Last Tuesday there was a collective sigh from writers all over the world. NaNoWriMo had come to an end and most of us survived—even if we were presenting with symptoms of zombification.
I know not everyone reached the 50,000 word mark, but that’s ok because the most important thing is you began. Facing the blank page is always the toughest part.
As I said in my NaNoWriMo survival guide, the first things to do when you complete a NaNo are:
- Celebrate. Crack open the bubbly or if you’re like me a block of chocolate (incidentally chocolate is the cure for all zombie related illness). Even if you didn’t get to 50,000 words congratulate yourself and be happy you began.
- Don’t send your manuscript out yet!This is just your first draft and it’s going to be the next phase, the editing phase which will make your writing good.
- Most importantly – keep writing! Perhaps not on the same scale as during NaNo, but keep writing most days at least. They say it takes 30 days to create a new habit so don’t throw all your hard work away! And if you didn’t finish in the month of November then don’t sweat it. Just keep going until you get to the end.
So what now?
Stage one – discover what you learnt from your experience
Some lessons you may have learnt from NaNo include:
- To just let go and freewrite whether you planned your story ahead of time and freewrote planned scenes or just flew by the seat of your pants and made things up as you went along.
- To accept your first draft is not going to be perfect and not to expect to produce the opening lines to War and Peace the first time you sit down to write.
- How to create a writing habit.
- Time management skills so you can fit in writing no matter what else is going on in your life.
- Gives you a taste of what it’s like to be a professional writer with deadlines and expectations.
- Gives you an idea about what you are capable of as a writer.
- Allows you to explore your writing quirks and eccentricities—whether you like writing lying down, in the bath or if like T.S Eliot you like to tint your skin with green powder to make you look cadaverous.
- Helps you set realistic writing goals for the coming year.
- To find out what works and what doesn’t e.g. you might have realised by attending a NaNo write in that you work best in an environment with other people around or you may have found short writing sprints didn’t work as well for you as a longer freewriting period.
Stage two – look at the big picture before editing
Before editing it’s good to step away from your work for a while so you can come back to it later with fresh eyes. I’ve talked before about this first draft being like a compost heap—that a lot of what you produce on the first attempt will be unusable but once you’ve left it to stew you’ll find some amazing seedlings you won’t believe have come from within you. You can then take these seedlings and nurture them into something great.
But while it’s fresh in your mind it’s also a good time to look at the big picture. You can begin writing down your immediate thoughts about your work without having to reread it and then see how these compare when you start the editing process.
Some things to think about at this stage are:
- Are there any big plot holes?
- Do you feel you need to develop characters more?
- Do you feel the characters had sufficient motivation for their actions?
- Did you get a feel for the character arc?
- Did you begin the story in the right place?
- Did you feel any parts of the story were slow during the writing process?
- Do you think you upped the stakes for the characters constantly?
- Are there any themes you think you covered that you could make more of?
Stage 3 – Start the revision and editing process
Once you’ve let your work stew and have gained distance from the plot and your characters you can start digging in and making changes.
But where to start?
Basically this stage is all about fleshing out your story, or adding the muscle. It’s the best time to work on themes, figure out how you can add depth, increase the tension on every page and make sure your characters goals, motivations, and indeed characterisation is clear. Here you should also consider things like voice, check what tense you’re writing in, take into consideration your use of language and whether you have used all the senses in your writing.
After that’s done it’s good to do a scene by scene analysis. I like to go through my work, name each scene, give a brief description of what happens in it and then ask myself how it adds to the story. Even if it’s the best scene ever written, if it doesn’t add something to the plot then it has to go. While all stages in editing are important, this is one of the most essential as you don’t want to start beautifying something if it’s going to get cut in the end.
Once this is done you can get down into the nitty gritty. Word choice and embellishment, making sure your readers can really feel what’s happening, getting them lost in your story and your characters. If it can’t move you then it won’t touch them.
Next it’s time to get your trusted readers to give you feedback before you finish your edits and get your work ready for the world.
To find out more about editing a draft check out author Wanda Wiltshire’s post about why editing a draft is like cooking a baby.
Did you enjoy the process of NaNo WriMo? What techniques have worked for you to get your NaNo into shape? Let me know in the comments.