National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, comes around once each year in November. In addition to helping aspiring, would-be novelists achieve their lifelong dream of writing a novel, it helps established writers find much needed community. But what do you do when NaNoWriMo2023 comes to a close? Are you done and ready to publish?
It’s worth reviewing NaNoWriMo’s objective. Writers will compete a 50,000 word book, written between November 1st and 30th. That’s 1,667 words each day for thirty days, which leaves you hardly enough time to re-write, revise and reconsider anything in the manuscript.
At the end of thirty days, you’ll have a first draft.
What experienced novelists know, that novices will likely learn in completing the project, is that there is a whole lot more to writing a novel than banging out a first draft. To come out with a publishable manuscript you need to re-write, revise, and reconsider.
With NaNoWriMo 2023 in the rearview, you should understand what a first draft is, what you can do with it, and how to go about getting those things. I’m going to go over those three R’s – re-write, revise and reconsider, and show you how to take your project to the next level.
Constructively Reconsider Your NaNoWriMo2023 Project
If you came out of the month of November with a novel length manuscript, congratulations to you. All of those writing sessions, burning out your required number of words, surely was not an easy task. Especially on Thanksgiving, when family was over, or some cold, rainy morning when staying in bed seemed like the better option. Maybe having a writing objective on Thanksgiving actually worked for you, but the point is this: writing is never simple. Even experienced novels know that.
The first step to taking that manuscript to the next level is reconsidering the story that you wrote. Let me start by saying that taking a broad, critical look doesn’t mean what you wrote isn’t good. What it means is that it is not ready for public consumption. First drafts never are. In the case of NaNoWriMo2023, at least a few of those mornings you encountered a tough session when you were merely writing to reach your word count.
What was the result? Maybe the character’s motivation got foggy. You probably wrote some scenes that now, in hindsight, feel choppy or disconnected. You committed them to paper, however, knowing you would eventually get the chance to work with them.
Now is the time to stop and really take an honest look at what you created. Ask yourself what about the story worked, what didn’t, what could be clearer. In order to take that NaNoWriMo2023 manuscript to a publishable quality, you need to pat yourself on the back for getting there, and the start of that is reconsidering the big picture choices you made.
I have a writer friend that refers to a first draft as a series of islands. Looking down from above, there is lot of disconnected territory with stretches of water between it, all of it in desperate need of a bridge to link them together in a way that makes sense.
Reconsidering your book is like looking at that map. It’s the process of getting a lay of the land and making a plan to create cohesion.
Revise Your Way To Success.
Some of the scenes and chapters that you wrote in your NaNoWriMo2023 project are going to be fine. Maybe fine with a little bit of work, tweaking of setting, enhancement of details, sharpening of dialog.
For those scenes that feel like they’re close, your mission is to revise. Revising is the process of taking an existing scene, diagnosing what works (and what doesn’t) and making small changes in order to improve the overall quality.
Experienced writers will have a sense for scenes that mostly work. They’ll read them, find the little holes, and strategize ways to make them better. In my process, I read the entire draft and allow myself to come away with big impressions. Then I take what worked and start tinkering with that.
Without going deep into the process of revision, there are a number of ways you can go. I like to read the chapter and/or scene outloud. I note the places where I can’t see what’s going on in the scene. When the dialog doesn’t sound right, flat or expository or static, I break the conversation apart so that each character voice is distinct, their motivations are clear.
Think of revision like making changes to details.
How To Re-Write Your NaNoWriMo2023 Novel
Rewriting is a more intense process than simple revision. This is what writers do with scenes that, after careful reconsideration, simply don’t work, no matter how much tweaking you do to the writing.
Far and away, the process of rewriting is the hardest on new novelists. We foolishly believe that anything we write can be salvaged through a few tweaks and alterations.
This just isn’t true though. Some scenes and/or chapters, probably a decent portion of your first draft, needs to be tossed and re-written entirely.
Maybe you’ve heard of killing your darlings? This is what writers are talking about when they say this. It’s really difficult to look at something you wrote honestly and say, no, this doesn’t work. Cutting those words out of the manuscript is hard, painful even, but it is absolutely necessary.
Writer extraordinaire Neil Gaiman says, writing the first draft is merely telling yourself the story. When it comes to getting it right, you need to make the hard choices.
I keep a file on my desktop called “the cutting room floor” using the old film editing term for the clips of scenes that don’t make the movie. In my experience, fifteen to twenty-five percent of a first draft ends up in this file. Does it hurt? Yes. Everytime I drop something in that file, I get a little sick inside. Even after writing a half-dozen novels, I still cling to the belief that everything is worthy.
I’ve had to remind myself that while those scenes are worthy, and I’m proud of them, my objective is to write the highest quality book I can. This means knowing that filler isn’t what readers want to read. They like exciting characters, in dynamic scenes, with surprising results.
Writing a first draft is tough. NaNoWriMo2023 got you over the hump of completing a manuscript. Completion isn’t the final goal for a publishable book though. It’s the first step in a bigger journey of completing a strong book that readers will enjoy and talk about.
Not everyone who completes NaNoWriMo2023 wants to go the whole way. Some finishers merely want the satisfaction of saying they did it.
If you aspire to find your audience with your NaNoWriMo2023 project, however, then comfortable with the three R’s. Reconsider. Revise. Rewrite.