Camp NaNo: The Tribulations of Not Reading

Camp NaNo has, it’s probably clear, not been easy for me this year. I’d known that inspiration was going to be a problem from my last attempt on the story in question; I’d known free time was going to be an issue, from the fact that last time I participated in the real NaNo, I had a lot more of it than I do now (plus or minus an unnervingly convenient vacation). I’d planned for all the expected difficulties, and found ways around most of them. The unexpectedly difficult part, though, isn’t so much pushing myself to write as it is trying not to read.

Last November, that part was actually pretty easy. The library was closed, and since we hadn’t been sure how long it would be closed for, I hadn’t checked any book-books out. I had three audiobooks for my walk to and from my temporary assignment and for during the parts of lunch break where I was eating rather than attacking my novel, but that was it for new materials to distract me from my writing. This time—I’m in a library! It doesn’t get much more new books in your face than that, particularly not when May’s purchase order is still streaming in, and that hold placed in late April finally arrives in June. Every day there’s a kids’ book I hadn’t noticed, or something winking from the science fiction (loosely construed) section, or worse, a new nonfiction with its shiny new purple spine label sitting where I have to pass it for everything from shelving fiction books to doing tech support in labs to held a child patron put his name on the chain of paper apples winding its way down the hall. And any one of them could at any time be checked out and not return for weeks, giving an added urgency to the urge to check them out.

It doesn’t help that reading is one of my primary (and most unsuccessful, honestly) styles of avoidance behavior. The longer I’m hung up on something, the more tempting it is to grab something else that I can get a brief spurt of “I’m doing something right!” out of: a book, a favorite author’s blog, whatever. I read it, just for a few segments, hope that it kicks something loose. Then the completionist tendencies kick in, and it’s hard to stop. One more chapter, one more page, and next thing I know it’s 10 pm, I have work the following day, I’ve only reached eight hundred words or so and I still don’t have a viable post topic. (It could be worse; at least I’ve kicked the TVTropes habit. I think.)

The best thing for me to do, then, is not to start, so I’ve been actively avoiding reading this month… mostly. It hasn’t succeeded too well. Two Discworld novels I found on vacation, a book on character emotions borrowed from my host (to be fair, that one was productive), various kids’ picture books, one odd mystery, two pieces from the library’s graphic novel section, that book on military working dogs I put on hold in April—yeah, I’ve been busy. Good thing I’m a speedreader. But I’ve been resisting the urge more than usual. Unholy Knight is still in its place on the new books table, I haven’t given in to the temptation to reread We’ll Always Have Parrots or Crouching Buzzard Leaping Loon yet, and while I have found myself tempted to grab and read Midnight in Peking with every other sentence of this post draft, as of the time my pencil hits my notebook it is still on the table. (Admittedly, in this case I’m just using it as a bribe to get me through this post-let. Self-bribery is my greatest focus, it looks like it might provide some good story ideas—and while in retrospect it didn’t, it also didn’t take me all that long to read.)

What’s this mean for me? I think overall, the decreased reading has messed with my inspiration levels for most of my projects since I’m not doing as much reading; nonfiction makes up a large portion of my worldbuilding these days, and a pretty decent source of blogfodder. It might be buying me more writing time on the trolley or during breaks—or at least during those trolley rides and breaks when I don’t just give up and take a nap. In short, it’s probably working, and it’s good practice for my willpower, but it’s a tad annoying and I find it easy to not notice it actually helping.

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