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Writer’s Block vs. Reader’s Block

May 10, 2015
The author completely lost his train of thought as soon as he put his manuscript on the writer's block. (image via wikimedia)

The author completely lost his train of thought as soon as he put his manuscript on the writer’s block. (image via wikimedia)

Most people don’t understand how frustrating reader’s block and writer’s block can be.  When I have reader’s block, I can waste an entire day wandering down aisles of book stores looking for something interesting to read. When I have writer’s block, I just stare like I’ve witnessed something traumatic.

A co-worker of mine doesn’t even believe that reader’s block exists.  He thinks it’s something that I made up.  In this day and age, I can’t believe I work with a reader’s block denier, but that’s the world we live in.  After he loudly proclaimed that reader’s block was all in my head (which kind of proved my point), he admitted that he doesn’t read books.  Typical denier, I thought.  Maybe it was my fault for trying to explain reader’s block to him.

To me, reader’s block is more frustrating than writer’s block.  Reader’s block isn’t supposed to happen.  If I want to read, I can just read. Logically, writer’s block should be more difficult to beat because it’s tougher to force yourself to be creative than it is to force yourself to read.  Over the years, I’ve figured out how to beat writer’s block.  If I’m struggling, I just go to James Patterson’s website, and I get mad, and that usually inspires me to write.  Sometimes I even write about James Patterson.  Pretty soon you’ll see a post on Dysfunctional Literacy called “Best James Patterson Jokes Ever!”  When you see that, you’ll know that I just had writer’s block.

Some people can drink themselves into writing.  Ernest Hemingway said “Write drunk; edit sober.”  I can’t even write drunk.  I can’t type when I’m intoxicated, and I can’t handwrite while I’m inebriated.  In fact, I can’t do anything very well when I’m drunk.  Unlike most drunks, I’m aware that I’m not good at anything when I’m drunk.  I’ll even give my car keys to other drunks when I’m drunk, but that’s not smart because they don’t know how drunk they are.  I don’t hand over my car keys anymore because now I’m too much of a control freak to get drunk.

Ernest Hemingway also said: “There is nothing to writing; all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  I think “bleed” is just a euphemism for “drink.”  Since Hemingway claimed to drink while writing, I don’t think he bled too.  Bleeding and drinking at the same time seems like a bad idea.  The next time you get stuck with writer’s block, try bleeding, drinking, and writing at the same time, and then let us read what you wrote.  That’s the kind of experiment I’d rather not do myself.

Even though I’ve had both reader and writer’s block, I’ve never had both at the same time.  That would be frustrating, wanting to read and write but being unable to do either (or both).  Maybe all those people who just watch TV all day have both reader’s block and writer’s block all the time and don’t even know it.  Maybe we’re the lucky ones, because our blocks are temporary.

I’ve always thought that writer’s block was like getting the wind knocked out you; you hate it when it happens, but you know it’s temporary.  Except now I think there are people who have it permanently, and I don’t want to become like them.

Maybe I get reader’s block more often now because I’m getting older, and nothing seems new anymore.  If every new novel that I read feels like some other novel that I’ve already read, why shouldn’t I just reread the older, better book?  Too many of the newer novels are no longer self-contained.  I don’t feel like reading trilogies or any multiple-book series.  I don’t feel like reading novels that are 500+ pages anymore.  Maybe I’m getting more impatient.  Maybe I’ve just read too many multiple-book series and trilogies.

Just like some writers have to write to break out of writer’s block, some readers have to read their way out of reader’s block.  If I really want to read some good fiction and don’t want to take chances with a new book, I’ll read The Godfather by Mario Puzo or The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett or Different Seasons by Stephen King (the first two stories, at least).  They’re not the best books in the world, and I’m not necessarily recommending them, but they’re easy to read.  And when I’m stuck with reader’s block, I need something easy to read.

Maybe I should try drinking and reading at the same time whenever I get reader’s block.  Maybe reading is the one thing that I can do really well when I’m drunk.  I’ve never tried it before, and if I can’t read while drunk, then I’m not really hurting anyone else.  I can give the book to somebody else to read for me, but most drunks would probably look at me funny, but everybody looks at me funny when I get drunk.  Or they look annoyed.  I’ve been told that I’m a jerk when I’m drunk.  Even people who are jerks when they are sober have told me that I’m a jerk when I’m drunk.

