Writing Tools: No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

No Plot No Problem book reviewI first read No Plot? No Problem? by Chris Baty when I was working on my MFA. It was my first class in grad school, and the entire purpose of the class was to draft a complete novel from start to finish during a single semester. This book was our guide. I’ve found it so helpful that I’ve read it multiple times and constantly recommend it to others.

Like before, this review will be broken into four sections: What this book is, what this book isn’t, how it can help you, and do I recommend it.

(Side note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using the product links on this page, I may get a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and helps keep this site running. Thank you!)

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

What this book is:

Baty is the founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This book is essentially a guide book on how to write a novel in a month. But beyond that, it’s also a writer’s guide to drafting. If you are planning to draft your book in a month, Baty tells you how to prepare, how to find the time, how much to plan your book before hand, and what to expect on a week-to-week basis. Personally, I’ve found his tips and assessment to be helpful for anyone looking to get a draft down quickly, even if you take longer than a month.

This book claims to be “A low stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days,” and as far as I’m concerned, it’s exactly that. Baty’s book is as encouraging as it is practical. The book is broken into two sections. The first discusses how to prepare for your writing journey. The second is a week by week guide on what to expect and how to persevere. Baty pulls on his own NaNo experiences, but also includes plenty of drafting tips from NaNo participants around the world, so readers get a variety of drafting advice. Completing the first draft is often the first major hurdle for any writer–new or seasoned. This book is designed to help you power through.

What this book isn’t:

Like some earlier books I’ve reviewed, this book isn’t a guide to getting published. It doesn’t give career promises or guarantees. This book doesn’t include prompts or exercises but does make plot and character suggestions from time to time. It also isn’t a super technical craft book. As in, it doesn’t spend chapters dedicated to breaking down character, plot, or point-of-view. Some of those topics are touched on in different capacities, but the true purpose of this book is to encourage and inspire you to get a completed draft down as fast as possible.

How it can help you:

This book is for anyone who has ever struggled to power through a first draft, even if you no desire to ever write a novel in a month. It also does a really good job of reminding readers that writing is a process, and part of that process is to simply get a complete book written, regardless of how bad or messy it is. This book gives you permission to write with total abandon and strictly for your own amusement. You’ll also get tips on how to turn off your inner editor so you can focus on reaching “the end.”

Personally, the approach preached by this book totally opened up my writing process. Before, I was pretty good at drafting as long as I knew where my story was going. As soon as I lost the thread I would stop dead. I often wouldn’t pick my project back up again for months. This book taught me the importance of powering through even when you don’t know where you’re going, or if what you’re writing is going to work. It also helped me let go of my inner editor and focus on simply writing until I have a complete first draft–even if it’s a hot mess.

If you want more specifics on how this book can help you tackle your first draft, check out the post 6 Tips for Finishing Your First Draft.

Do I recommend it?

I gave this away in the intro, but I’ll say it again here. Yes! I recommend! This book played a key role in stimulating my writing process. It taught that there are stages in writing where quantity is genuinely more important than quality, which can be a difficult lesson for a writer to learn. It taught me that first drafts can be messy, but also a lot of fun. This book is the reason I can draft quickly and badly and enjoy it. If you’ve ever struggled to get a draft down as quickly as possible this is the book for you!

(With that said, it’s also important to keep in mind that drafting quickly might not suit you or your process. And that’s okay too! But if any book is going to get you there, it’ll be this one.)

I hope this gives you a good idea of what to expect from No Plot? No Problem!

You can check out previous book and product reviews here!

If you want to learn more about NaNoWriMo, you can visit their site here. NaNo takes place every November, so if you’re up for the challenge, this book can definitely help get you ready.

Now it’s your turn: Have you read this book? If you have, did it help you? If you haven’t, do you want to? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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Writing Tools: The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

I first found The Right to Write by Julia Cameron when I was in college. It was an assigned book for my writing class. We were only assigned sections of it, but I have since read the whole thing twice. I’m going to come right out and say that it’s one of my favorite books on writing I’ve come across.

Like before, this review will be broken into four sections: What this book is, what this book isn’t, how it can help you, and do I recommend it.

(Side note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using the product links on this page, I may get a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and helps keep this site running. Thank you!)

The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

The Right To Write CoverWhat This Book Is

The subtitle of this book is “An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life,” which is incredibly appropriate. I had always thought of this book as a type of writing life guide before I even realized it was right on the cover. This book does, in fact, invite you to write and give you the tools to get started. It’s broken into 43 short chapters that discuss common issues most writers face.

In each chapter, Cameron first discusses the issue, giving her thoughts and advice, while including some personal stories from either her friends, her students, or herself. Then she ends each chapter with an initiation tool, which is designed to get you writing while confronting the issues she discussed in the chapter. These tools can also help broaden your perspective and build good writing habits.

The bottom line: The Right to Write is a positive, supportive, and encouraging guide to living a happy writing life. I think it can be helpful to all writers, no matter where they are in their writing journey.

What This Book Isn’t

Like Bird by Bird, this book isn’t a guide to getting published. It doesn’t give career promises or guarantees. This book doesn’t have prompts or craft-based exercises but does include initiation tools as mentioned above. It also isn’t a super technical craft book. As in, it doesn’t spend chapters dedicated to breaking down character, plot, or point-of-view. Some of those topics are touched on in different capacities, but Cameron’s focus is more on getting you writing and helping to build a happy and productive writing life.

