Reader’s Block, 2.0!

So this post is a little different, guys…it’s actually a post I wrote four and a half years ago that STILL gets referenced in queries and comes up at the top of the searches for my name (well, my old name: Joanna Stampfel-Volpe). And the funny thing is, it’s still as true today as it was back then: if I don’t take a moment to stop and enjoy reading, then I can’t actually do my job well.

If you want to read the original post (and see a really terrible picture of me in a Notre Dame visor) go here. Otherwise, just read on!

Over the holiday break, I found myself with reader’s block. For all of you writers out there who just did a double-take, yes, I said readers block. I just made it up. Although I’m positive I’m not the first person in the industry to feel this way. Let me explain.

I was on the couch, reading a requested submission and I just couldn’t get past the first page. And the writing was good. After four failed attempts I put the manuscript aside and picked up another. Same thing happened.

The next few days passed with the same results. I was frustrated (for those of you who don’t know me, this is an understatement to say the least). At one point I’m pretty sure I injured my dog with an errant rubber band flick. I unbent every paperclip in sight. I even did—gulp—all of our laundry, including bed sheets! But still, the thought of attempting another manuscript made my eyes cross.

“I think I’ve burned out,” I announced to my husband, Joe. He didn’t even get a chance to step inside our apartment yet. “I just can’t read anymore.”

Joe peered over my shoulder at the mess of paperwork on the couch, the pile of metal sticks on the coffee table, and at PeeWee, who gingerly licked at his rubber band wounds. “Let’s talk about it.”

Ah, the benefits of being a newlywed.

Joe dropped his briefcase, carefully moved a pile of papers labeled “client edits,” and sat on the couch. “So what have you read lately?”

“What have I read?!” Did he really want to get me started? “Oh, I don’t know…about a hundred queries, a manuscript about a leprechaun with a Napoleonic complex, Client X’s latest revisions…” blah, blah, blah.

Joe’s a good sport. He let me rant for at least three minutes.

“That’s nice,” he finally said. “But what books have you read?”

I stopped pacing. Wait…what was the last book I read?

Identical, Ellen Hopkins.”

“Great. When was that?”

“Thanksgiving…” I reluctantly admitted.

Joe was quiet for a minute. Then he stood up, walked over to our bookshelves and pulled out the newest Dennis L. McKiernan (I’m a closet Mithgar junkie and he knows it). I had bought the book as soon as it came out in October. I meant to read it…when I had the time…

“Come with me.”

I followed Joe down the hall and into our bedroom.

“Now lie down and read.”

Had he even been listening to me?!! “I can’t read!” At this point I was near tears. I mean, before this I could always read. No matter where I was, I could always get sucked into a new world. And now that magic was GONE.

“Joanna,” Joe said more sternly. “Lie down and read.”

Being the other newlywed, I relented. I swiped the book from his hand and made myself cozy.

It took a few minutes, and a few bouts of actually forcing myself to sloooooow down. But it worked. The words pulled me in, one by one. I connected with the characters (Aravan, my love!). It was just like old times.

I stopped—reluctantly—to eat dinner and to feed PeeWee, who forgave me for my earlier actions as soon as his kibble hit his bowl. By the time Joe climbed into bed, I was more than half way done. At 3:42 a.m., I closed the back cover over, fully satisfied.

Only I wasn’t satisfied. After I turned out the light, the story kept replaying in my mind. I wanted more. What happens to the characters now? Oh, I hope Dennis (isn’t it great how you’re on a first-name-basis with an author when you read their work?) writes another soon…

This is what I had been missing.

The next morning I had errands to run, we had plans that evening, and I needed to shower, but something kept pulling me to my pile of submissions. I wanted to meet new characters, to go on new adventures. Dennis’ book left me wanting more. And that’s really what good writing does.

That’s when I realized what Joe was trying to tell me. There was nothing wrong with the manuscripts or the writing or even the queries. I just needed something to remind me what all of those submitted pages could become. I needed a reminder of why I joined this industry, why I even became a reader in the first place.

Nothing beats a good book.

I once heard that Stephen King reads for four hours and day and writes for four hours a day. Now, it’s true that Stephen King could attribute his success to scrambled eggs and beer for breakfast and we would probably all take his advice, but I think he has something there on the reading part. It’s our way, as persons in the publishing industry, of smelling the roses.

Joe came home early from work that night for our evening plans. He found me on the couch, PeeWee curled up next to me, a manuscript on my lap and …unshowered. But he didn’t get mad. Ah, newlyweds!

8 Responses to Reader’s Block, 2.0!

  1. Alexa Y. May 7 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I really like this post! You could totally trademark the whole reader’s block thing, and I definitely have experienced something of the sort. It’s kind of dreary to come to a point when you get tired of reading (and most people don’t even believe this can happen to them). But I find that taking a step back to do other things (like eat and go shopping, for instance) helps refresh me. Then I can ease back into reading with something I’ll get to enjoy (and that’s usually a historical romance novel for me) – and presto, reader’s block is gone!

    • JoSVolpe May 7 2013 at 1:00 pm #

      That sounds like the perfect cure for reader’s block!

  2. Natalie Aguirre May 7 2013 at 11:10 am #

    Great post. I love reading books and wish I had 4 hours a day like Stephen King to read. Sometimes I do get weary of it though because I have such a tight reading schedule for the author interviews I do at Literary Rambles. I’m thinking of cutting back a bit of the required reading so I can just pick up a book I just want to read more often.

    • JoSVolpe May 7 2013 at 1:01 pm #

      Yes, that’s exactly the issue I run into some times. I love the books that I work on, but when I have to be reading something over and over for a specific purpose on a deadline, it does sometimes take the joy out of it. That’s why I always go back and read the finished book when we get first copies in the office–and I take my time with it. So I can simply enjoy it all over again!

  3. Sarah Frances Hardy May 7 2013 at 2:02 pm #

    I remember reading this post way back when . . . and I kind of love the picture of you!

    Great advice for writer’s too–we need to remember read for fun and to get lost in a story (i.e. quit trying to figure out plot, characterization, etc. while reading . . . at least every so often).


  4. Claudia McCarron May 7 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    I have the exact opposite of this problem– I recently finished the first draft of my novel, and I decided to take a few weeks break to relax and read before startin revisions. The problem is I’m finding it almost impossible to enjoy reading like I did before, I’ve become to tense and critical. Any tips?

  5. Kim May 8 2013 at 1:42 am #

    Reader’s block — that makes so much sense. In March, I read almost a full book every day. But then work got really hectic in April and I found that I didn’t have a lot of time to read anymore, but I tried to sneak some in on lunch breaks. For some reason … it just didn’t work for me. I blamed it on the time restraint and work frying my brain, but when work let up this month I didn’t go back to reading as much as I did before. I had to take a break from it and do other things (like write and actually hang out with my neglected family…). The other day I was finally able to pick up a book and read it straight through.

    The Stephen King part is really interesting. It sounds like a great balance that I’ll have to try out. Hopefully that way I won’t burn myself out again.

  6. Kate Tilton May 11 2013 at 8:36 pm #

    This was a lovely post Joanna!

    I think this is true of even book reviewers. We need time just to read some books without the looming work of writing a review after it.

    Thank you,

Leave a Reply to JoSVolpe Click here to cancel reply.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.