Writing Craft Reviews: No Plot? No Problem!
Updated: Jul 19
Title: No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days (Revised and Expanded Edition)
Author: Chris Baty
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Page Count: 200
No Plot? No Problem! is the official guide to National Novel Writing Month, written by the founder himself: Chris Baty. The entire book is designed to help you write 50,000 words in 30 days, from the frenetic excitement of the first week to the panic-ridden dread of the final week. Chris Baty’s main idea for NaNoWriMo, and for this book, is that the reason people don’t finish novels is not because they lack time or skill, but actually because they don’t have a deadline or the lack of self-criticism needed to reach the finish line.
First-time novel writers, NaNoWriMo newbies, wannabe fast-drafters, and anyone who has failed at NaNoWriMo and wants to learn how to succeed next time.
Not Recommended For:
Writers who don’t like fast drafting, anyone who dislikes NaNoWriMo, those who need a bit more craft guidance (like how to develop settings and characters, how to plot, how to write compelling prose, etc.), and hardcore, heavy-duty planner-type writers.
I swear, this book is like having a little cheerleader sitting on your shelf, ready to motivate you every step of the way to a finished manuscript. There were so many times as I read through this that I wanted to just put the book down, open up a blank document, and start writing a story. For this aspect of it alone, I think the book is quite successful at what it sets out to do.
Chris Baty stresses that it is paramount to silence your inner editor while you write your draft. As an editor myself, I can vouch for the importance of this. The inner editor creeps in to tell you that what you’ve just written could be better, that this and that and the other thing all need some work, and the next thing you know, your progress has stopped and you’re sitting around editing a not even half-finished novel. There are great strategies in this book to help you put that editing voice to the side until it’s time to put it to good use—that is, after you’ve finished your novel.
If you’re actually participating in NaNoWriMo, the book also contains a section entirely devoted to each week of November, detailing the different challenges you’ll face and how to overcome those challenges as they arise. This is an excellent step-by-step guide to getting you through the month.
Not So Helpful:
There is not a whole lot in the way of actual craft advice here. If you are looking for detailed guidance on how to construct a plot, how to create interesting characters, how to build a story world, etc., then you’ll come out of this one feeling disappointed. Of course, the book does not promise any of these things, so I can’t fault it for this. And it does give you a few basics, although it emphasizes that these aren’t really important at the first draft stage.
In many ways, this book is more about the writing itself—where you write, what you write on, who you tell about your goal—than writing a story. This is most helpful for new writers, who just need a few basics before jumping right in, but it might be a bit tedious for more seasoned writers who already have their preferences and habits figured out.
Finally—and this one is admittedly a bit petty—the tone at times got a bit too goofy for my personal taste. It’s very upbeat and motivational, but does range into the silly often enough to throw me off a bit.
There’s actually a great little section on editing at the end of the book. Like the rest when it comes to craft, this section only covers the basics, but I agreed with everything mentioned in it. It would be extremely helpful if you’re about to edit your very first novel, and a NaNoWriMo one at that. There’s also a lot of great advice about finding and working with beta readers.
No Plot? No Problem! is truly an awesome guide to success at NaNoWriMo, or at any sort of fast drafting in general. If you find yourself wanting to race to the finish of that novel you’ve always wanted to write, I recommend giving Chris Baty’s method a try. Similarly, if you’re a more seasoned writer looking to change up your drafting process, this book might serve as a useful experiment. However, if you’re not a fast drafter and you’ve already got a writing system that works really well for you, then I’d give this one a pass.
Curious about what I read besides writing craft books? You can find more reviews on my Goodreads!