As part of my reading challenge for the year, I added Lawrence Block’s “Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel”, an updated book from a version he did back in the 70s. Reading books on writing is a lot like the classic quote of dancing about architecture, but I’m reading more to see his thoughts and experiences than looking for a specific technique or tool.
I even love his preface where he talks about reading a book about how to write a book, and what the “method” was that was recommended:
What you did if you wanted to write a novel, I was given to understand, was to trot down to the nearest stationery store and pick up several packs of three-by-five file cards.
(Block, Lawrence (2016). Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel: Expanded and Updated! (p. 4). LB Productions. Kindle Edition.)
Many would-be writers have seen that storyboard technique used, with heavy methodology on small scenes on each card, notes for the emotional intent of the scene, sub-stories, plot points being advanced, etc. When Block read that, he just about threw up his hands because it wouldn’t work for him. Nor did it work for me when I tried it. Too mechanical, at least for me. And so Block wrote without the method.
Chapter 1 of the book is about “why write a novel”, and Block debates the classic conundrum of some aspiring writers — is a novel easier or harder than a short story, and if you think it is harder, shouldn’t you hone your skills in shortstories first? Block argues the opposite — that a novel is a better place to start if you want to ultimately write a novel, mainly because a shortstory is a totally different beast and art form. What works well for short stories does not automatically scale for a novel, for example, despite Faulkner’s famous quote that failed poets become short story writers, and failed short story writers become novelists [p23]. Mainly, though, Block argues what a novel “affords you as a writer is room.” [p10] As well, Block thinks you can learn more writing a novel.
Interestingly though, I found his views on output a bit off the mark…
Consider this: If you write one page a day, you will produce a substantial novel in a year’s time. The writer who turns out one book a year, year in and year out, is generally acknowledged to be quite prolific. And don’t you figure you could produce one measly little page, even on a bad day? Even on a rotten day? [p18]
However, it is the rare author today who can produce a mere book a year and make a decent living off it. What I find more useful though is the reassurance to the newbie writer that “you do not have to grasp the whole book at once because you are not going to be writing the whole book at once.” [p20]