No Plot? No Problem!

Author: Chris Baty

This little book is a powerful tool to help frustrated writers get past their perfectionistic, procrastinating tendencies using a secret weapon that works on most of us in our adult professional lives, a deadline.  If only we were 5, it would be candy…

But for all too serious adults who want to write a novel and who must be perfect at all times, NO PLOT? – NO PROBLEM! asserts that a deadline contains these potent tools to help writers find success:

  • Brings Focus
  • Forces us to make time
  • Reaches past our too conservative estimates of what it is we are capable and serves as a “creative midwife”

His recipe requires that the Novel be started on Day 1 and you can bring:

  • Outline(s)
  • Character maps
  • Friends – bring friends who want to write as well as
  • Commit to love ones who will ridicule you when you want to quit
  • Write a Magna Carta of the 10 favorite parts of books you love
  • Write a Magna Carta 2 of the 10 least favorite parts of books you don’t love

What you cannot bring… another novel.  Yes, writing prose for the novel before the starting gun goes off is forbidden!  OK, OK, if you read further, in the smaller print with less strong punctuation, he does ‘allow’ you to write an additional 50,000 words on an existing work, but he believes that in order to keep things fresh and exciting for you, that you should start with a blank slate.

How did this all begin?  Well, I’ll tell you.  In 1999, Chris Baty and a bunch of his writing buddies decided to do something silly like get together, drink lots and lots of coffee and write a novel.  No, I mean really.  And now.  So, to get some parameters, he pulled a small novel off his shelf, A Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley and found it was 50,000 words. That, then became the benchmark. Then he came up with a… you should know this one… a deadline.  50,000 words + one month = a novel.  Of the 21 people who started with him, only 6 finished. The rest were between 500 and 49,000 words, but they all learned something.  And a funny thing happened, a movement had been born. Since then, the challenge has a name “National Novel Writing Month” aka “NaNoWriMo” and it has a website and an international following.  One of my favorite Books, “Water for Elephants”, is Sara Gruen’s final draft of the novel she wrote as a NaNoWriMo winner.    Chris used his formula and actually wrote 8 by the time this book was published in 2010, and oh by the way, the little book he wrote “No Plot, No Problem” that just so happens to be about 50,000 words..

30 days is 1667 words a day.  He, himself, works a couple days a week and then puts in more time on the weekends. He said about three two hour shifts.  I tried it, it’s not easy because my perfectionist wanted to edit the unadulterated flow and I start cutting back on the word count drastically from the day before.  I re-read the book and found an answer to that for my next challenge, he said that if you feel you must edit, just put the words you want to take out in italics and come back to it when you finish the challenge, but in the meantime, keep your priority on building word count.  He said he learned this from finishing that first challenge:

“…we are allowed to begin a novel simply by turning on the nearest computer and start typing.”

He is not promising that the novel will come out fully formed after 30 days, in fact, he agrees it will pretty much look just like a newborn, bald, toothless and without working legs.  And writing experts he admires pretty much agree like Stephen King, Anne Lamott, and quoting Ernest Hemingway,

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

At the end of the day, he says that writing with an eye towards quantity (word count) instead of quality of writing, gives you permission to write with abandon and to stop being so hard on yourself.  In fact, my favorite quote from the book,

“The first law of exuberant imperfection is essentially this:  “The quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horrible and crappy.”

But on a more serious and adult-like note, he believes that,

“…the go-go structure of the event, the stultifying pressure to write brilliant prose had been lifted.”

And I agree, after creating some pretty interesting stories from a one sentence prompt that when you get out of your own way and push past the idea that the first sentence must be from the mouth of God to your ear, and instead get pressured by a deadline to turn something, anything in by the time the bell goes off, well, some pretty amazing things happen.

This book gets to the heart of writing.  You just have to do it, early and often and everyday and then, my friend, you will be a writer, as long as, according to Chris Baty, you do that while drinking lots and lots and lots of coffee.