Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Is No Plot Really No Problem?

It's turned into a very NaNoWriMo kind of week here in the Salon. Since I'm also participating in the event this year, I figured I'd jump in. Everyone who's given Nano a shot knows the basic premise - you have one month to write 50k words of a novel. No surrender, no excuses. I have a confession already: While I've completed the word goal in past years, I rarely stick with just one story. Guess I'm not good at following rules, but mostly it's just me going on instinct to make it through with as many words as possible.

Last year I picked up a copy of the event's guidebook (of sorts) No Plot? No Problem by the founder of NaNo, Chris Baty, but I never really had a chance to read through it ahead of time. I've decided to give it a look this go round, see what wisdom can be derived from the NaNo guru, and hopefully get an edge for next month's marathon.

It's a fairly small book and a quick read, which is good considering there's not much time for reading during NaNo. The author begins with the story of the first NaNoWriMo, then launches into several sections with tips on how to maximize your output for the month, including ways to get your loved ones to help keep you writing, staying motivated with plenty of chocolate and coffee, and the all-important deadline. There are time charts to assist daily schedules, as well as an overall word tracker to let you know where you should be every step of the way.

But the main message the book has to offer is to keep your expectations low and your yield high. It's incredibly amusing that this writing guide's essential strategy is telling people to write like crap; lots and lots of crap. Obviously, if you're shooting for a few thousand words a day, you have to do your best to leave the editor out of it, so it's oddly good advice. The other tactic which I'm not so keen on is the notion that less planning is better. Maybe it's because I'm a staunch plotter with no desire to wander aimlessly through a draft, but I know the pantsing method does work well for some people too.

The book does allow for limited plot and character development during the week leading up to November 1st. I understand that part of it is not giving participants the idea that planning is equivalent to writing. If plotting or research gives you an excuse not to sit your butt down and write, then you should do as little of it as possible. There's a short chapter in the middle which lists some novel-writing basics and key questions to ask before you begin. The second half of the book is divided into sections based on what to expect each week of the month. These contain pep talks, tips and tricks, personal stories from NaNo winners and a final chapter on what to do when your novel is completed.

My take: No big surprise, there's not much general info in here that you wouldn't find on any writing website or tutorial. In fact, the official NaNoWriMo site probably covers all the points in the book and then some. The author does encourage participants to write in groups and I couldn't agree more with that one. For me, the best part about NaNo is getting in touch with the writing community and sharing the experience either in person or online. Bottom line, if you're going it alone, the book could be a good source of encouragement. But don't go it alone if you can help it.

Favorite quote from the book:

"A novel rough draft is like bread dough; you need to beat the crap out of it for it to rise."

Has anyone used Chris Baty's book during NaNoWriMo before, and what was the experience like for you? Do you like writing with others, or are you more comfortable tackling the challenge on your own?

Whatever your strategy, good luck and happy writing!

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