Revising After NaNoWriMo: Part 1- Evaluating Your Draft
The goal of National Novel Writing Month is simple: write 50,000 words or bust. While that task is never quite as easy as an aspiring writer could hope, it’s what to do after hitting save on November 30th at 11:59 pm (AKA revising after NaNoWriMo) that leaves many stumped. You’ve got a pile of papers in your lap and you’re left wondering what to do next.
Whether your end goal is to share your manuscript on your blog, submit it to agents, pursue the e-publishing route, or simply to share a well-written piece of writing with friends and family, revising after NaNoWriMo will bring your story to life. Revision can be a scary word. Rewriting can be even scarier. After all, not too long ago you dedicated an entire month to a big writing goal with a very aggressive deadline. A helpful roadmap can make the next steps in your writing journey all the more enjoyable (and manageable).
5 Things Every Writer Should Do After National Novel Writing Month
Take a Breath
November was hard work, and more hard work is to come, so take a moment to pat yourself on the back and take a deep breath. Even if you didn’t complete NaNoWriMo but are returning to the project, give yourself a pat on the back. Actually, start giving yourself a pat on the back every time you write because simply showing up to the page is hard. It’s a critical first step that most don’t even get to check off.
Take a moment to marvel at that big stack you wrote. YOU! Those are all your words. Hours and hours of hard work right there in front you.
Seriously, though. You’d be surprised how many times my writing students launch into a revision—novel or otherwise—without first reading what it is they’re supposed to be revising. They’ve got plenty of lingering ideas of where they can jump back in and start re-working and re-writing. I admire their enthusiasm.
The problem is that with NaNoWriMo, you’ve just spent the last thirty days in a half-awake blitzkrieg-like flurry of let’s-just-plow-through-this typing. Not to mention that many NaNoWriMo participants begin writing cold (i.e., without a preconceived story line or outline). At that time, we literary daredevils are just focused on the word count. So how can you be certain if your novel has a solid story structure or relatable characters without looking it over first? Re-reading gives you a quick and fresh overview of what’s actually on the page, not what you think you delivered.
Pro tip: Evaluating your work with minimal bias is best. I know, duh, right? But hold on, let me explain. When reading, put yourself in the role of the reader, not the writer. Yes, it can be a difficult head space to crack open, but pretend you have no prior knowledge of the story, the challenges your protagonist faces, the settings, or even what your character looks like. You’re walking into the story completely green. Let’s see what unfolds!
How Complete Is Your Novel?
Now that you’ve read through your draft, take stock of the basics of storytelling and see where you stand.
- Do you have a logical beginning, middle, and end?
- Does your main character have a clear motivation and set obstacles they must overcome to get it?
- Do your main characters have dimension and feel real?
- Have you grounded your world?
You should at least have a general idea of what’s missing—if there are any gaps in your story that need to be filled—as well as a list of what’s working and what isn’t. Make a list of the gaps and areas for improvement.
Pro tip: Don’t hyper-focus on weaknesses. Yes, while you want to be an aware and discerning editor, focusing too much on negative criticisms can slow down your writing and even promote a fear-induced writer’s block that has the potential to stall you completely. It’s much easier and more productive to embrace your draft’s strengths (and your writing strengths) at first and use those as the foundation of your storytelling. Plus, you’ll save time in later revision stages because you had a clear path to follow that worked with your weaknesses, not against them.
Now that you’ve identified your areas for improvement, your brain is probably going a mile a minute. Take some time to organize this thought flood. While many groan at the mere mention of an outline because they’re a big ol’ papery snoozefest, they are extremely helpful for post-first-draft rewriting.
Start by listing the plot points or scenes you already have. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Note cards, poster-board, and a little tape work very well for this exercise so you can easily move scenes around and insert new ones. You can also use fancy writing generation software to do this, but I’m old school.
Now, take your list of areas for improvement and see where you need to insert new scenes in order to cross off. You don’t (and shouldn’t) have to create new scenes for each point on your revision checklist, but since you only spent thirty days on your draft and with most novels clocking in between 80,000 to 100,000 words, it’s pretty safe to say that you’ve got some more chunks of writing ahead of you before you’re ready to start revising.
Set a Writing Goal
One of the reasons National Novel Writing Month is so effective is that it provides participants with a SMART goal: 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s it. It’s straightforward, simple, and you can easily determine whether or not you hit your target. So it’s logical to set yourself a similar goal based on the needs of your current draft and where you’d like to see yourself in a month or two.
As I mentioned in #3, most adult novels average 80,000 to 100,000 words. Don’t fret! It’s not all about the numbers. Literature has always been a quality over quantity game, but knowing that you have at least 30,000+ words ahead of you can help you set some deadlines and give you the runway you need to look at your draft with a critical (yet time-saving) eye.
Pro Tip: Be realistic. Sure, you spent 30 days writing every single day (probably), but remember how exhausting it was? That’s a good momentum to keep up, if you can manage it, but setting your new goal too high can burn you out, especially if you’re not normally a prolific writer.
Combined, these four steps help prepare you and your manuscript for a well-oiled writing process. But you still have more work ahead: Rewriting and Staying Motivated.
Up Next: Part II – Revising Your Novel