So you made it through November, you intrepid writer, you. You survived NaNoWriMo! You made the word count goal, whether it was the official one of 50,000 words or your own. The end is in sight, even if you haven’t written THE END into your NaNoWriMo novel yet.
CONGRATULATIONS! You wrote a…
Wait, what did you write?
You wrote a first draft. Whether it’s 50k or 100k or somewhere in between, you wrote the first draft of a book. First drafts are great. They’re exhilarating, even though they can be garbage. They give us a chance to get to know our characters, our storyline. We’ve lived vicariously through their ups and downs. Made decisions they’d probably like us not to have made, but since this is romance, we’ve given them their happily ever after (or happy for now). They’ve settled down. Matured.
We love them.
That means it’s time to edit. Over the years (this was my fifth NaNoWriMo), I’ve decided on a few rules that work for me when it comes to editing my November novel.
1. If you’re not done drafting, keep going.
You’ve been in the groove, writing every day, meeting your own goals. Nothing says you can’t extend it. In fact, if one of the points of NaNoWriMo is to train ourselves to write every day, there’s no reason to stop.
If you miss the camaraderie of NaNoWriMo, surround yourself with some of the writers in your local chapter. You did join a local chapter, didn’t you? Find out who’s still writing. Make yourself a support group of fellow NaNo-ers and commit to keep going.
2. If you are done drafting, take some time off.
The temptation is great to sit down on December 1 and read through your NaNoWriMo novel as quickly as possible. What I’ve found is that when I do this—and of course I do this, everyone does, we’ve been on an editing-restricted diet and the restriction’s now lifted—I’m still too much in love with the first draft. I can’t be objective enough to see what needs to be fixed, with the exception of typos and a few flourishes regarding turn of phrase. I can’t tell where the pacing is off. I can’t see plot holes big enough to devour an entire small country. I’ve got my blinders on. No, this is perfect. It doesn’t need a thing! I’m a first draft magician!
Truthfully, none of us are first draft magicians. Even the very best among us need to chisel away at our work until it takes on its proper form.
So take a little time to step back. Give yourself space from your project. Otherwise, you won’t be able to be objective.
DO NOT QUERY. Your novel is not ready yet.
Do something else. Read. Write. Travel. Find a craft that intrigues you. Cook. Take a class. Go skydiving. Try cross-country skiing. Research agents for when your novel is ready to query.
3. … But don’t stop thinking about it.
The best inspiration tends to strike in off moments. While we’re in the shower, out for a walk, preparing a meal, cleaning the house. Keep a phone or notebook with you so you can write down your notes as they come to you. Except if you’re in the shower, you’ll probably have to hold onto the inspiration until your hands are dry.
Truthfully, your novel and its inhabitants will probably consume your thoughts for a good long while. Our characters become real to us. We’ve birthed them, schooled them, traumatized them, and in most cases made them happy again. Of course they’ll be on our minds. If you’re like me, an important plot fix will wake you up at 3:30 in the morning, just daring you to remember its brilliance come daylight.
Pro tip: Write it down immediately.
4. After your break, do an edit pass.
Go back and read. Celebrate your victory. Marvel at the gems hiding in the roughness of the first draft. Do what you denied yourself during the frenzied month of November: change your words. Satisfy yourself that you still know how to polish your work.
Then do it again, using a different format. If you draft in Scrivener, do an edit pass in Word. Put it on a tablet and read it as if the novel was published. Print it out and have a red pen by your side. Every new platform on which you read will divulge a new series of things you want to change in your story.
Important: DO NOT QUERY. Your novel is not ready yet.
5. Pick a few trusted critique partners and ask them to read your NaNoWriMo novel.
At some point, you’re going to need reader feedback. I always find this step helpful in reminding me of all the things I knew weren’t quite right, but thought I’d let slide. Critique partners will also help with pacing and blocking, characterization slips, and the dreaded tense shift among other things.
Don’t send it out too widely, though, because as soon as those CPs send it back, you will have thought of a dozen or more new ways to make the book better (if you haven’t thrown up your hands and decided to forget it, that is).
DO NOT QUERY. Your novel is not ready yet.
Besides, December is a terrible time of year to query. Your mailbox will be full of crickets and nothing else. January’s better. Any time after revisions and beta reader feedback is better.
Remember, these are the things that work for me. Your experience might be different. More than anything else, be kind to yourself. You’ve earned it.
And remember this, too: in January and February, you can officially commit to revising your novel during the NaNoWriMo lean months before camp starts. You’ll even get a badge for it on your profile. If that’s not motivation enough, I don’t know what is.
Now go forth and conquer. Remember, the world needs your stories.