(First published as Book Review: No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty on Blogcritics.)
It’s the brand-new year, two months since the end of the novel-crunching event of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and for all the NaNoWriMo writers participated, it is time to go through post-novel composition mode. For the writers who reached the 50,000 word count goal this year, congratulations. For those who didn’t, now is the right time to reflect and re-plan for next year’s NaNoWriMo. Maybe some of these writers decide to just stop at the last day of the challenge, but for those who want to improve their craft through revision of their first draft prose or for those who want to start a brand-new prose for next year’s event, The Office of Letters and Light, the organization behind literary challenge events such as NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy, prepared and published a series of textbooks and tools to provide the writers and would-be writers a guide to preparing for NaNoWriMo and tips during the event itself.
The Office of Letters and Light presented so far two textbooks: No Plot? No Problem! (along with its optional companion writer’s kit) and Ready, Set, Novel! writer’s workbook. For this review, I am going to feature the first guide book and its companion novel-writing kit: No Plot? No Problem.
This book was solely written by Chris Baty, freelance writer, writing coach, and founder of both the NaNoWriMo event and its organization, The Office of Letters and Light. This book primarily focuses on providing tips and guides to the NaNoWriMo writer and the would-be NaNoWriMo writer in two separate periods: months before November (the official month of NaNoWriMo when the challenge takes place) and during the challenge event itself. Baty used a lot of wit and humor throughout the entire book, making prose writing in 30 days a lot more user friendly, rather than presenting the text in the usual textbook language aimed towards students and professional.
For those writers who are just starting off or planning to participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time, No Plot? No Problem! should be the very first book that they should look in to to provide a good start to their preparation. The preparation period of the book does not only focus on how to find inspiration for the prose you plan to write, such as general observation on public areas to watching TV or reading novels. The book also provides tips regarding the best locations, such as your own bedroom or your local coffee shop to your local public library, that you can make yourself your personal writing station and even tips on your other daily habits, such as your eating patterns while you write or the types of food you eat during your writing process. It also provides suggestions regarding mapping your word count goals per day according to your daily routines and schedules. Lastly of course, the book also provides tips on research and character building, depending on the type of prose that you plan to write. Fiction, non-fiction, or simply just freewriting, this book has various tips per prose type.
The second part of the book focuses the actual NaNoWriMo event, starting from the first week to the last week. More tips are provided, not necessarily towards the prose itself, but more of your personal progress during your writing. It also gives other tips relating to your personal maintenance from your current state to other ways of keeping yourself awake and focused to your writing. The author also provides a few pep talks here and there to keep you motivated and not drop out of the challenge with wit and humor. For example, on Chapter 7 of the book focusing on the third week of NaNoWriMo, there is a section called “Can I Give Up Now?”, in which there is a one-sentence statement written underneath the section: “No, you cannot give up now.”
The final chapter focuses on the aftermath of NaNoWriMo. Finished with the goal of 50,000+ words or unfinished, this is the section where you as a writer will decide on your next action regarding the prose that you just wrote. Many writers want to polish their written prose with more changes and the usual grammatical, spelling, and punctuation proofreading to be submitted for publication. Many writers would also simply toss aside their novel if they were not satisfied with the entire turnout and simply start over. Some writers would just save this novel as part of their collection of rough drafts as source notes for a brand-new upcoming prose they plan to write. There are also plenty of sections written by other writers including literary agents such as Arielle Eckstut to bestselling notable authors such as chick flick author Lani Diane Rich on tips on rewriting your rough drafts and getting published.
Even if this book is not used as reference, it still is a good read from the beginning to the end. It may not be a novel that has a story from the beginning to the end, but the book’s tone and wit is more than enough for a reader to breeze through the book as if it were just another book rather than a reference book. This book is also a good starting tool for those who are interested in joining NaNoWriMo and for those who simply just want a head start on writing novels. I do not recommend this book for those who are looking for the thorough mechanics in story crafting altogether, however this is a good starting boost for those who simply know how to create stories but have no clue on how to put these stories altogether in writing. Though primarily focused towards novel writing, this book can also apply to any type of prose, such as non-fiction memoirs and biographies to general textbooks.
As stated earlier, the book also has a companion novel-writing kit for added aid through the novel-writing process. When I purchased the book, I also received the novel-writing kit as a gift. The kit’s package is designed in a shape of a thick book with plenty of tools and guides inside from a word count calendar log to a series of tip cards segregated for each week. There are also stickers, “goal cards” that can be given to others for peer support, and even a sealed envelope with the words “I Quit” in front of it. There is also a guidebook that explains the pieces inside the kit and even extended tips and passages that were not included in the book. Both a tool and a gag gift at the same time, having this companion novel-writing kit is more of an option rather than a necessity for every writer of all levels. Maybe for those who have not written a single word of prose may find some help from this novel-writing kit, but for me I have other ways to do my pre-NaNoWriMo development process that help me breeze through the NaNoWriMo month without getting blocked that I don’t find the kit necessary.
There are plenty of novel-writing books out there that also use the same methods as the one for NaNoWriMo, such us writing rough draft novels in 60 days, 90 days, or whatever given time. No Plot? No Problem! is simply one of those books that you can look in to if you simply just want to find a good start on writing your first draft novel in general. However, with the NaNoWriMo event in mind, this is a must-have book for those who plan to participate in the annual novel-crunching event as it is designed with NaNoWriMo writers of all levels in mind.