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

Okay, folks, we’re taking a little detour here, and I’m going to ask you to go with it because let’s be honest – Part 2 of Summerland is not exactly the newest installment of Downton Abbey, and if we can all be forced to wait a year for six episodes of genius BBC television, you can hang on until Thursday to hear how I feet about the end of the book. (I mean, have you seen that show?! It begins with the sinking of the Titanic and things only got worse from there! Epic! Hilarious! Well-mannered! British TV has gotten so good that I’m thinking of making a couple of the shows honorary books. Because I totally have the power to do that…)

Anyway, this is less a review of Baty’s book, which (spoiler alert) is awesome, and more a plug for National Novel Writing Month (November), Camp NaNoWriMo (June and August), and, obviously, getting more novels written so I have more books to read and review.

Because I started this blog in December, you have yet to live through NaNoWriMo with me, nor I with you. This coming fall will be my sixth year (although only four challenges were completed), and I’m interested to see what it does to me to try to A) write my 50,000 words, B) read and review twice a week here and C) finish the book contracted and due in December. I’m thinking I might end up in the fetal position, with lots of broken computer parts strewn around me. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Don’t you want to be a part of that journey?!

Yes, you do! And hopefully, so does my friend Nick, who recently wrote to me asking for some advice on how to proceed with his first novel. I know a lot of you are writers, and I wanted to share the conversation he and I had, and hopefully hear from some of you about your own techniques, road blocks, and victories. For the record, I’ve been writing a long time, and my advice comes from years of talking with people much wiser and more experienced than myself, but my very favorite piece (point 4, below) comes from Chris Baty himself (so go ahead and buy his book already!)

* * *

I had the urge to write a novel recently.  I totally busted out a page and a half in a google doc, then hit the point of asking myself, “Wait, who are these characters, what’s their back story, and how do I arrange the overarching plotline?”  It was a critical moment; I was debating blowing up a whorehouse in a dystopian future.

Then I just stopped writing.  And instead started building a web app to let me organize my thoughts and write the novel in manageable chunks, but I’m still not sure how exactly writers manage it.  Anyway, if you have free time on your hands, mind giving your opinion on how you organize your thoughts?  

My first piece of advice? ALWAYS blow up the whorehouse. Seriously. When writing a first draft, always take the most interesting path available to you.

Second piece of advice? Set yourself a goal. The reason I love National Novel Writing Month is that I HAVE to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Some of them might suck, but not all of them will (I know this for a fact because I’m revising right now, and not all the words are being deleted!). NaNoWriMo actually has a summer program running too; you should definitely check it out because it’s a great way to force past your inner editor (who is the devil and will definitely keep you from ever, ever writing a book). http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/campnano I’m actually considering doing this in Aug as well.

Third piece of advice? Murder your inner editor in his sleep. He’s a rat bastard and he will not help you at this stage (this stage being the one where you have one and a half pages written). You can resurrect him when you have your first complete rough draft done. Until then, he’s dead to you.

Fourth piece of advice (and the best I ever got)? Write the book that YOU would want to read. The first many years I did NaNoWriMo were brutal because I was trying to write what I thought I should be good at. This year, I said screw it and wrote a wacky fantasy with lots of antagonistic romances, and lo and behold, it was actually fun! Shakespeare, it’s not. But it makes me laugh and I want to keep working on it, and what better book is there then the one you love enough not to abandon?!

Okay, that’s all my advice. Now, on to organization. This varies hugely from writer to writer. Some people are great about planning, but I’m more of a by the seat of my pants type. I like to just write and write and write with basically no plan at all and see what happens. Later, I go back and sort things out.

That’s certainly not the only way to go about it, and it sounds like you’re working on a way to get things organized, but keep in mind that you might just be procrastinating from fear that the novel you want to write isn’t possible. That fear cripples many writers to the point that they plan and tweak and organize for years without ever writing a single word. You have to choose for yourself what’s worse – making mistakes, or failing to start.

* * *

Now, I know not all of my readers are also writers, but many of you are. And I suspect that even more of you would like to be (in much the same way I would like to be a marathon runner…which is to say, it feels impossible, but I’m told it’s not). Well, I’m going to start training for half marathon when I get back from vacation in a few weeks, and I expect those of you who have a story you’re burning to tell to at least consider joining me in August or November for a 50,000 word challenge. Chris Baty created this program to make writing a novel more accessible for every one of us, no matter age or ability. He’s written a great book to get new (and not so new) writers started, so if you need a little nudge, this is it.

And just remember, as you’re sitting at the bottom of whatever mountain you wish you were good enough to climb, that we are made free not so life can be easier, but so that we have the opportunity to become the people we’ve always wanted to be, despite the fear that our efforts will be found lacking…

More information about Chris Baty can be found here.

17 thoughts on “No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, Chris Baty

    1. You’re welcome! I’m still hoping to hear from other writers about what works for them as well, because honestly, I don’t think any of us can ever have enough advice when it comes to writing. You never know what will hit the perfect chord and push you to the next level!

    1. Like anything, it gets easier with practice. I like to sing loudly (and off-key) at my inner editor whenever she makes an appearance; that usually scares her off for at least 35 minutes. After that, I mix in some threats, followed with promises of snacks if she’ll just shut up and let me finish. Turns out that, like me, my inner editor is very motivated by the promise of cookies…

  1. Awesome advice! I ran my first half marathon this year, and it is NOT impossible, but I started what I thought was going to be my first novel last summer and didn’t get past page 5. This is the 2nd time I have heard of this book, and I will try it now along with the novel writing month!

    1. Well, I’ll trade you some cheerleading! I’m getting ready to start training for my first 1/2 marathon (and it looks impossible from here!), so I’ll send you some noveling inspiration if you’ll keep me in mind next time you’re checking out your Half medal :)

  2. I like what you said: “I just like to write and write and write.” I do too. I hate to organize. The plot develops as I write the story. As long as I know the ending, I’m moving along. Some writers have the entire plot in their heads before they write a single word. We’re all hard-wired differently. It doesn’t matter whether you outline the plot before or after you write the book. Just write and write and write. Thanks for posting. You’re inspiring..

      1. I usually know the ending, although I got stuck recently because I changed my mind halfway through a short story I’ve been working on. I panicked then brainstormed with a friend and came up with a new ending. By the way, when I wrote my first (and only) novel, “The Prince in the Tower,” I knew the ending from the start–but that’s all. Writing it was fun because I never knew what was going to happen next. The main characters took over, so to speak, and determined the rest of the plot. I felt like I was taking dictation, instead of writing the dialogue.

  3. I agree. Write and write and write. Have fun and write the kind of book you like to read. I’ve never done NaNoWriMo because November is such a difficult month with too many obligations, but I did write a draft of a book in a month once, right after I’d read THE ARTIST’S WAY which has some great ways to get rid of the internal critic. Personally, I’m a much better writer now that I’m writing for myself and not trying to please some agent or publishing house. I was always having to tone down the slightly weird plot twists that come naturally to me. So what if my niche is a small one? I’m having a great time.

    And when I’m writing, I often think of a quote (that I’ve paraphrased) from Nora Roberts. She said something to the effect that it’s okay to write crap in a first draft. She said, in effect, “I can edit crap. I can’t edit a blank page.” That was liberating to me.

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