Once someone learns that I’m an author, they tend to describe their relationship with reading. Maybe they’re a bookworm and want to know what I’ve read (chances are, I haven’t read them yet) or maybe they’re “not much of a reader” and say that almost like a warning.
Like any hobby, reading comes with its ups and downs. As a kid, I devoured books. Now as an editor—living my dream—I barely have time to put a dent in my TBR. And sure, we could blame our phones for sucking up our energy or time but even if I do have time to read, I’m not really sitting down to read much right now.
But I still consider myself a bookworm, “big reader,” a bibliophile, etc. My world still orbits around the books that shaped me and the books I can’t wait to own and read. And today, I want you to feel like you can claim reading no matter how often you actually read for pleasure.
So are you going through a reading drought? Are you just not “feeling” books right now? I want to provide some empathy and ideas you can try whether you’re done with reading or just want to take a break.
1. Acknowledge the Drought
Honestly, we just need to call it what it is. It’s burnout, it’s not fun, and it’s not what it used to be. A reading drought, in my terms, is when you’re not excited by upcoming releases and you’re somewhat overwhelmed by the books you’ve bought or secured through your library.
Now, some people might say “you’ll save so much money on books by taking a break. What’s the big deal?” If you’re reading this post, this is likely something that matters to you. I know this really bothers my fellow authors, booktokers, or bookstagrammers. It’s our thing to like books. It’s the forbidden b-word: our brand.
All I’m saying is that I’ve had my many tussles with burnout. Giving it a name is a very helpful first step. You have the opportunity to label this as a phase or an experience rather than a sudden shift in your personality or character.
2. Stop Accepting Books from Others
Once you feel overwhelmed by reading, it’s time to turn down book recommendations. Return all those borrowed tomes right away. I’d even recommend you return any library books if that helps. If you’re in a reading slump or you’re not as fast as you once were, reading can feel like a chore list for some. Might as well shorten that “list” considerably until you find your groove again.
When it comes to burnout-related struggles, throwing more of anything doesn’t actually “cure” you. Burnout is a sign or a symptom of something much bigger. Temporarily turning down recommendations or book club reads can feel backwards but will serve you now and in the future.
3. Avoid Reading Challenges
We’ve all participated in at least one reading challenge in the past. And I’m sure that many of you love the Goodreads-hosted reading challenges. I used to do those, too. Maybe consider quitting those if you’re cramming the books down like a kid suffering through their veggies. I’ve stopped counting the yearly reads because they take away the whole joy of books and storytelling. I don’t know why we put ourselves through things like this!
I recommend letting reading challenges go if the whole point is to brag about the number of books at the end of the year. Healthier reading goals would be those that encourage you to try something new, learn or refresh skills, or create positive habits. If this isn’t your current headspace, there’s no shame in removing the reading challenge and the unyielding pressure they can bring.
4. Give Other Mediums or Genres a Try
Maybe you need a break from the huge tomes. Maybe you’ve had your share of deep deep themes or topics and you’re ready for something lighter. Why not dip into comic books, graphic novels, poetry collections, or magazines? You can still enjoy many stories but look at more illustrations. I looove graphic novels because their stories are still really deep and yet I can finish them in a day. They’re very easy to re-read and enjoy over and over again.
You could also go down a reading level—no shame in picking up a middle-grade or YA read. Sometimes, it’s nice to pick up a few books for younger readers until you’re ready to pick up “heavier” topics. If you’re like me, you might want a “happily ever after” that has a much lower cost or sacrifice rate.
Think of it this way. I like to listen to podcasts, and sometimes I need a break from the podcasts that cover those heavier, real-world topics. Sure, I want to be informed but sometimes, I just want to listen to a D&D campaign.
Of course, perhaps it’s time for audiobooks! There are many great ways to enjoy audiobooks on a budget. And if all of these suggestions aren’t what you need, I hope you know that there’s no shame in just enjoying TV shows or movies. Stories are stories, and all forms of reading count.
5. Don’t Force It
Forcing yourself to read will not bring back the same joy you had years ago. That joy and interest will return when you’re ready. Part of this includes accepting the now and telling yourself it’s temporary. It’s time to be self-aware and super kind with yourself.
Burnout will expire, especially if you follow tried-and-true advice for breaking the cycle. (I highly recommend the book Burnout by Amelia and Emily Nagoski. Or listen to their podcast interviews!)
What if you still like to buy books? Books don’t expire—you’ll get to them when you’re ready. And if you never read them, so what? People collect mugs, cards, stamps, holiday decor, art, or creative supplies and never actually “use” them.
Perhaps I’m speaking for myself but a lot of this pressure, real or not, comes from those negative thoughts in our heads.
“How do you expect to be a better writer if you don’t read?”
“You read 100 books last year and you can bearly manage 20?”
“How are you supposed to manage a bookstagram or booktok account if you’re burned out from reading?”
“What’s the point?”
If you need to hear it from me, you don’t have to give weight to these thoughts. They won’t magically get you out of a reading funk. They don’t actually help us reach our goals—they just cause a spiral. I’m working on this, too; let’s stand together and encourage each other to follow our goals in a healthy, kind way.
We live in a world that commodifies our hobbies. You don’t have to “report” on what you read if you don’t want to. You can read what you like and take your time. Or, you could take a huge break—and no one needs to know or have the right to tell you you’re “not a reader” anymore. I think sometimes we (read: me) think waaay too deeply on this when it’s normal to change or pause hobbies.
I hope these points help. This has been on my mind for a while now. My goal is to just read. Open a beautiful book and think of nothing else but the story. Why is that so hard right now? I hope that eventually, I’ll figure it out and go back to enjoying a lifelong hobby.