As National Novel Writing Month approaches, you only have to browse on Amazon to see that the annual challenge has resulted in a host of guides for getting the most out of the month-long novel writing marathon. Many of them are valuable and interesting, but for me none will ever replace the original NaNoWriMo handbook, No Plot No Problem, by the founder of National Novel Writing Month, Chris Baty.
The book is written with the same light-hearted exuberance which led the aspiring author to create the month-long challenge, involving just 21 would-be writers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Written in 2004, it remains one of the definitive guides to fast writing, and benefits from the author’s experience in mentoring groups of writers through several years of NaNoWriMo challenges on an increasing scale.
Advice on keeping on track with the 50,000 word challenge includes “secret weapons” such as agreeing to donate a large sum to a charity whose aims you wholly oppose, in the event of your failing to complete the dare. Plotting suggestions include introducing ninjas to spice things up when the plot runs out. In addition to general advice, No Plot No Problem contains a specific chapter on each week of the month-long event. The first week helps you get down to business, the second helps deal with the inevitable slump, the third looks at keeping the momentum going, and the fourth contains ideas for getting to the finish line and celebrating your arrival.
While it is all geared towards the particular 30-day schedule of NaNoWriMo, No Plot No Problem is actually an excellent guide to creating a “dirty draft” at any time of year. I am not sure that writing a novel in 30 days will ever be as “ow-stress, high-velocity” as the subtitle claims, but the magic pens and writing totems of No Plot No Problem certainly help the process along.
All in all, the book is both as silly and as inspiring as the challenge it accompanies. If you want a sane, rational guide to how to write a novel, this is not for you. But if you were wholly sane and rational, you probably would not be contemplating participating in NaNoWriMo in the first place!
* Enter the November writing challenge at official NaNoWriMo website