Early Stages – Part 1

No Plot? No Problem! Again

Originally posted on Michael Runs the Gamut on October 4, 2014

[Comments from 2021 are in italics, enclosed in square brackets, like this one.]

The newest (Revised, Updated, and Expanded) version of Chris Baty’s wonderful book, No Plot? No Problem! has just been published [in 2014]. And I’m in it — again. How cool is that!

Twelve years ago I participated in my first NaNoWriMo. That first time was a disaster, but (at the same time) not a disaster because I learned from it. I found out about NaNo on November 1, 2002 (the first day of the event that year). I heard about it on an interview on NPR, while I was driving to work. It sounded like something that would be interesting and challenging. I had always wanted to write a novel, and had taken several stabs at it before, but gave up each time. It had always seemed to be too big an undertaking, too massive a project.

I had just started a new job at Rice University a couple of months before that, and I had no idea what to write about, but when I arrived at Rice that morning, I logged onto the NaNo site, and committed to participating. No one else was in my building yet (I usually drove in fairly early to avoid the worst of Houston’s rush hour traffic), so I stared at my laptop and thought about what I could write about until 9:00, when my coworkers started to show up at our offices.

As I worked, I kept trying to figure out what my story could be about. I was struggling so hard to decide, though, that no words were coming. The Word document I had opened on my laptop (the one that was buried below the website I was designing for the center I worked for) was as blank as my thoughts. Just before lunchtime I decided that writing about anything was better than not writing at all. So, while munching on my sandwich, I wrote a few paragraphs about a young woman who was beginning her first day of work at a major university, in a job very similar to mine. An image of a seriously evil person started to form in my mind (a sociopath who had been alive for a long time, maybe centuries), and I knew this woman would become a threat to him somehow and would find herself in danger. A thriller was being born. I even gave it a name, Into Each Life. The name didn’t stick, though. I may reuse it someday.

“Okay,” I said to myself. “One word at a time. I can do this.”

I found out I needed to write an average of 1,667 words each day in order to reach NaNo’s goal of 50,000 words in a month. My word count for that first day was only 428, and they were terrible, but I kept going, writing early in the morning and after I got home at night. The biggest mistake I made that first year probably was deciding that I needed to have my facts straight before I could write about them, so I spent some time each day researching. This (of course) caused my word count to go up on some days and down on others. Mostly down.  Four of the days I wrote nothing at all. I broke the 1,667 word count goal less than half the time during the month. The highest word count was on the final day, when I was faced with writing 14,222 words in order to reach 50,000. I wrote 3,483. My final count was 39,255 words.

Early in 2004, a few of the wrimos from Houston (and hundreds of others from around the country, I’m sure) received a list of questions from Chris Baty about our participation in NaNoWriMo. He was writing a book about how to write a novel in thirty days, and wanted our input. I submitted answers to his questions, and he used one of them in the first edition of the book, No Plot? No Problem! I was thrilled when I found out he used one of mine, of course. Last year [2013], he reworked and expanded the book, and asked me to submit some more answers to some new questions, and this time he picked two of them for the new book. Yay!

It’s a great book. Lots of tips and tricks for writers, whether you’re thinking of doing something as crazy as NaNoWriMo or not. Check it out here, https://www.chrisbaty.com/books/.

In the next post, I’ll cover my second year doing NaNo, and how the idea for If a Butterfly developed.

No Plot, No Problem was helpful to me [at the time] because it was full of practical advice on motivation. What’s your favorite book on writing?


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