Editor’s Note: Each year, nearly 500,000 writers all over the world dedicate themselves to completing NaNoWriMo, a month-long sprint to write 50,000 words. This year, author and first-time participant Lou Paduano will document his experience This is the fourth installment of his journey. Catch the first post, second post and third post in this series.
We made it! Thirty days of intense writing…and we have finally reached the other side of National Novel Writing Month. There can be quite a few emotions cropping up from such an experience.
The feelings span the gamut, and I know – you were hoping it was all over, that your perfect draft was all set for the printer, ready to set the world on fire.
Let me know when you wake up. I can wait.
Okay, now that you’ve made it back to reality, let’s talk.
Because there’s one thing you shouldn’t feel: fear over what comes next.
Now that #NaNoWriMo has come to a close, there are a few immediate steps available to take your draft to the next level.
1. Walk away from your manuscript (for a little while)
This is an important first step to creating a better final product.
For a month (probably longer in the back of your mind) you’ve been wrestling to put together a fully formed draft. It may be fiction or nonfiction, a novel or a series of short stories, or even blogs.
Whatever your project, put it away for a time. Stick it in a drawer and turn your attention to other things. Figure out your next project. Revise an old story or three. Maybe it’s time to reply to the 500 emails that have piled up over the course of NaNoWriMo or send the belated birthday wishes to friends and family that no longer recognize you.
Or, dare I say it? Sit back and catch up on November sweeps (if that’s still a thing).
No matter how you do it, put the draft away both physically and mentally so you can come back to it with fresh eyes.
2. Self-edit your work
Now that some time has passed (hopefully not in terms of years, but weeks), you’re ready to take an objective view of your labor-intensive draft.
To start, print it out. I am very much of the Joanna Penn method of self-editing, including putting the draft into a three-ring binder and making notes along the margins throughout.
For the first readthrough, note EVERYTHING: big and small issues, from grammar to logic problems.
From there, I make two passes for the first revision. On the initial pass, fix the small issues: punctuation, grammar, incorrect phrasing. Tackle the easily handled items first to knock them out of the way.
While you’re fixing these smaller problems, highlight the larger issues found during your readthrough. Making a separate list to follow helps organize your thoughts, and gives you a nice checklist to mark off as you go. (I love checklists!)
The second pass needs to hit all the major problem areas found: logic issues, missed opportunities for character moments and any weak points found in the draft.
This might take a while, and it should. These are critical areas that need well-thought-out responses to each and every issue located. Take your time.
Then it’s time for a second full reading.
During this pass, ask questions. Look at your draft as your reader would. What will they ask? Are there plausibility issues with certain decisions? Question decisions you’ve made from the start. Should the antagonist of the piece be hidden until a later moment or should they be revealed from the start? Should the chapter end on a question or a specific action? Question everything.
Then, answer them.
One by one, knock them off your list. Feel free to stand by your decision or make a change. Either way, support your choice 100 percent. Any doubt on your part means there is still an issue with that plot point and it needs to be revisited.
For the third and final read through (for now, anyway) tighten up the draft. Focus on flow, language and grammar, the mechanics of the piece.
3. Send your draft to beta readers
What’s even better than letting web-based products assist you in the editing process? Humans, of course.
With three passes out of the way, it is once again time to get your draft out of sight.
Beta readers are a great way to get some early feedback on your manuscript and can help strengthen the final product.
To better utilize your close-knit group of beta readers, give them specific questions to answer. They can be very plot oriented, bound to a single event within the draft or they could be broad questions asking if a character’s arc made sense or was too abrupt a change for such a complex situation.
Giving your readers something to bounce off of when giving feedback can help them understand what you’re looking for from them. It can also open the door for their thoughts on other issues, things you never even considered during your many rounds of self-editing.
Don’t get upset to find you never caught all of your spelling errors and other people had to track them down on your behalf. This will always happen and it will always aggravate you to no end.
Taking the advice and feedback from your beta readers, do one final pass of your draft. You are well on your way to getting your work out into the world.
There are still quite a few steps before that wonderful experience (hiring a professional editor, having your perfect cover designed, query letters depending on what route you’re looking to take for your manuscript), but these are the first and most vital to creating a tightly polished draft.
So rest up, there’s still more work to do. #NaNoWriMo might be one month, but us writers are in it for the long haul.
Week four results
The final week was very different than the rest of the month. I was in reach of my goal right from the start, but didn’t want to stretch it out for the whole week.
Instead, I did something completely insane. I kept writing.
- Word Count – 4,726
- Notes – THE LAST BABYSITTER DAY. I definitely wanted to power through as many chapters as possible with the holiday weekend coming up. All four chapters were part of the same sequence and ended up flowing nicely together. A lot of jumping between characters in terms of perspective but I think it will work with some tightening up.
- Word Count – 1,715
- Notes – Finished The Medusa Coin today!! Very excited to put the final pieces together on this draft. Can’t believe it is done. And just shy of my word count goal of 85,000.
- Word Count – 0
- Notes – A Happy Thanksgiving holiday reward earned! Felt very strange not retreating to the basement for some drafting. Very strange.
November 25 – 26
- Word Count – 1,518
- Notes – WHAT? But Lou, you finished. What are you doing? I’m still riding the high of finishing The Medusa Coin early and felt like I should just keep going. I accidentally outlined my next project last week, a short story collection in the “Greystone” series, and jumped right in with a finished plot breakdown for the first story in the collection called Trustfall.
November 27 – 30
- Word Count – 4,990
- Notes – Spent the final weekend of the month sketching out the dialogue for Trustfall. Once I had everything handwritten, I took it and melded it with the plot breakdown to stage each scene into a nice script level draft.
Did you hit your goal this year? Ready to take the next step with your draft? Tell me in the comments below.