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The Five Best Ways to Beat Reader’s Block

December 9, 2012
Cover scan of a Classics Comics book

When I was a kid, this was the only way I could read Moby Dick without getting reader’s block. Who am I kidding? It’s still the only way. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reader’s block doesn’t get the respect that writer’s block does.  People (especially writers and artists) can sympathize with writer’s block because a writer is creating something, and creating something can be difficult.  Reader’s block gets less sympathy because all a reader needs to do to read is read.  Complaining about reader’s block is like being the kid with all the toys in his room griping about being bored. 

Reader’s block can be frustrating and deserves to be taken (just a little) seriously.  Yes, reading is more passive than writing, but it still takes mental activity.  Reading requires concentration and a willingness to get through difficult exposition/narration (hopefully with a payoff). 

“Block” can happen with even the most passive of activities.  I’ve gotten television watching block.  The symptom for that is mindless flipping of channels.  I’ve gotten video game block.  The symptom for that is intentionally ending games early by getting myself killed (in gruesome, violent ways if possible).  I’ve even gotten “music block,” when I change radio stations and playlists until I eventually give up. 

I’ve never gotten “football watching block.” 

But reader’s block is the worst because reading is the activity (that I can write about) that I enjoy the most (except maybe watching football, but nobody wants to read what I write about watching football).  It doesn’t make sense that I can get bored with books when there are so many good books out there.  There are enough good books out there that nobody (who really knows how to read) should get reader’s block. 

Complaining about reader’s block doesn’t cure reader’s block.  But there are several methods that can. 

1.  STOP READING. 

Yeah, I know that writers are always supposed to read (especially when they’re not writing), but rules are made to be broken (every once in a while and only if nobody gets hurt).  This doesn’t mean that a reader should stop reading altogether.  Reading comic books, blogs, cereal boxes, or closed captioning on television counts as reading. 

And if a reader does stop reading altogether, nobody cares.  Last summer I went on vacation and deliberately did not read or write anything.    I was told I was a much more pleasant person to be around when I wasn’t trying to read and write.  There was no pressure put on me to start reading and writing again. 

2. READ CLASSIC LITERATURE. 

Readers who aren’t into classic lit should choose a short book.  The Great Gatsby is great for reader’s block.  Les Miserables might be a disaster. 

Moby Dick?  Haha!  Moby Dick

Classics that have gotten me out of reader’s block: 

Frankenstein- by Mary Shelley

The Great Gatsby- by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Ulysses- by James Joyce (Okay, I’m kidding!) 

3.  READ A BOOK YOU KNOW YOU’LL DISLIKE. 

Make sure it’s short.  If you choose a long book, that’s okay too because you really don’t have to finish it. 

Books that I knew I’d dislike that got me out of reader’s block: 

Gorilla Beach by Snookie- supposedly written by somebody else. 

I really don’t like admitting that I actually read a few pages of that. 

4.  READ A BOOK YOU’VE READ BEFORE. 

This is risky.  Sometimes staying in a comfort zone is what causes the rut in the first place.  Reading a familiar book may only prolong the reader’s block.  Or it may kick-start a reader’s enthusiasm for reading. 

Favorites that have temporarily cured my reader’s block: 

Marathon Man- by William Goldman

The Godfather- by Mario Puzo

The Thin Man- by Dashiell Hammet 

5.  DO A LOT OF WRITING. 

This might seem like bad advice.  If a reader can’t muster enough energy to read, how can the reader find the enthusiasm to write?  Sometimes writing can get the brain going.  And if it doesn’t, then maybe the reader will get so frustrated by writing that reading will become an easy alternative. 

I had reader’s block when I started writing “Long Story” for Dysfunctional Literacy.  It’s only been a few weeks, but I’ve been eagerly reading ever since.  I’m not sure what the cause-effect relationship is, but writing may have influenced my enthusiasm to read.  Or maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. 

***** 

Thankfully, I don’t have reader’s block right now. Not having reader’s block is a great time to write about having reader’s block.  Next time I have reader’s block, maybe I’ll come back and read my own solutions.  Or I might not… because I’ll have reader’s block and won’t feel like reading it. 

It’s not cool when I get reader’s block on my own stuff.

 *****

For more about reader’s block and what NOT to do about it, read  5 Bad Reasons to Read a Book .

