No Plot? No Problem!

I bought this book by the guy who started the National Novel Writing Month, an annual project in November to encourage people who want to write a book to produce a first draft in just one month. A 50,000 word first draft, that’s the same length as books like Brave, New World, Fahrenheit 451, or Lord of the Flies.

In a spurt of inspiration, I bought the book a few months ago because I liked the playful writing style and the title: who wouldn’t identify with that, as a writer? No plot? No problem! I’m in.

But reading halfway in, it wasn’t exactly telling me how to write, which is what I was looking for, which is ridiculous when you think about it. No, instead it was more the event surrounding the first draft, the psychology of committing yourself to doing it, of making the commitment public, and then hunkering down and just doing it.

So why is it harder for writers to write than most normal people? Is it that writers fabricate this illusion that writing is harder than it really is? 50,000 words sounds like a lot, but in just 16 installments, I am halfway there today. Like any game to lose weight or count your steps on a FitBit, measuring progress with numbers can really motivate. I’ve started writing my word count on our kitchen calendar every day, like an odometer reading, and today I reached 25,052.

Unemployed since December, I had a lot of goals for this timeframe. Like getting closer to my dog, learning to speak German, climbing/hiking again, reconnecting with my family, launching a new freelance career for myself, plotting the logistics to relocate to Europe for a year, and writing a manuscript.

I am really proud to say that despite the audaciousness of this list, I am going to complete a first draft of my memoir, because for however hard it is to produce something good, it’s not that hard to produce a first draft. And you don’t produce something good without this necessary, albeit painful-to-read first step.

What’s killed my writing in the past is going back and reading it. Which is why this time, I’m barreling forward to the end, to a 50,000 word goal that will be roughly 90 pages on 8.5 x 11″ when it’s printed, and once it is I will sit back and read it with a pen, and likely keep about 5% of it, then start over.

It’s similar to how I write blog posts or poems, often drafted with pen and paper on a walk, with some notes or ideas, transferred to the laptop, reviewed and reworked, then published. The publishing part’s easier in the digital world, but I’m not going there.

Because at the end of the day, after all the romantic bullshit I’ve rolled in about writing and art and self-realization and so forth, writing has a physical routine to it that requires you develop a method that works for you: for me, it’s about not letting myself get in the way, to keep the rabbits from getting under the fence and destroying everything I’ve planted, to be out there with a shovel chasing the rabbits away and re-secure the border. The rabbits, unfortunately, are in my head.

The memoir is, for nothing else, therapy. I sit here cold every morning and work up scenes from the last 20 years and dramatize them. I signed a lot of agreements when I left my job that I wouldn’t write about it, and I bit my lip when I did that, but I’m not going to think about that now. I’ve just got half of a first draft, which isn’t going to change the world, not yet.

Thank you for being a very necessary part of my fantasy, and enjoy your weekend.

They call it scrap paper for a reason

They call it scrap paper for a reason

About pinklightsabre

William Pearse publishes memoir, travel journals, poetry and prose, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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35 Responses to No Plot? No Problem!

  1. Ned's Blog says:

    I think you’ve found the most important secret to writing: knowing yourself and the kind of routine you need. I used to write everything by hand. Reams of stuff. Until I realized my handwriting is so bad that I had to hire a doctor to translate. I’ve been writing on my iPad for a few years now and it has become an integral part of my writing process. I’m always fascinated by the different approach to writing each of us takes. Yours is no exception. Thanks for sharing 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • pinklightsabre says:

      Good morning Ned, and how about this divine weather we’re having here? Hope if you are socked-in with fog there it’s at least burning through.

      Yes, thanks for your comment: I have a writer-friend who, after getting his first book published, had this kind of far-off glassy look when he said “He’d figured out how to do it,” and I envied him for that…still a way’s away myself, but getting closer. Funny, you had to hire a doctor to translate your handwriting. It’s sad to see it deteriorate and especially hard when I’m in a trance and my eyes roll back in my head and my jaw goes slack and I start trembling. Call the exorcist, get him in here, there’s green shit all over the wallpaper.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ned's Blog says:

        I have to say, I always get a certian amount of pleasure when we have a sunny morning here on the Oregon coast — mostly because I know it means the city of Eugene is getting our fog and/or clouds.

