Monday, February 22, 2021

Have You Ever Gotten READER’S BLOCK?


Writer’s Block is a famous phenomenon even those who never write fiction have heard about. It’s depicted in movies about writers and plenty of writing memories. Biographies and fictional writing characters speak of it. The irony that they write about not being able to write doesn’t escape me.


I haven’t had writer’s block, and my only explanation is just that I say NO to it. I’ve had days when in the midst of first drafting a novel I am seized with fear that I just can’t do it. At least not now. Maybe not ever.

But then, I make myself sit and do it. I write, and that’s that.


I tend to agree with another writer who concluded that the so-called writer’s block, if prolonged, isn’t a specific writing malady. It is clinical depression as manifested in people who write. For others, clinical depression robs the very zest for living. Everything feels flat and pointless. In a writer, this becomes a sense they have nothing to say and can’t write.

I’ve been blessed not to have had clinical depression to date.

But I have had Reader’s Block. Those are periods when I’m unable to focus on reading. I don’t mean reading articles or short blog posts or letters. I mean reading good literature. I pick up a book I normally would relish reading, and find that I. Just. Can’t.

I’ve observed that, for me, these periods are not ones of the doldrums, but rather periods when exciting things (either good or stressful) are taking place. Something happens to my ability to dig in and focus on more demanding reading.


This whole pandemic thing-a-ma-jig has been such a period. I managed to read one good novel, but it actually took the same sort of “just do it” I enlist for days when writing threatens to challenge. I also managed to write, because that “block” isn’t allowed by me. But reading continues to be a challenge.


I hope this reading block lifts, and soon. If you’ve ever had it and got through, let me know how to kick it to the curb.


Barbara Etlin said...

I know what you mean. This happens to me sometimes when I'm stressed and I find it hard to focus on all the world-building of a fantasy novel, for example. (I'm especially stressed right now. I've been rereading what I have on hand.)

I suggest you try something in a different category, maybe adult fiction, non fiction in a subject you're interested in, biography, or memoir.

Kelly Hashway said...

I'm with you. I can battle writer's block and make myself write, but reader's block is another story.

Vijaya said...

How interesting. I've never had reader's block--in fact, just recently, a new shiny idea was tempting me and I ordered a bunch of books on the topic. After much soul searching I returned them because I knew if I let this shiny new idea distract me I will NOT get my novel polishing done.

Having had writer's block at various times and focusing on the concrete to get myself out of it, I wonder if making yourself read something you don't typically read might get you inspired again? Picture books, psalms, poetry? What would be most absorbing right now? Go read it!

Evelyn said...

My biggest reader block came after my mother died. For several years after that I had great trouble forcing myself to read anything. Of course, for a couple of years right after her death I was caring for my 90-year-old father with dementia, so that added to the situation. I think I gradually got over the hump by reading mss and books by fellow kidlit authors as a favor to them.

Mirka Breen said...

I have had no problem serving as a Beta during this period, too. It feels more like a school assignment/job than the sort of reading I have no obligation to do and no deadline-timeline to do it by. It's the latter I find challenging right now.
I'm grateful that you were always able to Beta read, my dear Beta!

Janie Junebug said...

I've been going through a bit of reader's block and never thought of it that way. I just wondered what was wrong with me.


MirkaK said...

I don’t recall ever having the kind of writer’s block you’ve described, but I’ve published non-fiction, with deadlines to keep me on task as well as keen interest in my subjects. However, I have experienced what we generally call procrastination, only to realize it was a necessary pause. I think the blocks come from fear of the writing not being the best we imagine it could be, fear of readers not being interested, fear of putting in so much time and energy into a project that may go nowhere.

A block about reading is different. There are so many things that can knock our concentration off kilter. Digital technology can rob us of focusing because of its speed, its ability to distract so readily, its false sense of getting something done quickly rather than delving deeply. Sitting quietly to read a book runs on a whole other track. I listen to a lot of audiobooks but I also read. Occasionally, I am able to NOT listen to the voice of guilt about what else I should/could be doing and spend hours captivated by one book. When I lived on Maui, I longed for gray, rainy days so I could stay in bed to read without feeling guilty that I was not outside working in the garden, etc. All that glorious sunshine sometimes inhibited my desire to spend a day simply reading inside.

When we are worried, anxious, fretting, it is definitely challenging to focus on diving deep into a book. One thing that might help is noticing whatever disturbing thought arises, acknowledge it, and state firmly, “I see you but I will deal with you later. Right now, I’m reading.” You can actually set aside a specific time each day to examine the worries for what they are, then move on. We can treat such thoughts like children or adults who keep interrupting us when we’re doing something that needs our full attention. Something I learned from a meditation teacher is to view the arising of such thoughts as though they’re insubstantial clouds passing through the sky. Does worry ever change anything?

Mirka Breen said...

...“I see you but I will deal with you later. Right now, I’m reading.”

^Good one, MikraK. Reminds me of the suggestion to talk back to the Spoiler, that inner voice that tell us we are not good enough ;)
I'll try it.