Writing a novel in thirty days is quite an accomplishment. If you’re racing toward the 50,000-word count or have sat back with a “Whew! I did it!” you might be wondering where your draft should go from here.
Writing Tip for Today: When you finish your NaNoWriMo draft, what are some next steps?
Let It Sit
A great feature of NaNoWriMo is that it winds down as the holidays start gearing up. If you hit your target or wrote beyond 50,000 words, chances are that the bustle of the season will take up significant time and effort.
This is a great time to allow your draft to “cool off” until you regain some objectivity toward the writing. When we create a story, our emotions can give us myopia—that is, we get too attached to the way we drafted the words. By putting your draft on the shelf, back burner or cubby for a period (I usually recommend at least two weeks), your attachment to the writing and the story elements usually cools off too.
Set aside your draft for a period of time (anywhere from weeks to months) but please don’t stick it in a drawer and forget it. Just because your draft is a hot mess doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed. In fact, most writers benefit from making changes as they polish, revise, repolish and rewrite. Just give your baby a little breathing room.
Writing is Rewriting
The old saw, “Writing is rewriting,” is true. I like to remember Anne Lamott’s advice: “First you get it down, then you fix it up.” I’d add to that—it’s not how your writing starts out that matters, it’s how it ends up.
If the idea of rewriting your entire draft scares you, don’t worry. Rewriting can be done in many ways and you can even hire an editor if you’re too daunted. Instead of diving into chapter one, start by creating a storyboard.
Get a tri-fold presentation board and some sticky notes. Write one sentence for each scene of your story on the notes and post them in order on the board. When you look at your story from this global perspective, it should be easier to spot problems with the story itself.
Layer Upon Layer
Once you have smoothed out your story in terms of plot, proceed your revisions in layers. Tackle first the fixes to problems you spotted on the storyboard. Editors refer to these as “macro” edits, “developmental edits,” or substantive edits.” I call them Big Picture edits, where you make sure your scenes move the story forward and rise to a climax near the end of Act Two. For more help on Three Act Novel Structure go here.
I don’t think it’s efficient to fiddle with word choices or tinker with paragraphs until you’ve adjusted your Big Picture. Some writers never get past Chapter One because they keep rewriting and rewriting the same pages.
Second stage revision means tackling clunky sentences and mending plot holes; sharpening dialogue, axing long descriptions. This stage can take a while, so don’t rush it. Last, you’ll want to copy edit (check for typos, etc) to create a clean copy. NaNoWriMo is a wonderful way to dive into novel writing. I for one wouldn’t want to banish my work to a drawer or a box under the bed.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!