77 Comments
  1. I thought I had reader’s block, but then I was able to read your post. Your words cured me. It’s a Hanuukkah miracle! :)

    • Ha! I don’t think I’ve ever cured anybody of anything before. Thanks for letting me know, and I’m glad I helped. Now go read Ulysses!

  2. I would have been amazed if you weren’t kidding about Ulysses. That book almost produced reader’s catatonia in me.

    • When it comes to books like Ulysses and Moby Dick (and a bunch of others), I’m a pretender. I guess it’s okay to admit that now.

      • I actually liked Moby Dick, although the first third was the best. I made myself read Ulysses, but it was quite mind-numbing.

  3. I suffer from Reader’s Block from time to time. I’m just coming out of a bad reading spell of about 6 months of being unable to sustain interest in any books I picked up. I read a series of books from my fave author, and that helped the block some, so your ideas do work. Right now I’m reading JRR Tolkein’s Trilogy for the umpteenth time. I’m having trouble with some of it, but getting to the halfway point of the three books. I’m pretty sure I’ll finish it, even though I know the story by heart.

  4. Ooooh, great post. I wish I had thought of it. I’m in the middle of reader’s block and I’m not yet cured. I think a classic might cure me, but I’m too lazy to get it started. I thought catalogs would cure me, but it only caused me to spend money (which my husband was not happy about). I have half-heartedly stopped reading, but I keep picking up random books in hopes of fixing something. I’ve had a lot starts and stops, but no finished book yet.

  5. Ha! I love this! And you are right, reader’s block doesn’t get it as much attention compared to its cousin writer’s block. When I get reader’s block I just stop reading until find something worth reading (even if that means reading a cookbook!) Congrats on being FP! :)

  6. This is great advice for beating readers block! Thanks for sharing! https://mccrackenlove.wordpress.com/

  7. I have had reader’s block for the past 3-4 years. It’s extremely frustrating, especially since, as a writer, I *want* to read the short stories and novels of other writers.

    One thing that will help keep you in the loop are audiobooks. Those are especially good if you have a long commute.

    Another thing that’s help is simply reading the prologues and prefaces to books, and (since I own a Kindle) sample chapters.

    You might also consider some YA novels, especially the classics that are put on school reading lists. They’re typically quite sure, and the quality can be superb.

  8. I love how I’ve just read your post during my readers block :D Having said that, I am officially cured. Off to read Life of Pi before the film is out!

  9. This makes me feel much better about the reader’s block that strikes me every time I try to finish Saul Bellow’s Herzog. I’ve taken a break from it for a while (a break that included reading a very bad book indeed), so maybe it’s time to try again.

  10. How have I not found you before this moment? Moby Dick and I have the same tempestuous relationship. I slogged through the whole thing, but it’s the only time I ever relied on Cliffs Notes. Moby Dick was assigned reading, so the Cliffs Notes were a necessary evil- I fell asleep every 5 pages or so. Literature induced narcolepsy.

  11. E-readers do it for me – that’s how I managed to finish Moby Dick. I quite like the idea of the comic book version, though.

  12. I never thought about readers block this way before. Interesting idea. I had it the first 3 times I tried to read The Hobbit. And then I broke through and Tolkein is now one of my favorite writers.

  13. Great post. I’ve absolutely had reader’s block. I’m so glad you gave the syndrome a name! I’ve usually referred to it as “I’m so bored with reading I can’t read another f’ing page!”. The problem is that I love to read!

  14. I’m picky about what I read. I always thought it was the quality of the book that made me put it down. Now you’re telling me it’s somehow my fault (well not technically my fault, but more my fault than say, Richard Ford’s fault for writing 3 books, 1500 pages of Bascombe)

  15. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. The ultimate best way to beat writer’s block (at least for me) has to be … the imminent prospect of getting paid! Hope there’s a cheque in the post for you too!

  16. I especially like the advice to Read Something You’ll Dislke. Though writing instructors have disagreed, I have found great value in occassionally reading stories that were poorly written – cliches, no movement or tension, etc. And whereas exceptional writing, like E.B. White’s essays, are contagious and can invade my tone, bad writing makes me want to edit more thoroughly and get rid of the stinking refuse that is cheap language, and it helps me appreciate the talent of the work of others.

