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No Plot? No Problem! Revised and Expanded Edition: A Low-stress, High-velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days Paperback – September 16, 2014
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"No Plot? No Problem! offers suggestions on how to participate in something as crazy as writing a short novel in a single month, as well as why you'd want to do so. Baty gives practical tips peppered with humor, recognizing that this endeavor is both enormous and somewhat ridiculous, but still worth doing. Baty walks you through things like how to find time to write, what tools and foods you should keep handy, and the benefits of planning (or not planning) your novel ahead of time.
The second half of the book is a week-by-week guide, intended to walk you through the first week exuberance, second week slump, and so on. Baty's been at this for 15 years already, so he knows what he's talking about-plus he has quotes and advice from many other NaNoWriMo winners as well."
About the Author
Chris Baty founded National Novel Writing Month in 1999. His work has appeared in such publications as the Washington Post, The Believer, and AFAR. He lives in Berkeley, California, where he works as a teacher, speaker, and writer.
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This is a fun and funky kit for participants in the National Novel Writing Month experience (NaNoWriMo), which takes place every November. Note that although it includes a short (44 page) book, it is not the same as the author's full-length book of the same title. I view "No Plot? No Problem" (the full length book) as an important asset to NaNoWriMo. This kit, however, is strictly for those who want to have fun with stickers, buttons, a rolled-up contract, and more. It is for those who want to go all out for NaNoWriMo, and who want some "toys" to help them have an even better time. If money is tight, spend it elsewhere, as you can make most of these things yourself. If you don't mind the cost, and know that it's all just for fun, then buy and enjoy it as I did.
In this video I open the kit and show you everything inside. The video is just under 4 minutes.
This is a gimmick book, the author sponsors a "Write A Novel A Month Contest" and offers very little advice for first time novelists on characters, plotting, setting, dialogue, theme and other trivia. Instead the author focuses on much more substantial literary matters like 'mass meals', totems, and writing in bars with friends. This advice should clue the reader what the authors expertise is in literary matters. His advice on revision is equally worthless but my eyesight gave out after the first paragraph.
I can summarize the authors advice in one sentence saving the reader the cost of the book and their eyesight:
Tell everyone your going to write a book in 30 days and write as fast as you can for 50 thousand words, quality, thought, planning be damned.
For heavier advice I'd suggest two Big Macs(tm) and a shake.
Baty's advice is just to dive in and start typing! Doesn't matter what -- just get going at it. Quantity now, quality later. This is truly sage advice for getting past the infamous "blank page syndrome" (or blank screen). Baty's theory is that you can't know what you want to say until you try to say it. Makes sense to me. You find that you will sort out your ideas through the prose itself. Multiple iteration and revision and re-revision is the key.
Like so many beginners, I have wasted a great deal of time "waiting for the muse"; trying to plan out the story in advance. This is my natural way of working at anything -- plan the work, then work the plan. Trouble is, just sitting around thinking about it too often leads to dead ends, destroys my morale and enthusiasm, and I end up just sulking with myself, or going round and round in endless circles of thought.
Baty's strategy is to just "cut the literary Gordian knot." JUST DO IT! Let your imagination run wild! This is what many creative writing instructors call "freewriting" or "journaling". The idea is simply to generate ideas. You can't get started without ideas. But paradoxically, you can't get ideas just with thought. Just go into "stream of consciousness" mode and get down your thoughtstream on either paper or phosphor. Go back over it again and again, weeding out the obvious trash ideas (which will be the vast majority of them) and sift out the gems. Arrange and rearrange. Free associate. Compare and contrast, juxtapose, make tossed salad of your ideas. Make lists. Make up the imaginary friends with whom you shall populate your story -- have conversations with them, between them. Project yourself into their heads, their backstories. Talk it all over with your real-world friends, compare notes. Dream. Daydream. Get drunk or stoned if that helps, and at other times imbibe strong coffee or other stimulant. Try everything.
Now I must say, all this is completely contrary to my ordinary way of working. I am a firm believer in structured storytelling. If one is to present a coherent story of plot events that are logically arranged in order to produce the intended emotional effect on the reader, rationality demands that the author employ workmanlike practices. Writing is supposed to be a craft, after all, is it not?
If you are wondering if I'm a hopeless schizophrenic, I got to say that when it comes to writing, this is the right approach. In computer programming we have what is known as the two schools of thought on how to approach coding: top-down and bottom-up.
Top-down means you plan in advance what you intend to accomplish, and produce a list of sub-goals that each contribute systematically to the top goal, the intended end-product, and then work each sub-goal and sub-sub-goal in stepwise fashion. There is much to be recommended to this method. Everyone knows it's the "proper" way of doing things.
