NaNoWriMo — No Plot? No Problem!

National Novel Writing Month, which links aspiring novelists all over the world in an ambitious challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days, begins Thursday, Nov. 1. Chris Baty, who started NaNoWriMo in 1999, authored a guidebook for those who need extra coaching, prodding, guilt monkeys and writing advice, No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.

If you don’t have time to read about the history of NaNoWriMo or to follow the preparation guidelines before all the craziness starts — “No problem!” I hereby give you permission to skip to the second half of the book, a week-by-week survival guide to the rest of November.

That’s what I did last year. I did go back later and read the parts I missed.

Wrimos (participants) familiar with Baty’s caffeine-injected lingo will find the same trademark mix of practical advice and quirky wit. Practical — such as sending your inner editor away for the month so the creative side of your brain can take over. And slightly insane— such as finding just the right pen, or donning a Viking helmet to help those stubborn words flow.

The book goes more in-depth than the weekly inspirational e-mails sent to participants. (Baty retired from NaNoWriMo last year, but other teammates and guest writers continue to send pep talks.) The author peppers the pages with sidebars of examples and quotes from previous “winners.”

The beauty of NaNoWriMo is that “someday,” wanna-be writers find themselves with an actual draft, fueled by a deadline, competition, and other motivators. The agony of NaNoWriMo is that this speed-written draft drips with plot holes and clichés.

That’s why I was pleased to find a chapter on revision, “I Wrote a Novel. Now What?”

The revision strategy starts with big edits, like defining plot points, looking for story arc, and rearranging scenes. Writers then research facts for necessary corrections, and focus in on sentence structure and words to polish their prose.

Whether you read it in order or by sections, I recommend No Plot? No Problem!  I even like the smaller trade-paperback size, easy to drop into a purse or backpack.

Will you dive into NaNoWriMo this year? What’s your go-to book or writing guide to get you through November?

Elizabeth Saunders is a three-time NaNoWriMo winner who has participated every year since 2008. She blogs at Travels with Books and sells used and antique books at Tannery Books in a small town in North Carolina.

9 comments for “NaNoWriMo — No Plot? No Problem!

  1. October 29, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Great article, Beth. And congrats on Fiction’s first post!

    • Elizabeth Saunders
      October 31, 2012 at 7:16 pm

      Thanks, Gerry!

  2. Amy
    October 30, 2012 at 12:22 am

    I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Baty at the 2010 Night of Writing Dangerously in San Francisco. I was so disappointed when he stepped down from NaNoWriMo, but he’s left quite a legacy.
    I’ve peeked at “NanNoWriMo — No Plot? No Problem!” and it looks like lots of fun. I should really get a copy.
    Thanks for the review, Beth.

    • Elizabeth Saunders
      October 31, 2012 at 7:17 pm

      So awesome that you got to go to NoWD! Yep, I peeked at the book in shops and in my friends’ hands for a couple of years, and finally got it last time.

  3. Khara House
    October 30, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I keep meaning to do a write-up on NPNP leading up to NaNoWriMo … this is a great one! Thanks for the reminder (not only about the book but also that it’s probably time to get my butt in gear and figure out where my plot is going, ha-ha!)

    • Elizabeth Saunders
      October 31, 2012 at 7:18 pm

      Khara, in all my years of NaNo I have never been so plotless. We’ll both get to see what winging it is like!

  4. October 31, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Great article, Beth! I have heard of the book, of course, and wanted to take a peek, or downright read it, too, yet that is still in the future.
    Oh, it’s definitely time to gear up for tomorrow :-)

    • Elizabeth Saunders
      October 31, 2012 at 7:20 pm

      Tomorrow?!! Ack! I really knew, but the only thing I’ve done is buy chocolate. Whew! *checks that off list*

  5. elissa field
    November 14, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Beth, thanks for sharing your NaNo experience and feedback on the book with us. I’ve spent a little time in the NaNo world this month (not really needing to start something new, so just dabbling at word sprints for current work) and it seems so many people trying it for the first time have exactly the questions your post talks about. How to get started, do they need a plot and, as you say, if you finish with a full draft, what about revising? It’s great to know that this book is a good resource for all that. Thanks for getting our blog here started!

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