I recently raised the white flag on my rookie attempt at NaNoWriMo. After about 4,000 words, my story stalled out, right about the time I had introduced the setting, major characters, and larger conflict. I still like the concept but I had no new words to write. Since I had set out on NaNo as a learning experience, first and foremost, and I learned a lot, I’m not upset.
I learned that, for me, conceiving of a story one day and laying down words the next doesn’t seem to work, at least not at this stage. I think I need to outline. And I also learned that if I devote all of my available working time to producing words, but not consuming them, I get twitchy and unhappy. I need a balance of reading and writing, or else I get antsy for one or the other. At present, the one upside of my very long rail commute is that I have nearly two hours a day to devote to reading and writing. And I think that’s enough time to churn out work at a pace that should let me feel like I’m progressing toward competence.
I read a lot of writing advice. My latest find is Lawrence Block’s WRITING THE NOVEL, which is wonderfully interesting, four chapters in. My favorite aspect so far is his chapter on dissecting your reading. He advocates the following approach to using reading to kickstart your writing. Say you want to write in a specific genre. He recommends choosing six books within that genre, preferably by six different authors. Read each book through, and write a synopsis for each upon completion. Then, read them each through again, and write an outline of each chapter. Then, read through the outlines to see what they all have in common. Thus, will you learn a lot about the chosen genre.
I suspect many writers, more experienced than I am (i.e. everybody), do this kind of in their heads, but it seemed a very useful tool. So I’m trying it. I’ve got six books chosen (I’ll be keeping them to myself, along with the genre) and I’m eager to see what I learn. I’m not sure how much I’ll be writing during this exercise, but I know I should continue. Even if I keep producing trunk chapters and false starts, I will still learn about putting one word in front of another. I’ll just have to remind myself that it’s enough.