Saturday, June 29, 2013

#35 (2013/CBR5) "No Plot? No Problem!" by Chris Baty

Deep down, I've always thought of myself as a writer. Writing helps me think and clarifies my ideas. The
forced focus of putting the right words on the page allows me to think more deeply and intensely about almost any subject. In fact, I've had dreams of finally settling down to write and becoming an overnight success. Unfortunately, the main hindrance to my becoming a bestselling author is a severe lack of talent. I cannot even imagine being able to formulate anything as complex and detailed as some of the worst novels I read last year, let alone craft some of the stunningly original and beautiful novels that are my favorites. It's too intimidating to even get started. I'd heard of people doing National Novel Writing Month [NaNoWriMo] before, but that sounded even worse. If I don't think I can manage to write anything passable in a year, how could  I possibly manage it in one month?

But then Gretchen Rubin talked about writing a full novel in one month in The Happiness Project, and I suddenly had a different view. Rubin wrote her book for fun, just to see if she could do it. She wasn't expecting anything out of it and didn't even look at the finished product once she finished. This sounded like something I could do. I started thinking of ideas and picked up No Plot? No Problem: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days (2004) by Chris Baty--one of the founders of NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo began in 1999 with 21 participants and six "winners." It has since grown to over 250,000 participants with over 35,000 completing their novels.

This book was exactly what I needed to push me forward. It's short and funny and does not take itself too seriously. Baty focuses on taking the pressure off of needing to write a good novel. He says that you're writing a novel in 30 days. Of course it's going to suck. But the self-imposed time crunch is a good thing because it forces your self-critical brain to let go and just focus on producing. There's no time for editing, re-writing or self-doubt. You just have to keep moving. The goal is 50,000 words in 30 days. 50,000 words is a short novel, equal to something like The Great Gatsby.

Although No Plot No Problem! was a little repetitive, it was also full of good ideas. One was to limit planning, outlining, and character development to one week before the start of the contest. Otherwise, you will become too invested in the work you've already put in and be more critical as you try to slam out your novel. I promptly stopped planning my own novel when I read this, and I think Baty was right. I was already starting to doubt my whole idea and wondering how I was going to make a novel out of it. It's much better if I don't let my brain get in the way and just lose myself in the story. Other helpful advice included giving your main character a stutter in order to increase word count when you get stuck. Baty also recommended not telling anyone what you're writing about because even a tepid reaction can dampen your enthusiasm to finish.

All in all this was a short, entertaining, and inspiring read. One of the "rules" of NaNoWriMo is to tell as many people as possible what you're doing so they can shame you into not wussing out. So let me announce now that I will be completing a full novel of at least 50,000 words in November. Yikes. I suspect that there are many would-be writers in this group of Cannonballers. If so, I would encourage you to pick up No Plot? No Problem and try NaNoWriMo. It'll be fun!

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