  17. Sometimes I get Reader’s block when I read two or three tragedy/depressing novels in a row… I just don’t get the energy to pick up the next book .. Great article, btw :) Those are some great tips :)

  18. This is an excellent post! I get reader’s block every now and then and it really drives me up the wall.
    Thanks for writing about this!

  19. For me, the most powerfull way is just…. start it! I think the story is with Churchil and a friend who visited him. He was alone in a big room trying to do some painting, in front of a while paper… (so the story goes…). She (the friend, I don’t remember the name), took the pencil from his hand, made a line, gave it back and said “ok, it’s started, now you just have to continue…”. I read this story many years ago, but I really would love to know if it’s true or not….

  20. Nice piece. I like your solutions to readers “block.” I also like your style. Congratulations on getting Freshly Pressed :)

  21. Poor writing and run-on sentences tend to give me ‘reader’s block’. I thought I had reader’s block recently as I was borrowing book after book from the library and not being able to get past the first few chapters. Then, I found several books that I devoured and could barely put down. Sometimes, after reading poorly written books, I’ll go back to a classic novel and read even just a paragraph. It somehow washes the palate and allows me to move on to try something new.

  22. blog-readers block: the inability to finish reading any of the posts you click on

  23. Great post. Also suggest listening to a podcast such as Bookworm (KCRW) and/or Authors on Tour and/or Slate Book Club to get you fired up.

  24. I want to read what you’d write about watching football. ;-)

  25. This was great, I never even herd of readers block before this haha.

  26. Readers’ Block is an interesting concept. Having writers’ block is bad enough, especially if you have a deadline to finish a book. I don’t think I’ve ever had readers’ block (except, maybe, when it comes to reading textbooks for school), but if I do suffer from it at some point in the future, I’ll know what to do. Thank you for the sound advice! (i actually like Great Gatsby).

  27. Are you sure there are only 5 ways?

  28. kirkykoo79 permalink

    Great post – I now have a name for the book-fatigue that occasionally hits. I usually overcome it but I’ve never got past Tom Bombadil’s house and now, thanks to Peter Jackson, I probably never will. Also, I have to follow anyone who mentions two of my favourite novels (Gatsby and Frankenstein) in the same post.

  29. Don’t play Spider Solitaire to beat writer’s block. It doesn’t help, and it sucks away your life.

  30. Nice one! I´d add `talk to someone else´. I often find ideas as to what to read or what topics I could look for.

  31. Great post on a long-overdue idea! I think we also get the ‘guilts’ because we have been brought up to appreciate the value of reading. Thus if we stumble ourselves, it’s like we fail our own rule-set. I’ve found that if I start a book when I’m in a “tired period”, with my only reading 5-10 pages a night before bed, that I run the risk of becoming bored, even with deserving literature.
    I’m also a big believer in the “life’s too short for bad wine and books” philosophy – there is no harm in abandoning a book after 50 pages if it hasn’t sold itself; again, this is something that we have often been ‘taught’ is a bad thing to do, along with not eating all your dinner!

  32. I go through Reader’s Block from time to time. It is frustrating because reading is one of my favorite things to do – but I guess needing a break occasionally is normal. Good suggestions though!

  33. aperiodicapricot permalink

    I am so, sooo glad that someone finally wrote on this topic. Reader’s block has had me put down and forget many a good book in my day. Great advice; I’ll give your tips a shot next time.

  34. Reader’s block–a great name for it! I’ve been feeling it for a while, which is unsettling for someone who has always considered herself a reader. It often seems I’m fighting a losing battle. I agree with the reading-classics idea, though–I recently read Watership Down for the first time with a fascination that my own reader’s block has left missing for a while. I also like to read shorter old favorites of mine just to encourage myself that I CAN still enjoy a book.
    I think part of the problem is being too connected to technology–the internet distracts me like nothing else can these days, and I find myself spending hours doing very little when I claim I’m “too busy” to read. What do you think? Does the internet have anything to do with the brain daze that goes with reader’s block?

  35. The classic manga “Abandon the Old in Tokyo” got rid of my reader’s block. It also made me “feel” something from a piece of literature – something that hasn’t happened in a long time.

  36. I am suffering from the Reader’s block too. Following you!
    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. LOved your post a lot and linked it through an inspired post on my blog http://beyondbeautytips.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/the-reader-block/.