Too often, however, this leads to deadends in the work, when the author simply runs out of ideas. It's all too easy to get burned out working in top-down fashion. That's when the struggling author should turn to bottom-up, or the Baty method as presented in this book, "No Plot No Problem". Just switch thinking modes -- go crazy with your prose and try to imagine new things, settings, and characters you can introduce into your story to get it (and yourself) juiced up again and "rarin' to go!" back at your writing project. Ask questions! Think up answers! How can one idea lead into the next? What if we go off on an unexpected tangent at this point? How do I get the story unstuck? Well, consider more off-the-wall questions: What if character X walks into the scene at this point? What if the phone rings or there's a knock at the door? What if a crazy thought pops into character Z's mind and he blurts out something unconsciously? What if a plane suddenly crashes into the next building over? How about some explosion nearby, or a sonic boom? What if a sudden feeling comes over this character, mentally or bodily? What if someone suddenly slips or drops something? Gets caught in a lie? Says something that can be understood in different ways by different players? How about something reported in the news, or a rumor or gossip? What if she sees something no one else does, but keeps it to herself, and which reminds her of something she had thought so-and-so said last week (or was that a dream?) when that strange expression flickered over his face, that turned out to be misleading and convinced that other guy he thought he was right after all about...
You get the idea. By going into "discovery draft" bottom-up mode in the midst of your prose construction, you generate new possibilities -- the creative raw material -- for your plot and your characters. Then switch back to your "hardhat construction worker" top-down mode, and go back to honing those possibilities, weeding them out, sorting them out, polishing them up, fitting them together with one another and with what you've already got in your story. Keep going back and forth between producing new material, and hammering it all together into a story.
It's a wonder any writer ever suffers from "writer's block"! How can anybody run out of ideas with all these possible spurs to creativity? The problem should be having to choose from so many ideas, not running out of them.
This book of Baty's, "No Plot No Problem", is his manifesto for working in the creative "bottom-up" mode. There is another book I keep on my shelf that extolls the complete opposite end of the spectrum, and this is by Evan Marshall, "The Marshall Plan". I keep both books handy for inspiration. I must say, my natural way of thinking and working aligns with Marshall. He presents a very regimented, methodical way of producing a story, with "Action Scenes" interspersed with "Reaction Scenes". He even goes so far as to plan the number of pages assigned to each part of the story. He presents lists of necessary character traits. But his essential point is to work in plodding, stepwise fashion. I like this.
Now, you've noticed that this isn't a review of Marshall's book, but I believe it nicely complements Baty's totally opposite approach. Both methods are essential and productive.
This bimodal paradigm for writing is similar to that used by the best computer programmers, as I stated earlier when I began explaining the difference between top-down and bottom-up coding. When planning the project from the top, you're determining what is to be DONE at each step. When experimenting with ideas from the bottom, you're determining what is POSSIBLE to do at each step. That's exactly why you must keep constantly switching modes -- each perspective, at the top and the bottom, informs the other. DIRECTION from the top, DRIVE from the bottom.
The only reason I give Baty only four stars is that he does go a little bit overboard with enthusiasm for freewriting. His NaNoWriMo writing competition completely, too-completely, elevates sheer quantity (50,000 words in 30 days) over quality. I think that this CAN BE taken too far, after all. So I say only four stars overall.
But I would give him six stars for his sheer guts and courage to present such an audacious program. Sometimes you just gotta let go, and get on with the work! And you cannot start without imagining up ideas with which to work. One must start someplace. Just sitting and thinking yourself in endless circles, staring out the window or at the blank screen with blinking cursor -- that will get you nowhere fast. I know, been there, done that. I usually just wind up getting myself drunk, or take myself an afternoon nap, or both, or just flick on the TV or a CD. Don't want to be stuck in that awful place anymore!
At times such as these, I think it apt to quote onetime singer Weird Al Yankovic, who once sang apropos to storycrafting, simply: "Dare to be Stupid" ! Don't worry, I won't tell and nobody besides yourself needs to know. Just tell yourself over and over, "No, I'm not really writing a book, this is just practice! Yeah, that's it, I'm just screwing around, this isn't really going anywhere, it'll be my little secret." This is the main thrust and thesis of Chris' book.
Obvious advice, but sage advice! Hats off to Chris for daring to put it down in a book for all of us to marvel at. If you've been trying to start your novel and just cannot get anywhere, try this book. Truly, No Plot No Problem!
The content does an excellent job of inspiring you to begin your novel in the timeline suggested. However, much of the book felt like padding. It lacked the tools that would help you write at this breakneck pace such as idea lists for plot, character, location, etc. I located such information in "Writer's Partner: 1001 Breakthrough Ideas to Stimulate Your Imagination" by Martin Roth. If you're going to write your novel 1st draft in 30 days, I would suggest that you'll find the Roth book more useful.