If I thought writing drunk would make me a great writer, I’d consider doing it (under certain conditions).  But I’m not willing to drink just to be a great reader.  I’m not willing to bleed either.  When I look at it from that perspective, I guess writer’s block is worse than reader’s block.  But… that might not be the best perspective.

*****

What do you think?  Which block is worse for you, writer’s block or reader’s block?  What’s your best method to get out of writer’s block?  What books do you read to break out of reader’s block? Do you even believe in reader’s block?

*****

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50 Comments
  1. I’ve never heard of reader’s block. But I’ve had it and didn’t know what was happening. Made me irritable. I’ve never had writer’s block. I don’t really think it exists. But i look forward to some jokes at James Patterson’s expense.

    • That’s funny. I thought more people would say reader’s block doesn’t exist, but I know what you mean.

      I’m looking forward to writing the next James Patterson joke, but I’m not looking forward to the writer’s block that comes before it.

  2. I’d say reader’s block is worse because I refuse to start a new book until I’ve completed the current one. So, if a book drags, it’s preventing me from getting a new one that could be much more exciting! I always have time to write and something that needs to be written.

    • Ugh, reader’s block would be horrible for people who feel compelled to finish everything they start reading…. unless reader’s block kept them from ever starting the books they couldn’t finish.

  3. Someone recommended a block buster to me, but I was already busted.

  4. Both writer’s and reader’s block are MOST DEFINITELY real (and writer’s block is the worst). I have never heard the phrase “reader’s block” but it is a most apt description of what occurs. It is a torturous spiritual death when I leave the library (or my bookshelf) with nothing but downcast eyes to show for it.
    That said, when I experience writer’s block, I write about having writer’s block (as I’ve already done on my blog) or write whatever I perceive. (Ex. A woman stares at her phone with devotion in her eyes but a scowl on her face. Whatever could cause such an emotional contradiction?) As far as my experience goes, reader’s block is incurable. Often, reader’s block is an indication for me to write, take pictures, or do something that requires getting off my duff.

    Wonderful post!

  5. I can understand the frustration of both types of block, but luckily enough do not suffer either longer than a few hours. When writer’s block strikes, I move on to another project, get out of the office for a bit or pick up a good book – that always does the trick for me. Readers block has never hit me luckily – I have too many fascinating novels waiting to be read, and if I can’t decide, a blindfolded random pick always suffices.

  6. Unquestionably writers….you can always reread something around the house as a standby….writer’s block is just….awful.

  7. I’ve had times where I couldn’t find anything good to read but I hadn’t thought of that as reader’s block before. Luckily, there’s always something that I like to read. I find that there are types of bad literature that makes me very inspired to go write, so maybe that is similar to going to James Patterson’s website for you.

  8. Thank you for this post. It made me feel that I am not alone on these things. Writer’s block is worse for me, because as a writer in our student publication, I always work under time pressure. Good thing is, I only need one good milktea and that writer’s block will be gone. As for the reader’s block, I do the same as you do. I read light reads, sometimes poems and/or short stories. After that, I can’t stop reading again.
    I hope you’re having a nice day. 🙂

  9. I always read The little prince or some children’s books i think they are so simple and mostly comfortable to read. It usually breaks my readers block

  10. Both frustrate me to the core. I’m worth currently writing a novel and I’ve got an intense bout of writers block. It’s frustrating because everything I churn out seems to be boring in my opinion. Readers block is equally frustrating! I LOVE reading books so when a book just can’t get me into reading, I feel like crying because I just have to keep jumping until the right book comes along.

  11. I never have reader’s block. There’s always so much to read – there are at least 30 books just on my phone that I don’t have time to read.
    And since I’m not really a writer, writer’s block isn’t an issue either – I don’t have any deadlines, so when I don’t feel like writing, I just switch back to reading.

    • I’m not an author either. When your brain doesn’t want to do something, it’s time to do something else and let your subconscios work…

  12. I’m in the middle of a reader’s block right now. And I do experience a writer’s block now and then, but I find that easier to get out of than the reader’s block. I’m slowly ploughing through a 400 page novel at the moment, and it’s sad because I could have finished it so much faster if I didn’t have this block! *sigh*
    My only solace is, after reading this post, I’m glad I’m not the only one who faces a reader’s block!