  37. I agree. During school it was hard to read for fun. I now am able to read as much as I want for the time being. So many stories out there waiting to be read !

  38. Love this post! I had “reader’s block” (never thought of calling it that, until now – thanks!) for about a year and then I started reading books I knew were going to end up disappointing me. And now I’m reading all over again! :)

  39. What helps me for reader’s block is GETTING OFF THE DAMN INTERNET. I spend hours and hours on here, so often that I get mad at myself and have a terrible night because “goddammit i was going to read!! Oh well tomorrows another day” And I don’t read for the next few days, my house becomes a total mess, and I awake from the madness saying ‘what the fuck just happened here’ Damn internet
    Nobody ever says anything about reader’s block so I thought it didn’t exist. Thank you for writing this. It’s good to feel that there are other passionate readers who sometimes just can’t read at all.

  40. Normally when I get reader’s block, I just watch TV… Just me? Anyways, thank you for the tips. :)

  41. I often struggle with reader’s block. This article was quite helpful. Thank you, fellow reader!

  42. That was a mildly brilliant post my friend! I get this alot (it’s worse when you’re a student because you read worksheets and textbooks and s*** all day anyway, so it takes all the joy and energy out of recreational reading), but I’ve never thought of it as a type of block. Next time it happens to me, do trust that I’m coming back to this article to act on these solutions.

    Thanks, for the article and the suggegstions!

    P.S., I followed you and liked. Could you do me a flavor and follow my blog?

    Thanks dude!

    -Raven Vinnie

    ravenvinnie.wordpress.com

  43. This is great. I’m not sure if I’m alone in this or not, the few people I have said it to give me the “hmmkay” look but I love to pick up a favourite book and randomly open it. I’m especially prone to this when I’m tired and my concentration levels have long hit the floor and are now lying there unable to muster up much enthusiasm. It’s soothing to revisit long loved characters and interesting to just fall right back into whatever part of the book I open. Normal? Probably not, but I love it :)

  44. Very nice post! I often get Reader’s Block after reading a bad book, the last one was The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, a drag of a read, and kept me down for a good 3 months. My self-treatment is to read a few short stories by O. Henry, or even Jeffrey Archer. It helps!

  45. I tried the ‘read a boring book’ method. The book was Sartre’s “Nausea”. The sad thing is is I actually wanted to read it but found it a little uninspiring. I swicthed to some Chuck Palahniuk after a couple of chapters. That seemed to work.

    Also, do you know what would be ironic? A book with the title “How to Get Over Reader’s Block”…

    Ahh…I need more sleep…

  46. Great tips. You know what helps me? Going to sleep. When I have a good night’s rest, my ideas seem to just flow!

  47. I have had reader’s block for the last eight months. I’ve been going through a bout of depression, and I think I’ve been more distracted because of that. My new year’s resolution is to read more books (I’ve been reading mostly short articles and blogs). I’m starting with Moby Dick, because it’s a running joke between my speed-reader husband and I that I’ve never read Moby Dick. So I’m going to stop giving him a reason to tease me! Thanks for sharing.

  48. It’s ironic, I read Moby Dick (the book) in less than a week when I was a 9-year old girl. I LOVED it. I had dreams of it. I picked it up again when I was a college-aged woman and couldn’t even get through the first 10 pages… don’t know what happened. Certainly don’t know what could possibly have enthralled a young girl about that book. I am starting to read “War and Peace” for the first time this winter (I know, I’m a bad Russian), and I have enlisted some friends for a VERY small and temporary “book club.” I figure, having people to discuss with at regular intervals might keep me reading. One can hope!

  49. I’ve got Reader’s Block right now. It gets bad when I know I’m supposed to be reading a book but the pages turn more slowly than usual. Every word is suddenly harder for the inner voice to pronounce. And Reader’s Block is the same on paper as it is on an eReader. Great post.

  50. Glad I am not the only one. I love reading, and will normally read anything, but lat month I just went though a period of nothing I started was right and felt like wading though treacle. I ended up reading some of my daughter’s horrible histories and stopped trying to read proper books. I am heading home for Christmas and have loaded my kobo with fluff, easy quick reads. Hopefully I will get back into the swing of reading soon.

