Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Blogger: Let's Talk About Reader's Block

For at least two years I have had a big problem that has been weighing down on my shoulders. I have found that talking about these, or more priceless, writing about these issues has been a great help in overcoming many of my problems. Funnily enough, when I was suffering from a severe writers block after the passing of my grandmother, I could only find my way back after writing about those movies that got me into reviewing and screenplay writing in the first place. That was a long six months, and even after talking about it, in my entry "The Comeback", I still had to wait a good couple of weeks before my rhythm or even just willingness to create and to jot down letter after letter came back to me. I have now been suffering from a similar kind of mental block, that manifested itself in a different area of my life, and I want to talk about reader's block.

Have you ever looked at a page and just could not comprehend any of the letters? Did you just re-read the same sentence over and over again and still have no idea what you are reading? Did you try to get pen and paper so you can - maybe - take notes and that way understand it? Have you then looked at your notes and those letters don't make sense either? So you re-read the same page again, this time, making sure that you really do pay attention to every comma, every dot, every stress mark... and nothing. You cannot recall anything on the page. Your attention span has reduced itself to five seconds, which is the first 10 words approx., and then, you feel extra frustration, because you already know by heart the beginning of the sentence, so why re-read that? Yet you still have no clue what the end of the paragraph holds... And over and over again through every reading material you find yourself in front of. ... The pages might as well be blank. 

Now, I do not know if there is a medical terminology for this kind of "blank" state in one's brain. I call it reader's block because it strangely resembles the state of writer's block. And by that I mean, that writer's block too does not touch every single area, I for example had no problem writing assignments for university, as I was told exactly what to write about. And I still had my poetry to fall back on, but when it came to my blog (which has now entered its ninth year, despite the intermission), I just stared at the screen and nothing came of it. It was very scary, because I did not know if there was a way out of it... just because at the age of nine I decided that I want to be a writer, does not mean that I will be able to do it when I do grow up. Even now I doubt my ability to become a published author with one of my fiction pieces (as some of my academic articles made it out there already, and yet I did not feel that same satisfaction as I hope I will if I get a book out there). Now that I did find my way back to writing I do hope that there is a way to get out of all of these slumps, and the answer is not that we have to learn to live with it, because reading and writing and drawing and music even, all of these... all are various forms of art, some we are better at, the others we need immense practice in, but I find they are overall the base of what makes human life worth living. So I knew, that even if I could not write, and then, cannot read, I will have to get it back someway.

"Everyone has one book in them. Almost nobody has two."

I find that not being able to read is is something actually a lot of people experience, yet I have not had the pleasure of talking to anyone about it. One of the possible reasons I think is the same as the above mentioned with writing: it only manifests itself in certain areas. Think of the fact that you probably just read an article online (which was stored in some other place of your brain, than where you keep all of your knowledge of Harry Potter), yet, you keep looking over to your bedside table and see that big novel that you did not open for months now, although you promised yourself you will read it every night before falling asleep. There is an incredible sense of failure that grows within us, isn't there? "Great, I didn't read... again!" But the pattern does not change, just each day we grow more frustrated with ourselves as the book gets its newer coat of dust.
I do believe that it is all about "time". And I know that we all have the time to read, however, we do not have the time to get lost in a story. Which is ridiculous as we should all be able to get lost in a world, even if it is for a little bit. I am saying this knowing very well that I am the same. I take a book to my bedside table every month, and then take it back to its place on the shelf, unopened, at the end of the month. I also measure the time it takes me to read 10 pages, for example, and if I am not gonna sit still for that amount of time, then there is no point in getting out the book either. I also catch myself looking at the length of each piece I want to read, ensuring myself - perhaps - that I will not die before I finish reading it, because I do want to know the ending once I decide to get started (and that goes for academic paper as well, incredibly boring and dry academic papers that reveal in the introduction exactly what you should expect and there are no sudden deaths, or dragons, lurking among the thickly written pages of any paper I had the pleasure of having in my hands so far). I am fairly certain, that this is where we make our biggest misstep, in thinking that any time can be too little to open a book. 

You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but 'didn’t have time to read,' I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in … Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered anyway.
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

So how to beat this block? I have absolutely no idea. But I do know what helped me: (1) I waited. This was not something that I could just jump start... but when enough time passed, that was exactly what I did, decided to force myself. Of all the books I had on my shelf, and on my e-book reader, I reached out for the one that I was most curious about: John Green's Looking For Alaska. My partner has read all of his books, and after becoming a great admirer of the author himself, I decided to get into it. It was very hard, in the beginning, and it was not the book's fault, as it was written wonderfully. It has hard because I too wouldn't let myself be transported to Culver Creek High unless I could spend at least 20 minutes or more on it. In fact, I finished the book on a three hour flight to Barcelona, which shows, that if I do have the time (and am physically unable from doing anything else), I cannot be stopped from indulging in a story. (2) An issue is that so many things surround me that seem to be much more important than reading (and thus the idea of reading before bed), that even if curiosity kills me, I cannot help but put the book last on my list of things to do. So, how to overcome that? I had to trap myself in situations where I would read. One way was taking the book in my hands and going with the bus that takes longer: this way, once in hand, it is very easy to open and the travel time was always longer than just 20 minutes, so I had no excuse not to read. (3) Another way was disconnecting the internet in my apartment, so no phone, tablet, or laptop could even rise the suspicion of being more interesting than my book. This is probably the hardest one, but I find that some things are better if you earn them, and if you set a daily reading goal (or a monthly/yearly one), then getting around to doing something else, even just using up your lives in candy crush, is still very rewarding.

And if length is a problem, plenty of short stories out there that deserve to be read as their impact is sometimes far greater than some 600 page books I have read in my youth. This is the final, (4), technique I have mastered in regaining my strength to read: finding the shortest thing possible, and growing slowly. That means that the next one will not indeed be a 600 page book, but I am gonna get there again, and so will everyone else. So far, just by using the method of reaching towards the thing I want most I have read Let it Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren MyracleJ.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (which I have been pushing off due to my crippling phobia of certain reptiles), and The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco (in the original Italian of course).  [Allow me to thank John Green here, for having all these stories that I can turn to. I do believe that my break in this seemingly endless blockade of blankness was partly thanks to his variety of books, written about incredibly complex characters at all ages. He captures something I have not read from many before. I cannot wait to continue through his series of books!]

What I am trying to say is that you are not alone. And I can say that because I saw all the faces sharing my pain when I talked about my difficulty when it comes to reading. I am also sure you recognized yourself, as you are reading this on your phone and can clearly see that book on the bedside table, as if tried to move just and inch closer to you, but it will not be opened tonight. Or maybe... maybe it will. Maybe talking about it is the first step. I know it helped me, did it help you?

Let me know!

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