Since I already had three different books on the go, I don't even know why I went looking through my book shelves that morning before work, but I did. One of the perks, to my mind, of working for Kelowna Art Gallery is that when all is quiet, I am allowed to read. In deference to the high art nature of my workplace, I tend to bring books that make me look moderately intelligent. So, when I saw the book No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress High Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days sitting on my book shelf, I grabbed it and stuffed it into my bag as I walked out my front door.
I know I have read at least parts of this book before, a fact to which the dog-eared pages attest. I even used quotes from the book in a course I designed and taught on novel writing. Still, I either hadn't realized or had forgotten that the book was written by NaNoWriMo founder, Chris Baty, until I cracked it open at work. As I delved in, I learned Baty wrote No Plot? No Problem! as a guidebook for NaNoWriMo participants. Fortuitous!
Eric and I have talked, and we have decided that while yes, we are going to attempt to write the 50,000 word novel in a month, we are not actually going to sign up on NaNoWriMo's site. On my part, this decision to participate -- but unofficially -- occurred with the realization that NaNoWriMo writters post their novels on the NaNoWriMo site. I want at least a chance of publication for my efforts, and my understanding is that most publishers will not touch a work which has been online in any capacity. I am not walling myself off in a cave of writer fatigue for a month without at least the possibility that there will be fiscal reward to my efforts. Eric, for his part, is agreeable to however I wish to proceed. He and I have also both noted that even if we fall short of the 50,000 word quota, every word written in November is one word closer to a completed novel. Win/win.
All of this means, for me, that No Plot? No Problem! is as close to assistance as I am likely to get for the NaNoWriMo experience. It is fortunate, then, that Baty has written a decent book. In it, he offers motivation, tips, and gives readers a week-by-week play book for the experience of immersive novel writing. In this glimpse of what to expect, Baty says that NaNoWriMo taught him, "which aspects of noveling I'm good at (coffee drinking and complaining) and what my weaknesses are (dialogue, character development, plot, etc.)," and says, "If I had to describe my motivational strategy for drafting a novel in a month, it would be this: treat-o-rama." Such self-deprecating humour occurs throughout his book. Chris Baty makes a book about novel writing funny. It takes a special set of skills to accomplish this.
Behind the humour, though, Baty offers tips on pre-planning, back story, plot development, editing, and staying motivated. He utilizes first-hand accounts from his own experiences and also includes tips and comments from other NaNoWrimo writers. He talks about writing partners and a writing team (cheerleaders, effectively), about writing spaces and challenges, and about turning off the inner editor until after the first draft (I highly concur), and he shares his theories on how deadlines assist the writing process. For a relatively short book, No Plot? No Problem! actually covers a lot of ground on a lot of topics.
Baty's book is worth a read for anyone interested in NaNoWriMo, but it would also help aspiring novelists who plan to work at a saner pace. It is interesting, amusing, and offers helpful tips for writers and novelists.
*(Since the time of writing this blog, I have learned we don't actually have to post our novels, after all. Eric and I are now signed up and badge carrying NaNoWriMo members)