National Novel Writing Month—aka #NaNoWriMo—is almost over! If, like me, you took part in the yearly sprint to create a draft of a whole novel during the thirty days of November, you’re probably exhausted. And with good reason! Whether your goal was 5K or 50K words, you’ve been working hard to achieve it. And, whether you actually met your goal or not—I didn’t—you deserve to congratulate yourself for doing the work you accomplished! So, hey. Take some time to feel good about yourself! Writing is hard work!
But…when you’re done patting yourself on the back, it’s time to ask, “Now what?”
The answer to that question will vary wildly depending on what your goal was, how close you got to achieving it, and what your plan for your book is. But here are a few tips that I can offer you, as a published author, an editor, a publisher, and a writing coach:
- Now, finish your draft if you haven’t!
#NaNoWriMo’s standard goal is 50,000 words in a month. That’s…a lot of words. Approximately 1,667 per day, if you write every single day of the month. If you’re not able to do that, your daily word could goes way up. And, well, that’s just not possible for some of us. And by us, I mean myself included. I wrote about 40K of my 50K goal—not bad! But I still have quite a way to go to the completion of my first draft. And, honestly? I’m pretty sure that even if I had reached my 50K goal—that still wouldn’t have been a complete draft.
The point being: It’s totally, completely, utterly fine if you didn’t finish your draft during #NaNoWriMo. And just because November is over doesn’t mean it’s time to give up on your book! Get that draft finished, babies!
But don’t force yourself to do it at the same breakneck speed you’ve been writing at for #NaNoWriMo! December can be a high-stress time full of work and family responsibilities leading up to the winter holidays, so if you need to take a break or work more slowly, do what works for you! The only rule is: Don’t give up on your book! It deserves a finished first draft! So come up with a plan to give your book what it deserves, whether that means finishing the draft next week or next year.
- Edit your draft.
#NaNoWriMo is a mad dash to meet your word goal. Most of us made concerted efforts not to hit the backspace or to edit as we went, because there just isn’t time for any of that when you’re trying to make it across the finish line. So, basically, once your sprint is over, you have to go back and do a heck of a lot of cleaning up.
As the author of a masterpiece in the making, it’s on you to give your work a serious going over. And not just for typos! Forward momentum is great when you’re trying to win a race, but when you’re racing at top speed, you can miss a lot of the important stuff you passed along the way. So go through your draft and fix that baby up with a multi-purpose comb. You need to be on the lookout for plot holes, pacing issues, weak paragraphs, nonsequiturs, spelling errors, grammar and punctuation issues, character development problems…I mean, like, everything.
And, let me be clear. You need to edit your own first draft, dearest. Now.
Look, you’re the one with the vision here. And your first draft is a collection of your tentative steps toward the realization of that vision. But, if we’re being honest (and we are, right?), most first drafts are shit. That’s fine. That’s how they’re supposed to be. Unless you’re Stephen King and you write like five books a year and have done so for decades, your first draft is probably going to be a cringe fest. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want other people cringing over my work. I want them sighing with pleasure. So I’ve got to do the cringing myself…by editing my own damn first draft.
- Don’t hire an editor. Let other people read it first.
In my experience, a lot of first-time (and plenty of more-time) authors want to hand their work off to an editor the moment they finish their first round of edits. But, sorry folks, now is not the time for an editor. Again, unless you’re a super-duper pro at churning out several novels a year, chances are that your first editorial pass didn’t catch nearly as much as you think it did. The hard truth is that most of us have blind spots about our own work. That means that, no matter how many passes through your own text you do, there are just going to be some things you literally can’t see.
The best way to fix this is to hand your second draft over to a few trusted compatriots. Friends and family are a great place to start, if you have people who are interested in helping—as long as you ask them for a critical, analytical eye on important stuff like character development, plot holes, untied loose ends, etc. Sometimes the people we love will be so excited for us that they’ll give us glowing reviews, even if the draft doesn’t exactly merit them just yet. So make sure you’re clear with your first circle of readers that you need constructive criticism to make your book better.
After your friends-and-family round, you may want to do more edits. Or you may decide to go directly to beta readers for more help. These are basically a larger, more extended circle of readers who aren’t expecting a finished book and who know you need input on whether your draft is working or not. These can be friends of friends or family, other writers, coworkers…you name it! The idea is that people who are less invested in your success will be a little more likely to give you honest and helpful feedback.
- Then re-edit. Again. Yourself.
You need to do several rounds of edits before it’s time to hand your work over to a real, professional gosh-darn editor, folks. Right now what you need to do is the hard work of parsing the feedback from your beta readers and other interested parties. Figure out what is actually helpful for you and what isn’t. Then apply the edits your book actually needs.
And now? Go through it again and look for places that need fixing. Again. Some writers do two or three passes through a manuscript before it feels ready. Some go through dozens. There’s no right number of edits. But, especially if you’re a first-timer, more is generally better. (Then again, too many, and you’ll end up with something that’s been so hacked to pieces it won’t even hold together anymore. So proceed with caution)
Hey. Nobody said writing a novel was easy. And writing a good novel is way harder! You’re the only one who knows your won brilliant vision, so give your manuscript the love it deserves to make that vision come true.
- Okay. Now it’s time to find an editor.
When your book feels ready, it’s important that you seek out the advice of a real, honest-to-goodness editor to help you take the next steps. Ideally, your work will be seen by a content editor, a copyeditor, and a proofreader (at least) before it’s released to the world. (More on the steps of that process here.) But how it goes through those steps is up to you, your budget, and above all, your publishing goals. If your dream has always been to be published through a traditional publishing house, then it’s time for you to seek an agent and/or publisher—both of which will set you on the path toward an editor and publication. For some, self-publishing is the goal instead. And that’s great—but please, please, please, find an editor to work with anyway. Editors are professionals who work with authors to make sure that the vision inside the book is shining through as brilliantly as it can. They know what readers like and expect, and they can help you find a balance for your particular project that makes it attractive while still maintaining its integrity. There are lots of places to find book editors online—find one! Or more! (I recommend Reedsy, personally, but Upwork and Fiverr and who knows how many other sites can pair you with a great editor, too.) Or, if you know someone who’s good at this stuff, fantastic! Work with them!
But whatever you do, please find someone somehow. Editors are your friends. And your book will thank you. (Cough cough—I’m an editor! Ahem—you can hire me! And you can learn more about my services over here!)
You heard it here first, folks. #NaNoWriMo is tough. But it’s done! Now what you do is up to you, but one thing is true no matter what. Your work has just begun. If you follow the steps above, you’ll be on a path toward completing your amazing novel! And if you love books like I do, you’re ready to do the work. Because books are magic! And because most people can’t actually make it to the end of the process, so you get to flex like woah if you do it.
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(P.S. – Please feel free to contact me with questions in the comments, or to reach out to me for coaching or editing help!)