Post-NaNoWriMo: Hold Your Horses!

(base image from barn images)

Post-NaNoWriMo there can be a sense of completion but don’t be fooled. That first draft is a great achievement but the novel is not done.

In “25 Things You Should Know About NaNoWriMo” Chuck Wendig makes it plain:
20. The Self-Publishing Marketplace Is Not Your Vomit Bag
Just as you should not run to agents and editors with your fetal draft, you should not instantly fling it like a booger into the marketplace. Novels, like whisky and wine, need time.”

In fact he’s also clear that
“December then becomes “National Edit Your Shit Month.” Or, if you need a month away from it, maybe you come back to it in January — but the point is, always come back to it. If you want to do this novel writing thing then you must come to terms with the fact that rewriting is part of a novel’s life-cycle. Repeat the mantra: Writing is when I make the words. Editing is when I make them not shitty.

I’m of the school of thought that it is best to take some time away from a finished product so you can come back to it with fresh eyes. A day, a week, a month, or more; the longer the work, the more important it is to get some distance. This is one of the reasons many blog posts and some fanfiction feels unfinished and rough around the edges. The onus is on publishing immediately. Do not rush your novel. By all means have deadlines. I don’t do well without deadlines. But don’t make them arbitrary dates that rush the process. Make them with forethought and plan plenty of time for editing.

Finally from Wendig: “Be advised: 50,000 words does not a novel make. It may technically count, but publishers don’t want to hear it. Even in the young adult market I’d say that most novels hover around 60,000 words.” This is comforting for a reason I’ll come to shortly.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story,” is attributed to Terry Pratchett. I think this is a lovely sentiment and it makes sense. It speaks of the joy of discovering the story and getting to know the characters and explore the world.

Here’s the thing. I won NaNoWriMo. I wrote just over 50k within 30 days. It’s huge achievement in one respect. However the novel is not finished. It feels only half-done. There are a lot of scenes I’ve planned but have not yet written, and a lot of gaps to be written to join up all the scenes I have written – just as soon as I figure out where they all go. The prose lacks elegance. Sometimes there’s a lot of dialogue and barely any description. I do not have a map of the landscape. Which of which is fine. This is me telling myself the story, finding the boundaries, setting the scene. I can edit it later but I cannot edit what I have not written.

A story begins with an idea. You need to let the idea brew and germinate. Maybe you plan out a plot or maybe you let the story wander where it will, or you find some middle path between the two. You discover the story. You let the characters show you the way through the plot. You build the world and explore the background and you sketch out a rough guide. Then you let that draft sit and brew. You step back and let it mature and then, with renewed vigour, you edit. You begin telling others the story, making sure to set the scene with great descriptions and allusions to the world it takes place in, adding all the details you only now realise. The second draft is where the magic truly begins, when you stop writing for the sake of writing (“making the words”) and start skilful editing of your novel.

NaNoWriMo is over but whether or not your first draft is complete – and kudos to you if it is! – your novel is not done. That’s how it should be. It’s all part of the process. Write and revise and repeat until you’re satisfied and then get feedback and dance the dance again until it is truly complete and ready to be sent out into the world.

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