        And my handwriting hasn’t deteriorated — it has always looked like S#%t…

        I will keep the exorcist on speed dial for you, just in case 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. fightalone1 says:

    I am also reading blogs and novels just because of i can become a good writer. I inspired a lot from you. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Like

    • pinklightsabre says:

      Oh my friend thank you and keep going! I get so much from the great people I read, the living, the dead, and all of us in between. Best to you in your pursuits and don’t let anyone get in your way, especially you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tish Farrell says:

    Good on you for working out a strategy and sticking to it. I’m an appalling re-reader, and not a barrelling-on sort of writer. I can see all the pros of a first draft. It gives you an armature to work with – so that even if, in the end, you dump most of what you started with, you’ve still got a framework, an itinerary, worked out what is needed and what is not, covered all the necessary ground. The other thing it helps sort out is the ‘what the book is about’ from ‘what the book is’. It’s easy to get bogged down in the former, when you really meant to write the latter. Keep going!

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      I’m so happy to hear this from you Tish — thanks. I really don’t know what I’m doing but somehow you made it sound sensible. Ah, thank you ma’am I think I’ll have another. That “armature” up there, or whatever’s it called. :Happy face here:

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Head-rabbits. Such destructive pests!

    I’ve always found that slow and steady wins the race, though any writer should leave a little room for bursts of manic inspiration. And if therapy is part of the process, all the better. Cheaper than a shrink, right?

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      Yes Kevin – exactly my thinking, at least it’s free therapy and self-led, a bit empowering sloughing stuff off whether it’s worth looking at or not, it’s off. Cheers to you and the first of May.

      Like

  5. rossmurray1 says:

    I hear a lot about destroying first drafts or ripping them to shreds, starting over. Mine has stood fairly intact, I think because I had it structured out in my head first, more or less. A few surprises happened along the way but I knew where I wanted to end up. In fact, not wanting to tear it apart makes me suspect I’ve done something wrong, or I’m blind to the faults. But my manuscript is more of an “entertainment” than “literature,” so perhaps that’s why. My point is: there’s no magic formula to any of this, alas.
    Power through, my friend.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      Ah, I thought of a post you put up last year when I wrote this, when you were clearly grooving on the wonder of the draft-creating with analogies to stuff in bloom, and this wacky stuff popping up you couldn’t imagine (until you did). So thanks for being an inspiration just by being there, and sharing your encouragement — means a lot. Especially after about five hours of focused, deep-cleaning, a bit of Pine Sol huffing and now an unusual foot-cramp. But Led Zeppelin on my garage speakers, with the bays open, it’s just majestic. No other word for it. I’m sort of blissed out here with my beer and my dog and now my laptop, and you. “The Wanton Song.” Best, – Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As far as routines go, I’m an in the morning kind of guy. If my brain has too much stimulation I loose my will to write that day. I can jot down ideas and think about writing during the day, but since I do almost all my scribbling on the computer these days, I have to wait until it is quiet and my brain is dulled by sleep.

    I have also found that word counts are good motivation for me, when I drift away from blog writing and do my careful writing, I can usually get 1500 a day which is about all I can take. Those people writing 5,000 words a day are crazy…I don’t like them.

    Keep plugging away and good luck.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      Me too Jon: in the morning, and 1500 words, I’m good. M-F. Saturdays and Sundays off. (More or less.) I was inspired by Seth Godin in a recent post of his saying just allow yourself the freedom to do your creative work when you’re most creative. Easy when you’re not working, so there you go. Thanks for the good luck, I’ll take anything I can get. Not above sacred chants and burning incense either.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Dina Honour says:

    Don’t sell your 50K short. It’s a lot. And no, it’s NOT easy to produce a first draft ;-). I mean, it’s not even easy to produce a crap 1st draft! I did NaNoWriMo in November and it was a huge help to me. I didn’t get a first draft out of it, but I got a lot out of it and a lot of words out of it–a surprising amount of which I’ve ended up keeping in one way or another. I was talking to an artist friend of mine the other day who was talking about her drawings, of which she can produce several a day, or one every few days, and I was wondering if there was anything else which takes as long as a BOOK to create and yet it always seems to be the thing which everyone thinks they can do. All this is my long winded way of saying: don’t sell yourself short. Keep using your word count or whatever is motivating you. Go forth and write. It’ll be phenomenal.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      I love how you capitalize BOOK. It feels all caps. Thanks Dina for the encouragement; I know you’ve been there so I’m glad you shared your thoughts with me and the motivation. We writers are such sometimes frail and sometimes mighty flake-a-zoids. At least I feel that way…but good fiber in us flakes methinks. I shouldn’t prematurely celebrate: there’s a mountaineering saying that even when you get to the summit, you’re only halfway there — and most accidents happen coming down. I do appreciate the encouragement so thanks for taking the time to put it down. – Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  8. walt walker says:

    Love hearing about writers’ processes. That’s always very interesting to me, so thanks for sharing, Mr. Sabre. I can relate to what you’re saying about how rereading kills the writing. I’m very guilty of not just going back and rereading but editing and cutting and pasting and editing some more to where I have several thousand well polished words that end abruptly with no where else to go. Silly, that. Best to keep on truckin. So, keep on truckin, I say. Also, I think I see your sock.