How It Can Help You

The biggest way this book can help you is by taking the pressure off of writing. Each chapter has a singular idea or focus. Cameron explores these ideas on the page and gives advice on how to apply her ideas to your work. She has this way of simplifying writing and making it feel incredibly accessible. What makes this book so helpful is that Cameron doesn’t just tell you that you should use some of her techniques and approaches, she actually tells you how. The initiation tools at the end of each chapter are specific tasks or mini assignments designed to help you implement the chapter’s focus into your own writing practice. These tools can help you think about your writing differently, and maybe even unlock an area of your writing life that you’ve been struggling with.

This book can help you grow and give you a healthy, positive outlook on what it means to be a writer.

Do I Recommend It?

Clearly, I recommend this book. The first time I read it, I was swept up. Cameron’s philosophy is one that has always resonated with me. If you like writing attitude and approach you find on this blog, then I’m sure you’ll appreciate this book just as much. Julia Cameron has something for everyone, no matter where you are in your writing journey. If you’re new to writing, Cameron is the perfect motivator. If you’ve been writing for years, she can remind you why you started in the first place. This book isn’t just about how to write; it’s about living your best writing life. Early in the first chapter, Cameron says, “Writing is like breathing. I believe that.” I believe that too. It’s the core of my philosophy, and I believe it’s the core of Cameron’s too. It’s a big reason why I can’t recommend this book enough.

I hope this gives you a good idea of what to expect from The Right to Write!

You can check out previous book and product reviews here!

Now it’s your turn: Have you read this The Right to Write? If you have, did it help you? If you haven’t, do you want to? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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Writing Tools: BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott

There are tons of craft books on the shelves for writers. They can be a great investment–many are written by accomplished authors and writing teachers, and they’re cheaper than a writing course (free if you get them from the library). But with so many books to choose from, how do you know which are best for you?

To help, I’ll be periodically reviewing some of the craft books I’ve come across. I’m going to do my best to give you a good idea of what to expect from a book before you buy it. I’ll be breaking my reviews down into four sections: what this book is, what this book isn’t, how it can help you, and if I recommend it. That way you won’t just hear about if I like a book, you’ll also know how it can help you.

First up, the much-loved classic, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

(Side note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using the product links on this page, I may get a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and helps keep this site running. Thank you!)

What Bird by Bird is:

This is a book full of writerly wisdom and camaraderie. It’s broken into four sections with a series of related essays in each section that explore what it means to grow up and live as a writer.

The subtitle of the book reads, “Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” and it’s one of my favorite things about reading this book. Lamott mixes writing lessons with life lessons that are both hilarious and relatable.  She also preaches some very important writing philosophies that I adore. Her chapter on Shitty First Drafts is one of her more famous philosophies (odds are if you’ve only heard one thing about this book, it’s Shitty First Drafts), but there are so many more. She talks about the dangers of perfectionism, gives tips on developing the right mind frame, and gives tons of advice on where to look for help.

Lamott also spends a fair amount of time acknowledging and discussing the struggles of writing, which I think is a great comfort for any writer who is under the impression that they’re alone in this. This book offers support and guidance and is written from a place of honesty.

What Bird by Bird isn’t:

This book isn’t a guide to getting published. It doesn’t give career promises or guarantees. This book doesn’t have prompts or exercises. (Lamott does share some exercises she finds helpful, but at no point did I get the impression that they were the main purpose of this book.) It also isn’t a super technical craft book. As in, it doesn’t spend big chapters dedicated to breaking down character, plot, or point-of-view. Those topics are covered, but Lamott’s approach is more gentle and big-picture, as opposed to up-close and nitty-gritty.

How Bird by Bird can help you:

This book can help you if you’ve EVER struggled with any part of writing. The copyright on this book is from 1994 but it’s still seriously relevant! Lamott has tips on finding the right people to read your work, what to expect if you sign up for workshops and conferences, the importance of listening to your characters, managing perfectionism, improving each draft, and how to handle when you just can’t get your book to work. She also gives many reasons to write beyond publication and dispells a fair amount of publication myths.

It can also help you a lot if you feel like you’re alone in this whole writing endeavor. I know, I touched on this earlier, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. Personally, I’ve always been pretty lucky. I’ve always had people around me that either get writing and/or creativity. Yet, there were still sections of this book that had me think, wow, it’s not just me! I can only imagine the power this book may have if you’re someone who doesn’t have people who understand what it means to create.

Do I recommend Bird by Bird?

This book is a classic for a reason. I recommend it if you’re looking for something that expresses solidarity in writing struggles, while still be encouraging. It’s the perfect book for any writer who’s looking for someone who understands what it means to live a writing life.

I also think this would be a really good first “craft book”. Anne Lamott talks about writing and the writing life in a way that is accessible and easy to follow. I will say, I think parts of this book focused slightly more on the unfavorable aspects of the writing life than I usually care to, but those moments were rooted in an honesty of a writing experience that I think is relatable to many.

I hope this gave you a good idea of what to expect from Bird by Bird.

Now it’s your turn: Have you read Bird by Bird? If you have, did it help you? If you haven’t, do you want to? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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