  13. hananon90 permalink

    I do agree that both reader’s and writer’s block are horrible, but for me, writer’s block is worse. It’s just so frustrating! staring at the screen for hours and not being able to form a single sentence. Ugh.

  14. Yip, had them both. Readers block -when the right book refuse to present itself to me.

  15. bindmoggled permalink

    Now and then our trips to the library are unproductive, but then more times than not I end up bringing home more than I could read in the weeks allowed. As for writing, I find I get blocked most often when I’m heavily distracted. My biggest problem is that I have plenty of story starts, but too many times I’m unable to finish them or even find a direction.

  16. I don’t know which one is worse – I find both of them annoying.

  17. I’ve never even thought about reader’s block until you coined it for me just now. But, yes, I’ve most definitely experienced it without even realizing it. It’s when I go for the comfort of an old book that I’ve read hundreds of times already, and I choose it when I’m too bored (or lazy) to find anything new.

  18. I stopped reading books a long time ago. There’s no need to invent fiction, because reality is sooo much more interesting and challenging for the intellect. Articles and blogs say everything we need to know about the real world in much fewer words.
    Also, I believe that what Hemingway meant with “bleeding” was pouring his essence, his experience and knowledge, onto the page.
    I percieve that a lot of people waste their intellect on fiction and peripheric knowlegde about curiosities, while there’s an endless amount of knowledge about the real world out there. Brain power should be used to solve real problems, not invent ficticios ones. That’s what a blog about reading and writing should be about…

  19. i believe in both and have experienced both…which is why i think readers block is the worst. Writer’s block eventually clears and can be waited out either by reading or getting busy but i am still yet to find a cure for reader’s block, most especially on long hot days when reading a book makes me feel better.

  20. Never heard of reader’s block before, but I think I have had it several times.

  21. Reader’s block is the equivalent of being hungry but not wanting anything in your fridge – I feel this way often and usually find myself reading something truly trashy to get myself back on track.

    I would call it a guilty pleasure but I’m a remorseless reader of trash….

  22. minimalismpursuit permalink

    Reblogged this on minimalism pursuit.

  23. minimalismpursuit permalink

    Dear God, writer’s block is horrendous. I get so frustrated when I can’t write down exactly what I feel or think. Reader’s block just makes me depressed. I hate it when it’s a chore to do something I love so deeply to do. But what’s worse is probably writer’s block. It can lower self esteem.

  24. Your jokes about reading, writing, and bleeding at the same time made me smile a little too widely and now the other library patrons must think me a fool. (Haha). I wholeheartedly believe in both reader’s and writer’s block. Mostly because I feel as though I am going through both at the same time.

    How I deal with writer’s block is that I reread my old works and try to keep a word document full of phrases that randomly pop into my head whenever I feel inspired but I don’t have the time to write. I like your idea about rereading books that I have already read during times of reader’s block. I like your idea so much in fact, that I think I’ll have to go do that right now.

  25. taubaasiya permalink

    I definitely understand reader’s block, and your point about novels reading like countless others. 🙂

  26. Kokay permalink

    Well now I have a word for it. Reader’s block. Sounds like I’ll be even more notorious if I drop this to my friends. haha Anyway, this is all too familiar. My problem with having, as you call it, a reader’s block is I’ll try to compensate by walking through the book aisle for hours, and then getting out with a bag of books. The result is, another row of unread books, to be read god knows when, leaving me penniless and more frustrated. Wow, now that I’ve laid it out like that, I think this has become a serious problem to overcome. Thanks, err…I guess.

  27. Reblogged this on themonkseal.

  28. I think writer’s block would be more frustrating.

  29. I don’t really get reader’s block, but I don’t deny its existence. However, I don’t think writer’s block is a thing. It is simply your inner asshole telling you that you’ll never amount to anything and it’s better to not write anything than to write something shitty. I’ve only found “writer’s block” affects people during the first stages of writing, including all of the first draft, but it never seems to occur during revision. Has anyone experienced writer’s block after they finished the first draft?

  30. I am having both at the same time right now. This has gone on for days and is getting a little old. I’m thinking of picking up something light to read, like E.B. White essays, or a volume of Wodehouse stories. If that doesn’t work, I might just jump out my basement window.

