focus; regardless of the quality of the story and how much I wanted to read it, the investment was gone.
Whether this was due to my first stint with organized education (prior to college, I was homeschooled) or the fact that I’d grown accustomed to the bite-sized chunks of candy-flavored, insubstantial information served up by the internet, the sad and simple fact was that I had fallen out of love with reading, and it looked like it was going to stay that way forever.
Well, flash forward two-point-five years to Present-Day Brooksie, and since school got out in early May, I’ve read Chuck Palahniuk’s Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread, Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, Emma Straub’s The Vacationers, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You. Despite the disappointing lack of dragons, I loved all of them.
I drink books like nectar again, if you’ll pardon the floral language, and everything from the quality of my writing to the quality of my life has improved as a result of it.
So how did I fall back in love with reading? Well, I’ve spent a lot of time pontificating on this, and as far as I can tell, it can be narrowed down to three factors:
1. Reading every day.
It started with lunch. Every day, when I’d sit down at my university cafe, I used to get out my laptop and watch YouTube or whatnot while I ate my sandwich – a cool idea in theory, but really sort of gross whenever I rubbed my greasy fingers on the mouse and keyboard.
When I made a conscious decision to read more, I began taking out my book and reading during the lunch period instead. It didn’t come naturally at first – I was easily distracted and kept zoning out – but I ultimately found it very pleasant, especially when I listened to some classical music in the background as well (nice for atmosphere, and for drowning out noise and distractions.)
I kept doing it.
When that summer rolled around, I rediscovered an amazing little outdoor cafe by the harbor. It had no wifi, which for my purposes, was absolutely perfect.
I went there to read Good Omens and eat home baked lemon squares, pie, and banana bread, listening to international tourists speak in other languages, and watch the boats go by. It was a beautiful environment, and that (coupled with the fact that Good Omens is just really fucking awesome) made it easier than ever for me to want to stay longer and become more engrossed in what I was reading.
Afterwards, I’d take out my notebook and work on my own stories and journal. Overall, I’d say that summer was one of the most intellectually productive I’ve had.
Once school started again, it got a little harder to read every day, but by then my love of reading had pretty much caught: it had become an intellectual drug for me again, a source of comfort, pleasure, and inspiration. Also, it was another viable excuse to procrastinate on my academic responsibilities, which was always welcome. So I kept reading. It was still a relatively slow process, as I had to work around my already busy schedule, but the more I read the more adept I became at drinking in the information in hungry, satisfying gulps (a bit more suggestive than I’d initially intended that metaphor to be, but I’m going to go with it.)
But this isn’t to say that there were no bumps in the road back to bibliophilia. There was another factor that I had to grasp before I reached the point where I could unabashedly adore reading once again.
2. Reading what excites me.
No, I’m not speaking sexually, you pervert. I’m talking about books I actually want to read.
When I first started trying to get back into literature, I started trying to read the classics exclusively, like Around the World in Eighty Days and Little Women. Let me be clear, these books are amazing (excluding the jarring amounts of racism and endorsements of British colonialism in the former) but after semesters of reading similar works for my literature seminars, they just felt a little like…academia.
In fact, the only reason I was insistent on reading classics exclusively, I now realize, was because I was a pretentious, pseudo intellectual little shit back in those days with a horrible case of impostor syndrome. What I needed to re-learn was what dragon-loving, Ten-Year-Old Brooksie long since already knew: the best way to enjoy reading is to read what you actually enjoy.
It was a lesson I slowly but surely remastered, and it took me a while to realize that modern literature is teaming with smart, enriching reads, like Life of Pi, American Gods, Where’d You Go Bernadette, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, The Help, Everything I Never Told You, and countless others.
Moreover, these were books I didn’t have to force myself to read; they were books I found myself reading at four AM because I didn’t want to stop.
I’ve also discovered classics that I can eat up in a matter of days, like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Which absolutely everyone should read, by the way: Francie Nolan is a feminist icon, and way, way ahead of her time, not to mention it’s fucking hilarious and will make you cry like a little bitch), Jane Eyre, and basically anything written by Jane Austen. I love these books for their sharp wit, applicable and timeless life observations, and striking lack of the pretentiousness that I’d come to associate with a lot of classic literature.
This summer, I my reading list includes Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, Louis Sachar’s Holes, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys. I’m looking forward to reading each and every one of them.
Ultimately, the point I’m trying to make here is that there’s no joy to be found in pretentiousness: don’t read to prove yourself as an intellectual. Read to enrich your soul, read what you legitimately enjoy, and read what inspires you.
Which brings me to my next and final point…
3. Reading what inspires me.
This one might be true specifically for my fellow authors, but since I know a large portion of my followers are fellow authors, I think it’s applicable here.
Ever since I was an infinitesimally small child, I’ve wanted to write stories. When I was fourteen I wrote a hopelessly angsty YA novel about a half-dragon girl named Freedom and her misadventures with an ambiguously lesbian vampire and werewolf duo, a seductive and ambiguously bisexual elf (it was a time of self discovery for me), and a talking lion. When I was eleven, I wrote a middle grade novel about a little boy who befriends a dragon. When I was four, I wrote *ahem!* drew wordless stories about a winged wolf-creature named Starlight and his (in retrospect, overtly gory) battles with monsters.
It was bizarre, cringey, and I’m not gonna lie, pretty fucking awesome.
Around the time I started college at around sixteen, I’d just decided I wanted to start writing again. I had lots of ideas, and I remember in detail getting yelled at by my manager for scribbling in my notebook behind the counter instead of dutifully smiling at customers the way I was supposed to.
But my writing was…well, to put it bluntly, it was really, really bad. It only began to improve when I resolved to write every day. It noticeably and drastically began to improve when I began to read works that I found creatively inspiring.
While I was revising my manuscript, I read a lot of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, both masters of the kind of urban fantasy I was attempting to write, and spent a lot of time figuring out what I loved most about their writing and how to best apply it. This was also around the time I began reading Douglas Adams, which was, let me tell you, a magical experience. It involved a lot of delighted gasping on my end and thinking you’re allowed to do that?
It really showed me what the barriers were for creative writing, or in this case, total lack thereof.
I think I owe these writers a lot for helping me to create several novel-length manuscripts I’m incredibly proud of, and one that I’m currently preparing to get published.
So in closing, for anyone suffering from reader’s block, feel free to try my approach: read every day, read what you love and not to stoke your ego, and for my writer peeps, read what inspires you.
Either way, my books and I are enjoying a passionate long-term relationship, and every day I find myself loving them more.