I is for Incomplete (You Won NaNoWriMo…Now What?)

5766889608_f092ff652e_zWinning NaNoWriMo is pretty awesome. Not because you get a prize…because you don’t. And not because you win money…because you also, don’t. No, it is awesome because you have something at the end that you did NOT have in the beginning: 50,000 words written of a novel that you could potentially do something with. As a writer, the act of creating is only topped by having a finished product of your creation.

Except…you’re not finished. Not even close.

The average novel nowadays- depending on the genre- runs on average from 70k-120k words. Which means, at best, you’re about 20k words short, and at worst you’re not even halfway done! Yikes.

And let’s not forget the editing, because, let’s face it: you spent an entire month telling yourself simply to finish and stop overthinking things, which was totally the right thing to do…but now you have a steaming pile of potential needing epic levels of editing.

Now that you’re completely demoralized, let me transition to a more uplifting thought: its not as bad as you think. And there are ways to make it easier on yourself by following a few small rules during the contest, and then having a solid plan of attack when its over.

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3 NaNoWriMo Habits That Your Future Self Will Thank You For

I’ve said it before and I will say it again (and again and again): it is never a good idea self-edit during NaNoWriMo unless you have unlimited time on your hands. Its safe to say that most of us don’t. You need to use your time wisely (i.e. writing), but that doesn’t mean you completely throw all caution to the wind.

1. Research- If you’re even remotely a planner, try and do as much of your research before you start writing as you can. Continuity editing is a bitch, but its even worse when you realize you completely messed up the topic because you didn’t understand it even remotely. Take the important points of your research (names, dates, places, etc) and throw it into a cheat sheet of sorts, so id you need to make reference to it during the writing process, you can do it quickly.

2. Other Cheat Sheets- Quickly checking something is not the same thing as editing. Same as with your research, make a cheat sheet of any fact-checking items that you might need. As a general rule, if you spend more than a few seconds looking up something, its too much time. Build your cheat sheets accordingly.

3. Make Notes- Just because self-editing is a “no no” doesn’t mean you should forget all the stuff you’re unhappy with. In fact- one of the benefits of editing as you go HAS to be the fact that you actually remember what you don’t like and why. So instead of staring at the screen for ten minutes trying to make that sentence flow better, keep a note, either in-line or in a separate doc, that gives a brief explanation of what you didn’t like. This is also a great way to keep track of issues with the storyline. For example: “Remember to go back and further flesh out why X character does not like Y character. Not believable.” Just because those things are obvious to you as you’re writing them, doesn’t mean they will be when you come back to it a few months later. Having a list of problems to tackle makes editing simpler.

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Life After NaNoWriMo- 8 Step Editing Process

So, you’re finished. You’ve written 50,000 words (or whatever you ended with). Most people will tell you to lock it up and throw away the key, but I disagree. Sort of.

1. Do one round of edits before you shelve it. This is the one and only time that your project will be this fresh for you. Use it to your advantage! Go through and do minor edits but also make more notes like you did during the session. Note down continuity or story issues, or areas of the characters or stories you want to flesh out more. Do it now while you remember that it bothered you. You’ll be glad you did.

2. Now shelve it. For how long to shelve it is a fairly subjective topic…it depends on your personal workload, for one, and when you can fit it in. But I’d advise waiting at least a month so that your mind isn’t swirling with it anymore. Longer may or may not be better.

3. Read through all of your notes. Read them before starting on your re-read, so your mind is trained to look for the errors it noticed in the past.

4. Do a complete re-read. Re-read the entire thing. You can make some minor edits if it pleases you, but what you’re looking for with this round is story/continuity issues. You’re also scouting opportunities to turn that 50k words into something more substantial. Keep adding to your notes.

5. Reverse Engineer an Outline! Okay, I know some of you “pantsers” will presumptively hate this part, but hear me out. The worst part of outlining is trying to figure things out before you start but in this case, most of it is sort of “done” because you will start by outlining what you’ve already written! Which is easy because its summarizing rather than creating. Once you have that done, you can use your notes to go in and fill in the blanks to start building out the remainder of your story. Do that.

6. Start rewrites. I recommend doing this before any major editing, because the editing is such a beasttastic (that’s a word, right?) task that you should save it until you have a first draft. When you do your rewriting, I recommend holding yourself to daily wordcount goals, just as you did during NaNo. Why? Because if you don’t, it will take months instead of weeks. And you want to get to the point of having a first draft so you have time to edit, polish, etc before you go to the publishing steps. Preferably before the next round of NaNoWriMo, which will sneak up on you like a bad dinner atfunny-pictures-cat-threatens-to-edit-your-face Taco Bell.

7. Once you have the book written to where you feel its an actual first draft, you can start the editing process. The first thing I would do is go through your continuity notes and make sure you addressed all of the items on there. If not, address them. If so, move into copy editing and prepare for some grueling sessions staring at the screen.

8. Rinse repeat this last step (hint: you might need do to this quite a few times) until you have what you feel is a respectable second draft, ready to share with others for feedback and next steps.

You’re going to want to rely on more than just your own eyes for edits if you plan to publish, but following the above steps will at least get you to where you have a product you can start putting the finishing touches on.

Of course, this is just my advice. Anyone else have thoughts to share on their post-NaNo rituals?

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20 thoughts on “I is for Incomplete (You Won NaNoWriMo…Now What?)

  1. As my only post-Nano ritual has been to curl into the fetal position and cry, I don’t have any words of wisdom on that front. But I did take away two things from today’s post:

    1. The first image. Before I read any of the actual text, I saved that picture and made it my netbook’s background. That is going to be my “I’ma kick ass for the rest of April!”

    2. Jotting down notes as you go. I love Scrivener for this!

    1. Yes, I love that image! I have no idea where its been all my life, but once I found it, it was like: “Yes. Yes, this is The One.”

      And I completely forgot to mention Scrivener, but that’s an excellent point…I love the note capabilities too!

  2. Sarah, thank yo so much for writing this. I know that there are still many days left of NaNo but I like to be prepared in advance on what I am going to do on a day to day basis. Now I feel a little less stressed about what to do after. How to approach my writing.

    1. I’m so glad to hear it! I know advice doesn’t always work for everyone, but as I sit and edit some of my old NaNo pieces, these are the things that stood out to me as things I would do differently going forward.

      1. I like how you put it step by step and will be using it after this month is over and my semester is over. And I’ll see which parts work for me or if I add anything to your list.

    1. There is always hope! I know there are a lot of writers who will say that sometimes you just have to let go of something…but I disagree. I think if you’ve put enough effort into something, its always worth saving and there’s always a way. Then again, I am stubborn 🙂

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