Burnout: how to break a reading slump
I’m guessing I’m not alone in that my reading life ebbs and flows. I can go through long periods during which I barely read at all. In fact, I’m kind of in a reading slump right now.
I’m currently listening to Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. It’s really fun — it’s an urban fairy tale set in London “above and below” about a girl named Door and a bumbling, “normal” person named Richard. Gaiman narrates it himself and the whole listening experience is quite enjoyable. I have, however, only really listened to it before bed, and I find myself falling asleep every night without even finishing a chapter (even if it isn’t — I promise! — boring).
I am currently not reading a book in print even though I have a million books on my TBR pile.
It’s no big deal to go through a reading dry spell. There are reasons, however, to break a reading slump. For one, I find that I watch more TV/stare at my phone much more often when I don’t have a book I’m excited about reading. I also find myself more restless when I don’t have a go-to past time that is relaxing, satisfying, and mentally stimulating. And because I really do love books, I miss having a reading habit. With this in mind, I do find myself actively working to break my reading slumps when they’ve been going on for a while.
Here’s how I do it.
1) Aim low(er)
A tried-and-true way to break a reading slump is to pick a book that takes less effort to enjoy. For me, this means picking up maybe a YA/middle grade book or a genre novel (like fantasy or romance). Basically, I choose anything I can get through quickly. Finishing a book is often all it takes to get me back into the habit.
2) Make a reading date
Another way I jumpstart my reading life is to put aside some time to read without interruption. I find it most satisfying when reading is an immersive experience and, conversely, it is incredibly unsatisfying to plod through a novel a few pages at a time. It takes time — not just a couple of pages — to get into a story. Imagine how frustrating it would be to watch a movie 15 minutes at a time. (For this reason, I have mixed feelings about teaching class novels a few chapters at a time.) Giving myself an afternoon or evening with no goal except to read is a great way to get hooked on a book — and the reading habit — again.
3) Switch forms
While I certainly count listening to audiobooks as “real” reading, to me, reading a print book and listening to an audiobook doesn’t feel the same. Although not often, sometimes when I find myself hitting a dreaded reader’s block, I switch mediums (media?). If i’m reading a book, I give myself a break and pick up the audio version instead and vice versa. I read Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running this way — first in book form, then, when I stalled, I finished it via audio.
4) Get hooked
Contrary to tip #1, sometimes the best way to get over a reading slump is not to aim low, but rather to open a literary can of worms. It’s easy to find yourself not reading simply because you don’t know what to read next. An easy solution is to get hooked on a series.
5) Remember that reading is a habit
Reading, like all habits, takes effort and regularity. Several years ago, I actually felt unable to read. I had gotten into the habit of scrolling, skimming, and watching and found it almost impossible to concentrate on a page of text. I stumbled upon an article about how our culture of phone-scrolling and bite-sized information has actually rewired our brains. I realized then that it would take a real effort to wire my brain back. I did this by carrying a book around and choosing to pull the book out during free moments instead of my phone. It took a few weeks but it absolutely worked. Sometimes when I’m in a reading slump, I find myself having to retrain my brain again. It means making the decision to persist with reading even when I am tempted to stare at my phone instead.
I’m curious — does your reading life ebb and flow? What do you do when you find yourself out of the habit of reading?