Since the start of NaNoWriMo in 1999, the writing community faces a daunting but rewarding annual challenge. From Day 1 of November, participants spring to reach a specific word count in the span of one month. All over the world, writers pour word after word onto page after page in hopes of gaining stickers and, hopefully, a winning status.
Some have their act together and manage to write well-plotted first drafts. But the rest of us – most of us, probably – write to get words down and try to make sense of them later. This means we have wandering plots that may not make sense and characters who go against their personalities.
And that’s okay. The month-long sprint is all about having fun and dedicating extra time to honing your writing. But once you hit the word-count mark and the month comes to a close, you’re left with 50,000 words or more of disconnected plot points. What happens next?
Step 1: Do nothing
You just spent a month writing 50,000 words (more or less). That is a lot of work! Afterwards, you are way too close to your project to see it clearly and you could be facing burnout on top of that.
Rest. If you want to look at your novel with a clear head and fresh eyes, you have to give yourself a break.
You don’t have to stop writing altogether. Keep dabbling in side projects and writing down your ideas as they form. But don’t return to your November project until you’ve taken a proper breather. Try blocking out a two-week period. After that, return to your novel and see where it is at. The key is to have the discipline to actually return or before you know it, you’ve given up on your novel.
Step 2: Read through and plan your attack
Now that you can see your novel with a more critical, practical eye, you are ready to see scenes, characters, and dialogue for what they are. It’s time to read your work. This may be uncomfortable, but it’s vital to understand what is happening and what needs work in your project.
During this step, try not to write additional scenes. You will want to. But this step is for taking notes and asking yourself difficult questions. Use a word processor that you can leave notes on or print out your manuscript and go over it with a red pen.
Remember: don’t be too hard on yourself. Try to approach your novel with a positive mindset! Reading through and critiquing your work isn’t about being harsh with yourself – it’s about believing in your ability to turn your novel into the best version it can be.
Step 2.5: Send to a friend (if you’re ready)
At this point, it still may not be time to make your edits — it’s all about what you think works for you. If you don’t mind others seeing your work as it stands, sending your draft to a trusted friend or two can help you with your process.
This will allow you to receive valuable feedback on your novel. Your friends may pick up on plot holes you missed or give you a new perspective about your characters and how they interact. Additionally, your friends can give you a boost of encouragement. This can go a long way towards helping you see your project all the way to the end – especially if you were feeling down after critiquing your own work.
The main thing to remember in this step is to be humble enough to receive suggestions, but confident enough to take them with a grain of salt. If your friends are telling you to take your novel in one direction, but your gut is telling you to take it in another, you should always go with your gut!
Step 3: Rewrite
Now that you know what needs fixing, it’s time for the hardest step: rewriting your novel. You may wonder if this step is necessary. You’ve already put so much into this project. But after the mad dash of writing in November, your project is in a rough shape. Rewriting will allow you to take the content that is already there and thoughtfully rework it into a more comprehensible story.
Your first draft was about discovery: discovering your characters and getting the story burning inside of you down on paper. Subsequent drafts are about communication: how to best communicate that story to a broader audience. Whether you wrote your first draft in a month or not, you’ll probably go through multiple drafts before you’re satisfied with your work. Which brings us to the next step:
Step 4: Wash, rinse, and repeat
Enough said. Multiple drafts are perfectly normal – so normal, in fact, that they’re a good thing. You can also repeat step Two-and-a-Half multiple times within this step. The more feedback, the better.
Step 5: To query or self-publish?
Now that you’ve written multiple drafts and you finally feel satisfied with your novel as it is, it’s time for the biggest step of all: working towards publication. These days, there are two routes for publication: traditional publishing and self publishing.
For traditional publishing, now’s the time to start querying literary agents. Some publishing houses will take unsolicited manuscripts from authors who are working independently, but those are fewer and farther between. Your best bet is to submit your novel (with a well-written and polished query letter) to agents. If an agent accepts your manuscript, he or she will then submit it to publishers on your behalf. Then, if your book gets published, your agent will receive a portion of the profits.
Or, if you’re more of a lone wolf, or you just don’t want to deal with publishing houses, you can self-publish your work. Just do your research and decide which platform best fits your needs. Also keep in mind that, if you go the self-publication route, you will be responsible for all or your own advertising. Unless you choose a service to help you out, this means that you should think about building your social media presence to spread word about your novel.
Next Chapters offers a number of services to help you through your writing process – whether you need help identifying strengths and weakness in your manuscript, working through the editing process, getting your novel ready for print, or marketing your work, we’re here to support you and make your dream of becoming a published author come true.