On Procrastination and Reader’s Block

Any college student is familiar with the word ‘procrastinate.’ I’m not going to pretend my habit of procrastinating and doing projects/essays/readings the night or even the morning before they’re due is unique to me, because I know most of my friends have this same issue. But I do get really frustrated with it, and I want to write about it.

Oddly enough, the biggest problem for me is reading. As an English major, most of my classes involve reading, and somehow that’s harder to get done than most of the assignments in my other classes. In the required natural science, foreign language, and math classes I’ve taken, I’ve had no problem getting the work done; I remember cranking out solutions to equations in high school math. There’s something steady and mechanical about getting math or science homework done, about answering defined questions until there are none left.

Reading assignments have similar end goals, so it shouldn’t be so hard. When I’m told to read the first 190 pages of Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence, it seems easy. But there are a lot of problems. I tend to underestimate how long it’ll actually take to get through the readings while actually paying attention to what’s going on and trying to understand everything (down to particular words I have to look up). And even though I’m a frequent reader, I’m not a fast reader, so that makes it even harder.

But it’s more than just the logical factors. There’s always something that causes me to think “Okay, this is what I’ll get done tonight—I have plenty of time to get it all done,” then blink 12 hours later and realize I read 15 out of the 190 pages. Or sometimes not a single page at all.

It’s like some compulsion, some sick anti-addition to reading, some sort of reader’s block. I can’t tell for sure what it is. Maybe it’s partly dependent on my enjoyment of the reading—two of the few books I actually finished for class this year were The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, two books I really loved—but it can’t be just that. Back in high school, whenever people said “I would like this book, but the fact that we have to read it for class makes me hate reading it,” I completely disagreed; reading The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men in class made me like the books more, because discussing them helped me learn what made them so special. But something has somehow changed a little in college, and I frequently find myself unable to read what I’m required to.

The worst part is that it’s not just being required to read, though. I haven’t read many books outside of class, either.

At first I thought that was because I was so busy reading for class that I didn’t want to read more when I had time to relax. Again, it is partly that, but that doesn’t account for all of it. I made it a goal for the New Year to read at least one book each month outside of class, but so far, I’ve failed miserably at that resolution. Reading increasingly just has this feeling to me of something that I have to prepare myself to do, something that requires an insanely focused amount of attention that I simply lack. I’m always thinking, always preferring to either cathartically release my stress-inducing thoughts by journaling or just kick back and watch TV or a movie, something that doesn’t require even the typing of keys or the willpower to keep going, because it plays on its own.

I could fix this if I made a conscious effort to just stop watching TV and movies for a while, even a couple weeks. I mean, after all, I still consider books my favorite medium of story. They directly place you in characters’ point of views in a way that most movies and TV simply can’t. I much prefer writing in a novelistic form over writing in screenplay format. And, as large as my movie and TV to-watch lists are, my list of books to read is far longer.

Yet I don’t want to forgo TV (the main medium that takes up my time—far more than movies), because it has something that books doesn’t to the same degree: timeliness. When a new episode of “Girls” airs, I want to watch it immediately so that I can read reviews, talk with people about it online, and generally just take part in the cultural conversation. I like staying timely with TV; at the bottom of my planner, below my daily homework obligations, I have a list of episodes from the week that I plan on catching up with as time allows. There’s a sense that I have to catch up on these various shows as soon as possible, especially when we’re in this period of ‘peak TV.’ There’s less motivation with reading—especially when so many of my friends are TV and movie enthusiasts.

Still, it feels wrong to be in this sad state of reader’s block, especially as an English major. It feels like I’m violating my identity knowing that right now, at this moment in time, I’d rather watch the newest episode of “Jane the Virgin” than read any of the books I’ve wanted to read. Hopefully, once summer rolls around, I’ll have more time to consume all kinds of stories—not just the ones that take the least effort to begin.

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