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Reader’s Block vs. Writer’s Block: Which one is worse?

April 20, 2021
The author lost his train of thought after 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 or libraries 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, he admitted that he doesn’t read books.

I thought it was funny, a guy with permanent reader’s block denying that reader’s block exists.

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. 

Some people can drink themselves into writing.  Ernest Hemingway said “Write drunk; edit sober.”  I can’t write when I’m 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.  At least, I’m not going to try both at the same time.

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?  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 there’s a logic to my reader’s block.

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, unless he or she is drunk too.

If I thought writing drunk would make me a great writer, I’d consider doing it.  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 after all.

*****

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?

8 Comments
  1. Ir is indeed a thing sir:) Still think writer’s is worse though:)

  2. I am noI a writer but I am a reader. I do write, for myself, when I am not reading I am scribbling verbal diarrhea onto the page, I journal, I keep lists, I write down damn near everything that comes into my head plus bits and pieces of stuff I read that I want to keep. I read, normally, about 250 books a year, one year I made it to 365 but 225 to 250 is just my life. I read, that is all I do. Choosing between visiting with people, watching a video, listening to music…reading is the default. This year I have been worried about myself because I am not reading the way I am used to reading. Of course, I am still reading 1000 page books occasionally and I am still buying books (my TBR Kindle list is running 600) but when I do read I find myself returning to old favourites on the book shelf. All very fine and dandy and normal (that is why the TBR pile is so high…I keep going back to the bookshelves). What is troubling is, this month for example, that by this time in April I would have read at the very least 6-7 books. I am still on the one I started on April 3rd and not even half way through. It is a good book, I love it, I am underling, I am copying out passages but my grasshopper mind is so restless that I cannot seem to settle in for the long haul. I am the type of person who could read for eight hours straight (long as there was something to drink and maybe nibble close at hand) and begrudge any interruption. I am older, older, older, sigh and have been really concerned that this presaged my future. I had always counted on my reading to occupy and entertain and comfort me in my old age just as it did in my youth and now am afraid I might not. Your post was strangely reassuring that I am not alone. I shall look at it like I am in a trough and the next wave is on its way. The book I am reading Pages From the Goncourt Journals is a new book so that is a positive thing. I do think social media has a lot to do with it also. It is not as if I am not reading at all….I read stuff on the computer all day when I am not reading an actual book (see right here…reading and writing) but to me…it is NOT THE SAME THING.

  3. Reader’s block – YES. And perhaps it is due to my advanced age but 500+ page books? I don’t have the time. And yes again to – there is nothing new under the sun, same ole story, only the names change. Can’t speak to writer’s block, I’m not a writer.

    • “And perhaps it is due to my advanced age but 500+ page books? I don’t have the time.”-

      I feel the same way about a lot of long books, and also with television shows where most episodes feel like filler just to hit an episode-count. I don’t have time for that. And I get more stuff done.

  4. I tend to stick to shorter books these days. Long books seldom sustain my interest and I hate when reading starts feeling like a chore.

    • “I hate when reading starts feeling like a chore.”-

      Is that with more recent books, or is that with books in general? I’m having more of a tough time with recent books and going back to the old stuff, at least the old stuff that isn’t 500+ pages…

      • I guess I meant when long books have poor pacing. Probably more a reflection of my ever-diminishing attention span! I’ve just always preferred short novels that barrel along to meandering epics.

        Why do you think you have an issue with recent books specifically? Do you think there’s maybe less pressure for contemporary authors to trim the fat?

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