[Zetta’s Reference Desk] – No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

no-plot-no-problemTitle: No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days

Author(s): Chris Baty

Published: 2004 (there is now a revised and expanded 2014 edition)

Pages: 176

Unlike recent posts in my “Reference Desk” series, this isn’t really a how to write reference book, but an inspirational book on how to get your writing done, which is the name of the game.

I have to give credit to No Plot? No Problem! not just for helping me “win” NaNoWriMo in 2013, but it put a serious dent in my writer’s block and in my belief that you have to sweat and agonize for months or years over a single novel.

I’m here to say that it’s crazy and unnecessary. I don’t care if you’re writing commercial fiction or the next great literary novel. It is possible to write something just as worthwhile in a fraction of the time. You don’t have to wait until November to NaNoWriMo. You can do it all year.

As Chris Baty says:

“What you need to write a novel, of course, is a deadline…A deadline is, simply put, optimism in its most ass-kicking form.”

Baty’s done the math for you if your aim is to crank out a 50,000 word draft in a month by creating a table that lists what your cumulative word count should be over the 30 days. Print it out. Stick it on the wall. Consider it your daily deadline.

* * * *

The first time I did NaNoWriMo was back in 2008–and it kicked my ass.

I barely lasted the first ten days when both my enthusiasm and motivation fizzled. Although I was disappointed in myself for not winning, I told myself I wasn’t surprised. After all, it took me more than a decade to cobble together a novel while life happened. Should I be surprised that I couldn’t write a novel in thirty days? Of course not!

But I was only fooling myself. I know women with a lot more going on in their lives than me and they crank out novel after novel while building their fan base and a name for themselves. So what was my problem? Lack of discipline.

Whether any of my stories or novels become bestsellers isn’t what drives me. It’s the fact that I’ve written them, published them, and was able to make them available to people who can appreciate my storytelling. I have too many story ideas floating in my head only to average a novel a decade. It’s ridiculous, life is too short, and I ain’t getting any younger. I need something like NaNoWriMo to kick my butt in gear.

So, a few weeks before NaNoWriMo 2013 began, I purchased No Plot? No Problem!  by Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, and I am so glad that I did.

My novice attempt at NaNoWriMo in 2008, though admirable, was doomed from the start. Why? Because I approached the exercise like I had to have a 50k word novel suitable for publication rather than simply a decent first draft that would scream for revision or to be put out of its misery.

My second mistake was listening to what Baty calls the “Inner Editor.” This is hard to do for someone like me who edits for a living. No Plot? No Problem! gives you permission to write crap. This is meant to be a fun challenge, but a challenge nonetheless.

You are to dive headlong into this month-long adventure with nothing but your imagination and your sugar/caffeine/alcohol/comfort food/junk food of choice to fuel you, and some tunes on your favourite listening device won’t hurt, either.

Many people prepare in advance by getting notes and perhaps a plot outline prepared, but many people don’t even have that much, and as Baty’s book suggests—no problem!

This book is useful whether or not you participate in NaNoWriMo. It’s useful all year round. It will help you ignore your hang ups and just dive in, and at the same time it will show you that no matter how busy your life is, you can find time to write. It doesn’t have to be perfect and profound, just get the words out.

Those of y’all taking the challenge but haven’t read the book may find some of the tips quite motivating. I know I have. One tip suggests that in order to inspire you to “win” and get your 50k words written, you should write a substantial check to a charity or cause, and if you do not make the word count by the deadline, you mail the check.

Oh. Did I fail to mention that the charity or cause should be one that you are against, for whatever reason? This is definitely a time that if you should fail, it will hurt you more than it hurts them.

With that in mind, prepared a check to make a decent-sized contribution to the re-election campaign of a politician I loathe. In these tough economic times, money is tight, and there’s no way I’m going to give this person any of my money for any reason—especially on purpose!

But that’s just one of many motivational tips you may find useful, whether you participate in NaNoWriMo or not. Sometimes you gotta make it hurt. No pain, no gain.

Feel the burn.

Another tip that I liked is the use of a “reference book”—but not in the sense you think. This “reference book” is a published book representing the style you’re trying to write. Basically, take your favorite book and keep it handy. What is it about that book or that author’s style that you like? Baty is not saying you need to copy anyone’s style, but we do learn from each other. Writing is like a cooking recipe. You can take what someone else has done, study it, and then tweak it and make it your own.

No Plot? No Problem! is chock full of tips and motivation coming not just from Baty, but from other NaNo-ers. It’s good to see what others do when taking on the same task you are. Pick and choose what works for you. Get inspired and develop a technique of your own.

Now write that book!

©2015. Zetta Brown. All Rights Reserved.

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