Our Reading Lives

How Reading Helps My Writer’s Block

Katherine Packer

Staff Writer

Katherine Packer is a displaced Midwesterner currently living wherever she can find WiFi and a couch to crash on. She holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence and an MA from the University of Kent in International Conflict. While books have always been her first love, she’s recently been exploring how books can help open minds and change the world. You can get in touch with her here: katherineepacker@gmail.com.

Reading was one of my first true loves. I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t reading. Some of my earliest memories involve curling up with my parents and “reading” to them from my favorite children’s books that I had memorized from repeated retellings. My relatives were always impressed by my dedication to reading, curled up at family gatherings quietly reading in the corner while the other kids were running around, playing loudly. I’d join in sometimes, but I was usually more content reading on my own. Even as an adult, I take a book with me everywhere (even to parties) just in case. I often wish I could just read in the corner at adult parties too, but social decorum usually prevents me from actually pulling my book out (because for some reason that would apparently be more rude than staring at my phone.)

As with many avid readers, my love of reading has always been coupled with a desire to weave my own tales. I carried around notebooks where I would jot down ideas and stories from a very young age. When I got sucked into the intense online communities of fans, I turned my attention to writing fan fiction, pairing up my favorite characters. I was enthralled with the idea of having people reading my writing and commenting on it, so this was an extremely gratifying form of creation. And every time a new book came out, it only inspired more ideas and new scenarios to live out in my dreams.

I even remember the very first time I tried to participate in NaNoWriMo. I was freshman or sophomore in high school, and I carried a thick notebook with me everywhere I went, scribbling frantically in all of my classes, trying to reach the minimum. I wrote nearly 30,000 words of a fantasy story that I was desperate to bring to life, but when I went back to type it up, I lost steam.

This is a common problem that I and other writers have—rereading our own writing too much, so that we convince ourselves there’s nothing there. It’s something I’ve tried to stop myself from doing, at least on a first draft. I find that if I go over the words too many times, I lose the thread of what I was trying to say in the first place. This is usually where I get stuck, and what causes me to abandon a project.

I’m not sure I’ve ever truly had writer’s block in the traditional sense, of not knowing what to write. But I have certainly experienced the difficulty of finding the right way to end something, or rambling on in one direction for so long that the story no longer makes sense. I think writer’s block most often comes for me in the form of giving up on a project. Feeling unsure of how to bring all of the pieces together into something I would be proud to show someone.

So, when I really get stuck, when the words that I’m typing seem to be coming out all wrong, when I get bored with the story, or when I simply don’t know where to go, I’ve learned one of the be absolute best things I can do for myself and for my inspiration is to turn back to the thing that started it all: reading. Because this love of writing stems from my love of reading. I know the joy that reading has brought into my life and, ultimately, this is what I want my writing to do for others. I want it to inspire them and help bring them into a different world, if only for a few hours. There is nothing more stimulating to me than reading a sentence that is so tight and well crafted that I am jealous I didn’t think of it first.

Sometimes it’s the writing style that inspires me, and other times it’s the way the author transitions from one part of the story to the next, or simply the format that they chose to present the story in. Reading helps remind me that there is no one correct way to do things and that anything I dream up can be worthwhile.

So next time you’re sitting and staring at a blank screen, wondering what to do next, take a break, take a breath, and pick up your favorite book.