Readers’ Block: When you just can’t finish

Ladies and gents, I’m having a extraordinarily awful case of Readers’ Block with a book I have to finish for a book club. This woman is my idol, but I fully acknowledge that she’d scoff in my face right now. I wish, like her, that I could confidently say I finish every book I start. My inability to finish books only got worse after grad school, when I’d become accustomed to scanning texts rather than really getting invested in them. But there’s still hope for those like me who speed through some books, but hem and haw with others!

Here are the top three reasons I fail to finish a book, and how I [try] to overcome them:

1. I’ve lost interest

Admittedly, my attention span is rather awful. If a book, television show, or movie fails to grab me right away, I will always have a problem finishing. But not all books are fast paced, and you miss out on some great ones if you expect them to be such.

With that in mind, I’ve become much better about choosing books to read. Knowing that there are certain genres (I’d rather watch molasses drip than read civil war history) or authors (Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men excluded) that are more difficult for me to finish allows me to make more informed decisions, especially with lengthier books.

Keeping a strong momentum is just as important. The longer it takes me to read a book, the less likely I am to finish. If I’ve gotten into a groove, I have to keep going. Similarly, if I’ve started a habit such as reading on the train or in bed everyday, I have to consistently do that until I finish.

2. Another, seemingly more interesting, book has come along (Ooh, shiny!)

I’ve been guilty of this on more than one occasion, and its somewhat related to the first excuse. I’m particularly susceptible while in the middle of a book I’m not particularly engaged in. Let’s set the scene: I’m leisurely walking through the library while I wait for my bus, and come across an Akashic Noir book on the shelf. Of course, I pick it up with haste, and the book in my purse scowls at me disgustedly.

At the center of this issue is the tension between instant and delayed gratification. Sometimes, I consider it the same way as dessert after dinner, and make a pact to read the new book directly after the current one. It’s motivation to finish.

If, like me, you have a queue of books, it helps to continually reassess and rearrange the list based on changing interests. Most of my reading is done for leisure, so I’m comfortable putting some books on the back burner if they’re not for an official book club.

3. Real life took over:

This is the hardest one to combat, because sometimes you just don’t have time to dedicate to a book. Maybe things have escalated at work, or a family member has come down with an illness—regardless, the scant minutes you have to yourself are spent taking a breather, not futilely trying to catch up with your reading group. It’s a legitimate claim, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do but pause until you get your life back under control. That said, putting aside a book indefinitely is dangerous. When I do this, odds are that I won’t read the book again for a very long time. Likely when I find it on the bottom of a pile newer, sexier books, or when a friend mentions it months (years?) down the line.

There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that you don’t have time for your  hobbies. The key here is to put a very precise timeline on your hiatus. Realistically identify a date when you have to start reading again. If work or school has become more time consuming because of a specific project, pledge to start the evening after the report is handed over. The solution won’t always been that easy; perhaps you’re planning a wedding, or have become primary caretaker over a family member.

In situations where there’s a long term stressor, sometimes it’s helpful to schedule time to read just like any other appointment. Be tough with yourself, because sometimes you’ll need to strong arm yourself back into a groove. It helps if you’re working with a book that you’re legitimately interested in. If needed, find other people who can get you on track by reading along as well!

There are so many other excuses for me not finishing a book, but they really all come down to the same factors: time management, dedication, discipline, and self-awareness. It’s not about finishing every book I come across, but about sticking with something despite how difficult a read it may be. Sometimes, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I like the book as a complete piece, even if I really disliked the individual parts.

I’ve picked what I think will be a great set of books for the rest of the year, so I’m pledging to finish each and every one them. What about you?

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