I have, right now, three unfinished books piled up next to my bed. The last fiction book I finished, read all the way through, was in March. This happens to everyone occasionally, and it is so, so upsetting.
I think readers block is so distressing because for a lot of people (ME) the idea of yourself as a “reader” is very much a part of your identity. I am one who reads. I stayed up all night to read the first two Harry Potter books when I was twelve and I did English at uni and if you go into town with me for any reason, we’re spending at least half an hour in Blackwell’s. Today I am wearing glasses, and a pen in my hair. At the office, my secret Santa is always a bookmark. It’s who I am.
So whenever I go through a dry spell with reading, it means a lot more to me than just “Guess I’ll be checking Twitter during my lunch hour rather than sneaking some Stephen King, huh?” Like an injured pro athlete I am moody, reatless. I don’t know where to put myself if I don’t have a book on the go. I don’t quite know who I am.
But if this rings true for you, and you are with me in the misery of a reading drought, fear not! I have a strategy. If you have even a lunch hour to yourself, you can get back on it.
Find Your Book
First, go into a book shop. A real one, not online – this is all about immediacy, and also, you need to be able to smell the books, and tap back into your inner 10 year old who looooooooves reading. She didn’t have amazon, so you don’t either. Now give yourself some good browsing time, and choose whatever you want.
Note – whatever you WANT. This is not the time for any of the following –
1. Book you’re meant to be reading for book club
2. Book it would be a good idea to read for work
3. Book written by person you went to university with and may bump into sometime soon
4. Book you feel you should read because it’s won a prize
5. Book you feel you should read because everyone’s talking about it
6. Book you feel you should read because people keep telling you how closely it relates to your area of interest/work/life
7. Book you feel you *should* read for any reason at all
Allow yourself to choose a book that you might ordinarily overlook. Maybe something you think is a bit “trashy”, or that is written for children. Or something that had an interesting premise, a great first page – even something you just liked the cover of. All reasons for wanting to read a book are valid, because ALL READING IS VALID. Fiction can be life affirming, and teach us about love, death, the human condition. Fiction can change your life. It can genuinely enlighten you, and make you a better person. BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO. First and foremost, the novel (or the poetry book, or the short story collection, or the memoir of Katie Price) is a form of entertainment. If you have enjoyed reading the writing, it has done its job, and you have done yours. You owe no one an explaination for how you spend your leisure time.
Set Your Scene
Next, you need a little reading nest. Now, this doesn’t have to be fancy – it could be a rail journey, or even a nice quiet park or coffeee shop on your lunch hour. The bath is always a winner. Bed, with hot chocolate, as long as you can trust yourself not to instantly fall asleep. I would say, though, that you do have to be alone. You need no distractions and also no judgements, and no one elses ideas of what you should be doing, for approx half an hour. Life is busy and we all have demands upon us, so it may be difficult to find this half hour. If this is the case for you, this will be why you stopped reading – you don’t have time. Have a solid think about whether or not you want that to be true of your life, and act accordingly. If you are wavering on whether or not you can, remember this: It is not selfish to take half an hour of alone time – it is a basic act of self preservation.
Get Your Read On
Now, set your alarm to 30 mins, bury your phone at the bottom of your handbag, open the book and GO. You are not allowed to do anything in this 30 mins but read. You have to give this book, and yourself, a proper chance. Do not allow yourself to stare into space or check facebook or decide you’re really thirsty and you need to go and get yourself a diet coke. It’s only half an hour. Pay attention. Try and lose yourself a bit.
Now repeat that last step as often as you can – once a day minimum, but two or three times is best. Do this until you feel The Pull again – that one-more-chapter, stay-up-til-three-am, miss-your-bus-stop feeling that if you don’t find out what happens RIGHT NOW, OMFG, you will seriously explode or something.
And when you feel that, congratulations! The misery and joy of being caught up in a narrative are yours. You are yourself again.