Saturday 26 May 2012

Reader's Block

Reader's block.  Curse it.

It's something I'm prone to.

A few weeks ago, I looked up at my shelves and tried to pick out a new title.

The shelves are full of them.  Shiny spines.  Names I love.  Titles that entice.  Promises I've made to myself.

But none of them appealed. 

Too long, perhaps.  Too noir.  Too new.  Too old.  I had the excuses.

I looked at my kindle.

Too heavy.  And the energy required to turn the thing on, I wasn't sure I had.

Reader's block.

I get it for lots of reasons.

First off, reading requires some effort.  At least at the outset.  Like swimming in a cold pool.  Hell to get in, great when you're set and on your way.

It doesn't help that I have the mildest of reading problems.  It's a scanning thing, no biggie.  Big enough to put me off from time to time.

And there's work.  Emotionally sapped, intellectually drained and physically worn, effort can be the last thing I want to make. 

There's the kids.  When the work slice of the pie has been taken, the children still need someone to play with and to cook for them, to sort out their issues and to put clean clothes in their drawers et al.  Another slice of the cake gone.

I've just been working through Pulp Ink 2 as co-editor.  It's been a wonderful experience and I am definitely leaning on Chris Rhatigan's strength on this one.  He's tremendous.  This time out, neither of us is there as a writer.  We decided early doors that we'd concentrate on editing work. 

In order to do that, it's meant reading each of the submissions to decide upon the stories to use.  Sometimes it's taken 2 reads to make a decision or to find out what either Chris or I could see or couldn't see that meant the need for a fresh attempt.

The editing itself was pretty big this time.  Not all the stories needed much change, but they all demanded concentration.

And there's the flick through to check on the changes.

Now there's the proof read.

Man.  It's a real labour of love.  It's labour, none-the-less.  All of us who've been in anthologies or magazines or online should all spare a thought to those grinding away behind the scenes and those shiny covers.  Hats off to each and every one.

Finally, there were the Smoke edits, hopefully soon to be signed off soon.  Hopefully.

Which means I have lots of excuses for thinking 'sod it' when I look at those books I've been desperate to get into.

Reader's block.

Sleep or the television or time in fresh air all seemed more appealing than books. 

I wonder if you get it.

If you do, what are your solutions?

I imagined having a few days of vegetating in front of the TV.  That's not easy when most of it isn't to my taste.  The Antiques Roadshow isn't even on at the mo.

I turned to a thick book I started a good while ago.  Literary fiction.  Dense.  A change of pace.  No dialogue.  Not much plot.  I wasn't far in before the tome seemed heavy in my hands and my eyelids even heavier.  And the book's great.  Beautifully winding.  It's just that it had words in.

So another break.  More TV.  More frustration.

I thought about getting hold of some graphic novels.  There was a lot of sense in that.  For reasons I'm not sure about, that never got off the ground.

Coming up to the third week of the block, I went into my bedside cupboard. 

Picked up a Bukowski.

Ham And Rye.

Very short chapters.  Utterly engaging.  Perfectly paced.  Completely brilliant.

My writer's block was over.

Maybe I have my answer.

A dose of Hank.

And that reminds me, a sweet tangent this, of the letter we once got as poets from John Martin of Black Sparrow.  Mmmmm.

So that could be it.  It'll either be Bukowski of Proust (for as I was at the sea last night, I decided that would come soon).

If you have any tips for what a man with tired eyes should pick up when needing a gentle initiation, I'd love to hear them.



  1. I get like that two or three times a year, so I know exactly what you mean. That's usually when I spend about a week catching up on comic book reading. By the time I'm done, I'm ready for something meatier.

  2. Like Heath, I get reader's block 2-3 times a year. For whatever reason, who knows. Usually what gets me out of it is either (a) a brand new book by a favorite author that I WANT to read RIGHT NOW; (b) re-reading a book that I never tire of, a lifelong favorite; or (c)just live with it until the need to read recovers itself.

  3. First off, you've been phenomenal and on top of everything with PI2 and that's huge. You're right--the amount of work required is... intimidating. After the first one came out, I thought I'd never tdo it again. But then amnesia sets in and a year later, here I am! I could see why that would give you readers block...

    Good call on the Bukowski. I'll have to check out Ham and Rye as I am a fan of Hank and his journeys.

  4. Thanks guys. Funny that it's 2 or 3 times a year for me, too. And Bukowski is really doing the job.

  5. Yeah, pick up a book (or comic or graphic novel) from a different genre, something you'd never normally touch. It's surprising how quickly the enjoyment of the act of reading can flip you over the block and get you all voracious again.

  6. I get reader's block quite frequently. And it is almost always about finding a book with the right voice for me at that time. What works for me one time may not another. But I need a voice that reaches out a grabs me by the throat.

  7. Yep, me too. Depends on the mood - and how tired (or not) I'm feeling.