  31. I had a whole year of reader’s block when I first went to University! I think the onslaught of so many essays to read meant that sitting down with any text became a struggle. In the end my mum got me into some epic fantasy series that had about 30 books which I couldn’t put down. And writer’s block has struck before but I generally just force myself to sit in front of the computer – sometimes automatic writing helps to get me back into the flow of normal writing. And if it’s all rubbish at the end, at least I didn’t give up. But writing drunk or bleeding I have not attempted!!

  32. I’m not convinced by reader’s block, though I’ve struggled with writer’s block on a daily basis. I think that the closest I can come to reader’s block is actually when I am not motivated to read. This demotivation generally occurs when I am struggling with what used to be called melancholy!

  33. I understand what you mean by a readers block. I was trying to read The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu before its publication date. I could not do it at all. I went into a reading slump. I had no choice but to set the book aside and skip out on the book review. I had previously done a book review for An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir earlier that month. I was on a time crunch because I wanted to read and review before their respective release dates. I decided to not stress over this readers block. I picked up and old favorite (Harry Potter) and voila! no more reading slump. I also read some graphic novels to get me out of the readers block. It worked! In my younger years, I use to write and drink all the time. Albeit, nothing I would ever willingly publish! There are countless poems I have written while under the influence. I think Hemingway was on to something. On the other hand, I think my writing was more inspired by heartbreak and teenage angst. The drinking was just a bonus.

  34. Interesting perspective and sometimes I do have ‘readers’ block!’ It keeps me from progressing on my wordpress. Life happens, I guess to keep us away for writing or reading. I sometimes wish to be lazy and other times, I am just ‘burned out!’

  35. i didn’t know there was such a thing as readers block but i sure have experienced it. It id tiring, and frustrating, especially when writing. Mostly the times when the idea is right there but putting it in words is very difficult.

  36. I get readers block a lot actually, usually if I get depressed but not always. I’m actually in the middle of Where She Went by: Gayle Forman because I wanted to read it in her point of view and it’s in his. I haven’t read it in months and every time I look at it I feel guilty. Eventually I will pick it up and make myself read it and then I will be back into reading after I finish it but in the meantime it sucks.

  37. Wow, i’ve never heard the phrase “reader’s block,” but it’s spot on. with the advent of downloading books from the library, I have also found myself incredibly irritated about clicking on a title only to discover it is “A Sam Mann story, Volume 16.” Somehow they need to be able to filter out all but the first volume or something. It just makes me mad that so many writers these days write like they are writing for a television series with the same characters in every book.

    In some series, I don’t mind it at all. I’m all good with anything that Jack Reacher is up to, but when I’m looking for something new, I get decidedly crossways in the road when the first title I click on is the 87th in a series that is dependent on previous books. Perhaps the fault lies within me after all.

  38. Never heard of Reader’s Block but am definitely going through it. I keep making all these lists of books that I would love to read and I have even bought some of them. But somehow I just cannot get myself around to read them. I get excited to see them and promise myself I will start reading again but that never happens. I keep giving excuses like exams around the corner or too much to do at work or too tired to read. Ultimately, the book just sits around in the corner waiting to be read. Even if I carry a book with me when I am travelling or get down to reading before going to bed, I cannot read more than 10 pages whereas I have finished an entire book in the matter of a day before. It’s honestly extremely frustrating but I guess the only solution as you mentioned is to start with an easy read and just power your way through until you regain your earlier habit of reading a lot.

  39. I have experienced this on a daily basis. Reader’s Block to me is just as you described. I WANT to start new books but I am compelled to finish other ones that I have started and then I don’t read anything at all because I am at a standstill. Another part of my Reader’s Block is that the book suddenly becomes VERY BORING. Forcing myself to read every page is not fun. My mind starts to wander. I feel like I am better suited to learn speed reading and get this book over with. Then, I feel guilty! All my friends have read this book with no problem, why can’t I?! I am slowly coming to peace with the fact that books that make me feel that way are books I shouldn’t be reading at all. And that stalling my reading is a traumatic process that has to recreate interest in reading again. I literally have to go, “Screw it! I read what I want to read!”

  40. This is an excellent article ! Just today, I was wandering three hours in the library going through almost every book my eyes fell on, and I picked up none of them because none of them seemed to be original or worth my time.

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