I first read No Plot? No Problem? by Chris Baty when I was working on my MFA. It was my first class in grad school, and the entire purpose of the class was to draft a complete novel from start to finish during a single semester. This book was our guide. I’ve found it so helpful that I’ve read it multiple times and constantly recommend it to others.
Like before, this review will be broken into four sections: What this book is, what this book isn’t, how it can help you, and do I recommend it.
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Baty is the founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This book is essentially a guide book on how to write a novel in a month. But beyond that, it’s also a writer’s guide to drafting. If you are planning to draft your book in a month, Baty tells you how to prepare, how to find the time, how much to plan your book before hand, and what to expect on a week-to-week basis. Personally, I’ve found his tips and assessment to be helpful for anyone looking to get a draft down quickly, even if you take longer than a month.
This book claims to be “A low stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days,” and as far as I’m concerned, it’s exactly that. Baty’s book is as encouraging as it is practical. The book is broken into two sections. The first discusses how to prepare for your writing journey. The second is a week by week guide on what to expect and how to persevere. Baty pulls on his own NaNo experiences, but also includes plenty of drafting tips from NaNo participants around the world, so readers get a variety of drafting advice. Completing the first draft is often the first major hurdle for any writer–new or seasoned. This book is designed to help you power through.
What this book isn’t:
Like some earlier books I’ve reviewed, this book isn’t a guide to getting published. It doesn’t give career promises or guarantees. This book doesn’t include prompts or exercises but does make plot and character suggestions from time to time. It also isn’t a super technical craft book. As in, it doesn’t spend chapters dedicated to breaking down character, plot, or point-of-view. Some of those topics are touched on in different capacities, but the true purpose of this book is to encourage and inspire you to get a completed draft down as fast as possible.
How it can help you:
This book is for anyone who has ever struggled to power through a first draft, even if you no desire to ever write a novel in a month. It also does a really good job of reminding readers that writing is a process, and part of that process is to simply get a complete book written, regardless of how bad or messy it is. This book gives you permission to write with total abandon and strictly for your own amusement. You’ll also get tips on how to turn off your inner editor so you can focus on reaching “the end.”
Personally, the approach preached by this book totally opened up my writing process. Before, I was pretty good at drafting as long as I knew where my story was going. As soon as I lost the thread I would stop dead. I often wouldn’t pick my project back up again for months. This book taught me the importance of powering through even when you don’t know where you’re going, or if what you’re writing is going to work. It also helped me let go of my inner editor and focus on simply writing until I have a complete first draft–even if it’s a hot mess.
If you want more specifics on how this book can help you tackle your first draft, check out the post 6 Tips for Finishing Your First Draft.
Do I recommend it?
I gave this away in the intro, but I’ll say it again here. Yes! I recommend! This book played a key role in stimulating my writing process. It taught that there are stages in writing where quantity is genuinely more important than quality, which can be a difficult lesson for a writer to learn. It taught me that first drafts can be messy, but also a lot of fun. This book is the reason I can draft quickly and badly and enjoy it. If you’ve ever struggled to get a draft down as quickly as possible this is the book for you!
(With that said, it’s also important to keep in mind that drafting quickly might not suit you or your process. And that’s okay too! But if any book is going to get you there, it’ll be this one.)
If you want to learn more about NaNoWriMo, you can visit their site here. NaNo takes place every November, so if you’re up for the challenge, this book can definitely help get you ready.
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Now it’s your turn: Have you read this book? If you have, did it help you? If you haven’t, do you want to? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.