We all go through periods when we aren’t opening the books on our shelves or actively seeking out new stories. Not everyone’s reading slump comes on in the same way. Some simply lose interest in reading when they lose the time to read. Others lose interest because book trends do not fit their tastes. Some have extensive reasons for falling away from the books that they loved at some point or another.
On a personal note, my reading slump came about after I graduated from my MFA program at Chapman University. Expectations and realities can be buckets of cold water when they are tossed at you. If you enter a college creative writing class, you likely have goals in mind as a writer and a reader. Some writers enter the classroom truly believing that particular classes or professors will form the foundation for everything that will make them A-list writers. They’ve somehow been convinced that these classes are necessary for their recognition, the development of their technique, and their full paths to stardom. So, like any artist, they risk and sacrifice. After I finished my MFA, I looked back at my big and small sacrifices. One I didn’t expect to encounter was that my love of reading felt diminished. As a reader, I realized, I gave up a lot.
But how do you lose interest in reading after a program that fosters a love of writing and reading? That’s a simple question, which I can answer through an even simpler rundown of a sample week in the life of a creative writing student.
Monday: Fiction writers’ workshop—reviewing four 10-page short stories submitted by peers. For homework, write a 10-page fiction short story. Read the next four classmates’ 10-page short stories and write up critical assessments.
Tuesday: Nonfiction writers’ workshop. For homework, continue to write a 10-page fiction short story. Start a nonfiction short story. Read the next four classmates’ 10-page short stories and write up critical assessments.
Wednesday: Writers’ workshop. For homework, write a hint piece (a 25-to-50–word story) and complete the recommended prompt. Read three classmates’ hint pieces and write up critical assessments.
Thursday: Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Friday: It isn’t over...
Saturday: Get ready for the next week of reading.
Now tell me that you would be open to reading anything at the end of the week. Or in the next year, for that matter.
The other side of the writing program
I came out of my studies having developed what my friends and I recognize as literary snobbery. Suddenly, any book I picked up couldn’t be read without criticism of technique or plot. And every story needed to feel like I had just read the holiest of scriptures that captured the entirety of the world’s problems and offered solutions to boot—with the potential to be added to the literary canon.
And suddenly, the books that were a place for escape and filled me with joy were odd, unfulfilling, and nonsensical, and held no strings on my heart. My taste had completely changed—but to what? I knew that I didn’t want to read scholarly articles in my free time, and the current literary canon hasn’t proved to be a comfortable space for me.
So where does a reading slump end?
Recapturing the love of reading
There are quite a few ways to continue loving to read and immerse yourself into stories again.
1. Don’t hesitate to go back to the books that you loved before your slump! Reread entire books, or even just your favorite parts.
2. Do not feel obligated to read things that are supposed to be for your age group! You can read picture books, YA books, and adult books.
3. Do not feel obligated to finish a book! If you don’t like it or lose interest, put the book down.
4. To find new genres to read, you can visit book news sources such as Publishers Weekly or even the websites of publishers of some of your favorite books.
5. Visit independent bookstores for surprise finds.
6. Take breaks! Don’t feel forced to read all the time. Watch a TV show or movie. Listen to a podcast. Listen to music.
7. Approach books that are of interest to you at the moment. If you are currently in love with watching renovations and DIY videos, read books that include or are about building homes or creating things.
8. Trends are fun to be a part of, because you know that you will have someone to talk with about what you liked in a book. If online conversations about a book look interesting, read it and jump in. At the same time, do not feel obligated to be part of every trending book conversation. You are allowed to dislike books that everyone gives praise to. You don’t have to read them!
9. Try journaling about your favorite books. You can write down your favorite quotes, concepts, and techniques.
The most important thing to remember is that reading can be a reflection of who you are in every era of your life. Each book you pick up attracts you for a reason, and as you change so does your library. So indulge in your change through the books you choose, and don’t be afraid of those changes.
Marrissa Lawson is a recent BookLife intern, a freelance developmental editor, and owner of the JourneyWriter platform.