    Like

    • pinklightsabre says:

      OK you’re going to make me look you jerk: my sock? WTF? Is there a sock in my photo on my post or is sock like some metaphysical thing or Cockney, or what? I am glad you can relate and to hear your take on your technique. I just decided today I want to write like Robert Plant sings, period. That’s my goal: soul. I know I have one, I keep rooting around in my SOCK trying to get a hold of it. Jerky-boy.

      Like

      • walt walker says:

        That’s a good goal – to write like RP sings. I like that. I am quite certain you have a soul, too, I see it in your writing. I don’t think it’s located in the sock, though. I keep mine in an empty whiskey bottle. I think I would like to write like Jimmy Page plays the guitar. But the acoustic, not the electric. I like the way he plays the electric, kind of raw and sloppy, but I think his acoustic stuff is magnificent and beautiful. His style is completely his own.

        Like

      • pinklightsabre says:

        I like that comment. More when I’m not confined by this puppet keyboard phone thing. Raw and sloppy me likes.

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      • pinklightsabre says:

        Acoustic on “Friends.” Dig it!

        Liked by 1 person

      • walt walker says:

        “Tangerine” and “That’s the Way” we’re my favorite songs to be depressed to post-break up in junior high.

        Like

      • pinklightsabre says:

        Naturally, like it. Thanks for sharing. They just kept blooming different heads didn’t they?

        Like

  9. amcmulin914 says:

    I really enjoyed No Plot No Problem. Reading about writing is strangely therapeutic activity I have found. The more you read about writers and the writing process the more you fall in love with the whole thing. Reading other writers talk about writing is like reading other anthropologists general about their time in the bush. Writing is a super strange exploratory experience and I think that is the fun of it. It really takes a lot of the pressure off when you just commit and let the process take over. The part about the non disclosure agreements or whatever with your past just is very intriguing too, makes me wonder that books is about. Good luck.

    Like

  10. Elyse says:

    God for you! I am impressed. I tried one November, but the pressure was too much — I have enough of that in my job. But I will find my magic sooner or later.

    Like

  11. A rabbit took the other sock. But don’t chase him, just concentrate……keep on cranking out the words.

    Like

  12. byebyebeer says:

    Like the idea of tracking word count on a calendar. And while I normally type posts on a laptop and hit publish, lately I’ve been thinking about using my lunch hour to go somewhere on jot things in a notebook, maybe do a rough rough first draft. So this was really good to read. Ambitious list, by the way. And interesting about agreements not to write about your job…it reminded me of what anne lamott writes about disguising people in bird by bird.

    Like

    • pinklightsabre says:

      Glad to hear how you’re using your lunch hour now Kristen, that’s good. There’s something about hand-writing that’s different, of course. I don’t know exactly what, but it helps me access my brain differently, through the physical act of hand-writing. It’s like a warm up for when I type. It’s funny on the Anne Lamott book: I really loved that book but now I can’t remember it. I should go back to it. You and Mark both (from Exile on Pain Street) referred to it, thanks for that. Like many, I think I have about three books I’m reading now though! Have a great week.

      Like

  13. You probably already know this but Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott and On Writing by Stephen King (!?) are pretty good reads. You might find some inspiration there.

    I brutalize my blog posts. I continue to edit (usually shorten), long after they’re stale and no longer being read. I consider it good exercise.

    Nice garden-eating-rabbit metaphor. I click my fingers at that one.

    Like

    • pinklightsabre says:

      Thank you Mark — yes, those are good books. I especially liked King’s. I think that’s the one where he talks about his accident too, and getting hit by that weird old guy, then thrown in a ditch or something. Did you ever read Ray Bradbury’s ‘Zen and the Art of Writing?’ I liked that one too. I also have one by Lawrence Block going now, but not sure I’ll finish it. That’s cool you go back and edit your posts after you’ve published them, interesting. Your writing always reads so crisp to me, I’m never disappointed. I think that takes a lot of work to read like that, so kudos to you my friend.

      Like

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