Reader’s Block

So we’ve talked about writer’s block. Now let’s take a look at reader’s block! Do you ever have trouble focusing on the pages in your book? Do you struggle to stay awake as you read, even if you’re excited about the story? It happens to all of us.

Especially during these weirdly stressful global pandemic times, it’s so difficult to concentrate enough to do even the things we like to do, like dive into a good story. And after we’re unable to focus enough times, we give up!

So what can we do to help break through this reader’s block?

My biggest and best tip is to just read anything, without any judgment.

Sometimes we get caught up believing that we’re not really reading, or it doesn’t really “count” unless we’re reading a famous classic from hundreds of years ago, or a really serious and long mystery or drama of some kind. I used to think that way, too. But that’s silly, isn’t it? Reading should be fun, and we should all enjoy reading. So when our brains are just way too stressed from listening to news about COVID-19, or working long hours, or being laid off, it can be extremely difficult to concentrate on reading at all.

Which is why I say to please allow yourself the joy of jumping into:

Something Silly – I’m totally reading Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder right now. I plan on reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series this year too. I don’t even know if that one is silly, but the cover looks very light hearted. Who knows what I may find out!

Something you’ve read before – There is a scientific reason that we enjoy rewatching shows and re-reading familiar stories! It brings comfort through a mix of enjoyment and nostalgia, and who couldn’t use some reassuring comfort these days? Personally, I love re-reading The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. This year, I hope to re-read books I enjoyed in childhood, like R.L. Stine’s books. The Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne are an absolute delight to read at any age, as well.

Something Short – Read Flash Fiction. Some flash fiction stories are so powerful and poignant, they make me cry, and stick with me for days/years.

Middle Grade and Young Adult Books – Speaking of Winnie the Pooh… Yes, many books are written for kids, but it’s not like they’re written for kids AND ONLY KIDS. Think of it like board games. If it says for ages 6+, we don’t say, “Only six year olds should play.” No, six and up. It’s the same for books! The book police will not issue you a citation for reading something initially intended for younger audiences. After all, weren’t we once children too? Maybe these books will help you tap into that part of yourself.

Plus, as someone who is currently revising my own middle grade story, I can tell you personally that I would never, in a million years, MIND if an adult reads my book. BY ALL MEANS!! Read the book! Any author is thrilled when anyone, of any age, reads and enjoys their books. Seriously. You’re supporting someone’s creative project and career by reading their work. So go for it!

Picture Books – There are some that are so incredibly endearing. Same message as above for authors who’d be thrilled for you to read their writing, and illustrators who’d be thrilled for you to enjoy their art they worked so hard on, too. Entertain the child inside you! My top recommendations for current picture book selections are All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, the Pete the Cat books by James Dean, and all of the Pigeon and Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems.

Are you raising your eyebrow at me right now? How do you feel when you read that suggestion? Does it sound bananas to you, or like a good idea?

Let me also ask you this: Have you ever heard someone say (or said yourself!) any of the following:

“You’re too old for that book.”

“Those books are for babies.”

“Why don’t you read a book without pictures?”

Well, I say, let’s all agree to drop those Judgey McJudgerson phrases from our vocabulary. Let’s embrace a more open attitude where we read whatever we want, whether it’s the latest thriller about crimes and horror and adult subject matter, or it’s the latest picture book, or comic book, or Aesop’s fable. I think it makes us more well rounded readers, and humans, to read as many genres as possible, and as many age demographics within those genres as possible, too.

Let’s not forget to include the importance of graphic novels and audio books! Those can be so much more engaging for our brains when they’re in “runaway” mode from stress. Excellent graphic novels to read are: The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag, and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke.

And there are so many books in audio right now. Who doesn’t love being read to, at any age? If you loved Reading Rainbow as a child, let LeVar Burton read to you again on his current podcast, LeVar Burton Reads!

And don’t be fooled into the myth that audio books aren’t “really” reading. Our brains react the same way, whether we’re being read to, or reading it ourselves. So, listen away!

You can find all manner of books wherever books are sold, or you can borrow them from your favorite library app, such as Overdrive, or Libby. But whatever you do, don’t give up reading just because life is hectic and overwhelming. Pick up a book and dive in. After all, as Neil Gaiman says, “Books are real places; make no mistake about that.” Go visit them, and enjoy!

Happy Reading!

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