Monday, November 2, 2009

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

No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days
by Chris Baty

“The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent, it’s the lack of a deadline,” Chris Baty writes in the introduction. “Give someone an enormous task, a supportive community, and a friendly-yet-firm due date, and miracles will happen.”

Each November since 2004, I have participated in the madness that is National Novel Writing Month, wherein I aim for a 50,000 word story, all while still managing to occasionally toss clean socks and a sandwich at my family. I’ve reached the goal every year except 2007, when I had a hungry 2 month old who hated his baby swing. That year, I wrote 25,000. For me, November is the time I force myself to sit down and try out new ideas, with the hopes that some of them might form a viable book one day.

I like to reacquaint myself with No Plot? No Problem! before beginning again. No matter how many times I’ve participated, the advice offered helps get my brain moving. Since I’m also participating in Pajiba’s Cannonball Read this year, the tips on time management are especially helpful. Now, will I actually ignore my DVR for the entire month in favor of a writing and reading extravaganza? Probably not, but I’ll at least quit watching West Wing reruns.

50,000 words seems like a short book, and it is, but some great titles (including this one) fall into that range: The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are all NaNo-sized. There’s still plenty of room for plot, sub-plot and whatever characters one feels like tossing into the harried mix.

No Plot? No Problem! offers a week-by-week guide to the writing process, everything from the exciting initial ideas, the frustrating middle lag, and when the finish line first comes into sight. It’s funny, motivational and a quick read.

The most important thing the book stresses? “Exuberant imperfection.” The idea of National Novel Writing Month is to sit your ass in the chair and get it done. Banish your inner editor and embrace quantity over quality. Rewriting is for another day. When one gives themselves the freedom to try out any idea, any random or funny plot twist they choose, the result can be surprising, even great. And if nothing else, there’s that glow of accomplishment — “Look at what I can do.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another 1,667 words to write.

For more information on National Novel Writing Month, now in its 10th year, visit

My feature on the Spokane-area NaNoWriMo group appears in the 10th issue of SPOKE(a)N(e) Magazine.

Book # 1/52 (while started in October, I finished reading the book November 1st.)

This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read challenge, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. The challenge ends November 1, 2010.

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