How to Break a Reading Slump

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Lately, I can’t manage to finish a book. I’ve been here before. While I normally read a book or two a week, I sometimes find myself in a reading slump lasting weeks—or even months—during which I can’t seem to finish a single book. There are a million excuses I offer myself to alleviate the self-imposed pressure to complete a certain number of books per year (more on that mistake later). I complain to myself about not having enough time or being unable to decide what to read next. Fortunately, I’ve always found my way out of the rut and back into a comfortable, pleasurable reading habit again by following just a few steps. If you’re anything like me, they’ll work for you, too.

Address your motivations

There are plenty of reasons to read, and you should take a step back and reevaluate your own. Are you reading for school (i.e., because you have to)? Are you reading to meet social pressure, such as from your book club? Have you given yourself an arbitrary challenge to read a certain number of books per year? Stating my motivation informs how I should move forward and, in my case, tends to remind me that I’m making the mistake of adding stress and pressure to what is otherwise a leisure activity.

In other words, I unintentionally suck the fun out of reading by making it another thing I have to do. When I start to add “reading time” to my to-do list, that’s typically a sign that I’ve fallen into a well-intentioned, misguided quest that’s doing little more than sabotaging my motivation to pick up a good book.

What should one do in this situation? Don’t worry about scheduling reading time or being more regimented. It’s not discipline you need, it’s enjoyment. Being more stringent with yourself is likely more counterproductive than useful. Instead, remind yourself that you enjoy reading by giving yourself a chance to actually enjoy it. And as we’re all pressed for time and energy right now, choose a way to give yourself a jumpstart so you can get rolling again.

Temporarily set your reading list aside

We discussed this before on Lifehacker’s podcast The Upgrade, but recognize that your TBR list can become a bit much. When your growing pile begins to feel like a source of stress instead of untapped possibilities, try to set it aside for a while. The goal is to separate that stack of books from the feeling of a to-do list, which we associate with work and chores. Instead, bring along something easy to page through as you’re waiting in line for your flu shot or doing some other task that requires your presence without demanding your attention.

In this case, what you choose is an important decision, as it’s easy for your rut to take back over when your motivation and reading morale is low. This isn’t the time for that dense nonfiction tome sitting atop the New York Times bestseller list, as popular and well-researched as it may be. Instead, I take a three-step approach to get my wheels churning again: I start with an audiobook, continue on with something light, and then pick up something time bound.

Start with an audiobook

Relatively easy and almost entirely passive, listening to a good audiobook can be a great way to ease back into books without expending much energy. I recommend trying Libby, which you may be able to connect to via your local public library, giving you access to countless free audiobooks.

Personally, I can only listen to nonfiction audiobooks, as consuming them is similar to my daily habit of listening to podcasts. (I know people who are the exact opposite and can only listen to fiction audiobooks; I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments about which works best for you.) Whatever audiobook you choose, it shouldn’t steal time from your schedule, but instead fit into the things you already do each day, from walking your dog to washing dishes. When you reach the end, your motivation (and sense of accomplishment) will benefit from the boost.

Continue with something easy

Don’t go back to your TBR list quite yet—unless you feel motivated to do so, in which case, mission accomplished. Instead, grab something below your reading level. YA is great for this, and is typically my go-to; also consider an easy romance, or even something you’ve already read that will allow you to skim and enjoy the story without worrying about what you missed. (The latter won’t work if you’re in it to build to your list of books read, but it’s great for reacquainting yourself with your love of stories.)

Added to the momentum gained from my easy-listen audiobook, and another title notched in my personal reading challenge, and I’m usually ready for one last nudge before I’m back to cruising along at my normal speed.

Grab something time bound

By now, I’m ready for a little more pressure: a book with a deadline. But “deadline” sounds far more consequential than it actually is—we’re aiming for enjoyment here, after all. What I really means is choosing a book that I want to read before the release of its impending television or movie adaptation.

For me, reading a book before its screen adaptation comes around delivers the double reward of enjoying the book and building a foundation for participating in conversations about the adaptation yet to come. By piggybacking off the thrill of an exciting new TV show or movie, you’ll hopefully be reminded how much you enjoy reading in the first place.

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