  51. Congrats on getting Freshly pressed. Never read Moby Dick in any form, though I truly enjoyed the Classics Illustrated, “Tale of Two Cities.” Like others who commented, I’m with you on this one. I find Turner Classic Movies is sometimes good for TV watching block.

  52. Good thing you were kidding about Ulysses because that book is a tough read. Lord of the Flies is a great classic, and the Hobbit.

  53. Great post and it brought a smile on a very unsmiling day

  54. TheLastWord permalink

    Hmm, interesting theory! Not sure I fully agree – i don’t believe I’ve ever suffered from readers block; what I have suffered from are authors or books that are unspeakably uninteresting. Moby Dick – for sure. Anything by F Scott Fitzgeralt, Ernest Hemingway or Somerset Maugham. Love in the time of Cholera was a “kill me now, please” book.

    What does help Writers Block for me is reading Yahoo – a wealth of stupid “news” items guaranteed to raise my pulse.

    I like the way you write.

  55. A worthy post. Well done.

    Is there such a thing as “lawn mowing block”? I’d rather watch a reality show about a guy mowing lawns than mow the lawn. :)

    “The Old Man and the Sea” does it for me. “Einstein’s Dreams” is a good option, too. Every chapter is its own story.

  56. This is the best! I spent the better part of this year suffering reader’s block, and thought I was just insane. (possibly insane in some way for just writing that sentence) but went through a bout last month when I read 8 novels. Now the reader’s block is back.

    Great tips, though. I like to cure mine by reading trashy yet alright literature for women. It eases me back in. I just bought one of my favourite author’s new books though so I might be able to break the block one more time!

    Awesome post, well done and so glad this was Freshly Pressed :)

  57. How about Finnegan’s Wake?

  58. Bilal Khan permalink

    I have some go-to writers that I visit whenever I have “reader’s block.” John LeCarre, Dashiell Hammett, Neil Gaiman. They are page-turners without being total fluff.

  59. I always get readers block especially when I read any of the classics it’s so painful as well because I absolutely love to read the classics but books like The Odyssey, Vanity Fair, Jane Austin’s book they give me serious readers block to the extent that I have to stop before I try to hard that I fall asleep!

  60. I find the best way is to NOT read a classic, which is the sort of thing I get stuck on.

    Another great way is to simply pick somwthing up by a reader you really enjoy.

  61. Well said, I am currently suffering from readers block. I am at 96%, according to my kindle, with The Fountainhead. Which is a brilliant book, I just cannot bring myself to finish, I blamed it on that “I don’t wanna be done with you feeling” but I think you are correct, readers block. I went on a reading free vacation when I was almost done and BOOM the block began. I was able to read this post just fine…

  62. Reading a book I’ve read before resonates. Actually, truth be told, I fixed readers’ block by getting reading glasses. Stubborn-ness about age-related presbyopia doesn’t lend itself to enjoying great literature…

    Current read – the “first drafts” of “The Hobbit”, ed John Radcliffe. Geeky analysis, but interesting.

  63. I never thought of it like this but I get this all the time! Particularly just after I’ve just finished a really awesome book & I want more of the same but cant find one to match it.

  64. Great post and I do love Moby Dick. I’ve never experienced writer’s block, but If I do, I’ll just bounce back to this post. Thanks for sharing!!

  65. Tried to read the article, but something blocked me . . .

    Nyuk-nyuk-nyuk, just kiddin’ . . . you hit the nail right on the head :)

  66. rebeccabartley permalink

    Great post! I personally love both reading and writing and I do them all the time, but sometimes I do get both “blocks”. These are great tips though. Thanks for sharing and congrats on being on Freshly Pressed!

    Everyone feel free to check out my blog! All follows, likes, comments, and views are all appreciated! :)

  67. Nice post. I know what that reading block is like. It can be a pair of thick velvet curtains that shut me down temporarily from all sensation. I take refuge in sci fi and self-help books.

  68. am ailing with the reader’s block and will read the ones that are my favourite to get in touch with my reading again :)

  69. This is hilarious! Reader’s block is definitely a thing and worth exploring. Good tips too!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Reader’s Block? | Stuff Jeff Reads
  2. 5 Ways to Beat Reader’s Bock – literodditi
  3. Reader's Block and family | Things To Rave About

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