Chronicle Books (2004), $14.95
It's appropriate that Chris Baty's first published book has roots in National Novel Writing Month, the annual competition he founded to challenge would-be novelists to write a 50,000-word work of prose in a single month, but it's also telling that the author's debut won't be shelved alongside works of fiction. After all, the mantra behind Baty's project has always championed speed and quantity over care and quality as a way to avoid the "inner editor." Much of this fast-and-loose feel permeates the pages of No Plot? No Problem!, which Baty (a contributor to SF Weekly) penned as an inspirational companion to the contest.
The book is divided equally between a preparatory introduction to NaNoWriMo and week-to-week speed-writing tips, exercises, and pearls of wisdom from past and present participants. And while the strength of Baty's work lies in his casual tone, which is at times laugh-out-loud funny and often a delight to read, the book is a bit light on substance. Its scant 176 pages are attractively designed, but the excess of break-out boxes (including a whole page dedicated to tallying a day-by-day account of the month's word count goal) seems like a clever device to fill space. To Baty's credit, the diminutive length is justified as an intentional illustration of a 50,000-word book in the real world, but the guide might have been more useful if he'd taken a few more months to write it.