You did it, my friend! You slaved over your keyboard, sacrificed time with family and friends, and shed blood, sweat, and tears to make it to the finish line. Now, with a finished (or mostly finished) first draft in hand, you’re probably wondering, “What do I do now?” I’ve been there, and today, I’ll tell you what to do after NaNoWriMo to turn that first draft of yours into a shiny new novel.
But first, throw yourself a big honkin’ party! Writing fifty thousand (or more) words in one month is a ginormous (totally a word…) accomplishment, and you should be proud of yourself! So trumpet your news across your social media accounts and bask in the praise from your family and friends.
But when the confetti settles, it’s time to get back to work. Because November was just the beginning of the journey. So read on for five steps to take after NaNoWriMo.
1. Finish Your First Draft.
Fifty thousand words is a seriously strong start to any first draft, but there’s a good chance it didn’t get you all the way to the end of your story. So even after NaNoWriMo, hold onto the momentum you had going through November and keep writing until you reach The End. And remember, don’t worry about your final word count at this stage. Just write until the entire story is down on paper (er…screen).
2. Step Away From The Keyboard. Really.
After you write those two beautiful words (The End), turn off the computer and step away, my friend. Put that first draft in mothballs for a few weeks and. Don’t. Look. At. It.
The writing phase and the revising/editing phase require two completely different mindsets. Writing demands creativity and passion and an eensy-weensy bit of insanity. Revising and editing, however, require a much more critical (and objective) eye.
I know it’s tempting to jump straight into revisions, but right now, you’re still thinking with your writing brain, so flushed with love for your newborn book baby you’re completely unable to see its flaws. Setting your manuscript aside for a while helps your brain reset so you can go into revisions with the objectivity you need to correct the problems in your story.
But beyond that, you’ve just completed a writing marathon. After NaNoWriMo, chances are your brain is so fried you don’t know what day of the week it is. So let your story simmer on the back burner for a while and give your poor brain time to recover. Besides, having a well-rested brain when you begin revisions will not only help you identify your story’s weaknesses, but it will also make it easier to brainstorm solutions.
3. Start Your First Revision.
Your first draft is done. Your brain has gone through a reboot. So the next thing to do after NaNoWriMo is start your first revision. And, yes, I do mean first. Because unless you are an incredibly organized and precise writer, your manuscript will most likely go through multiple rounds of revision.
Many writers use the terms “revising” and “editing” interchangeably, but they’re actually two very different parts of the writing process. Revision is where you focus on the bones of your story (plot, exposition, etc.), while the editing phase is where you perfect the flesh (sentence structure, word choices, etc.). Editing a story that hasn’t been revised yet is like putting lipstick on a skeleton—and an incomplete one, at that—so revisions should always happen first.
I’ll expand on each item below in my next post, but here is a list of things to watch out for as you revise your manuscript:
- Plot – Your story should have all the right stuff in all the right places. Missing plot points—or those that are in the wrong place—will affect the meaning and rhythm of your novel. My go-to resources for story structure are Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, and Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland.
- Foreshadowing – Every great book includes hints that keep a reader guessing what’s going to happen next. If you include clues in your manuscript that don’t come to a resolution by the end of the book, then either remove them or add more to your story to bring them full circle.
- Purpose – Everything in your novel—scenes, characters, conversations, etc.—should serve a purpose. If not, then it doesn’t belong.
- Exposition – Exposition is all the background information readers need to know—backstory, settings, character relationships, etc. But it can be really hard to relay these details without putting your reader to sleep. So make sure passages of exposition blend in naturally with the rest of the story. For more on this, check out my post on showing vs. telling.
- Word Count – Set a goal for your final word count and keep it in mind as you revise. This excellent post on The Write Life offers a wealth of information about word counts, including the recommended guidelines for eighteen different genres and why you should adhere to them.
4. Edit. Then Edit Again.
By the time you reach the editing phase, your story is starting to look like an honest-to-goodness novel. The plot is perfect, the character development is solid, and you’ve used foreshadowing like a boss. Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty and really make your novel shine.
During the editing phase, turn your attention to these details (and, again, I’ll cover these in depth in December):
- Sentence Structure – In fiction, sentence structure serves two purposes: to make your meaning clear; and to help the story flow in a natural rhythm. If you find a sentence lacking in either category, then altering its structure can often fix the problem.
- Dialogue – Your dialogue should not only sound realistic and natural, but every line your characters utter should also have a purpose—advancing the story, relaying backstory, showing a character’s personality, etc. When you come across dialogue that’s just there, either cut it entirely or tweak it to make it matter. For everything you need to know about dialogue, check out my three-part series, How to Write Riveting Dialogue (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).
- Point of View – Whichever POV—first person, second person, third person limited, or third person omniscient—you choose for your novel, it should remain consistent throughout. And beware head-hopping!
- Verb Tense – Just as with POV, your verb tenses should agree throughout the story. When I’m stumped, I pull out The Blue Book of Grammar & Punctuation by Jane Straus for a little refresher course on verb tenses.
- Word Choices – During NaNo, the focus is on just getting words—any words—onto the page. After NaNoWriMo, it’s time to go through your manuscript and replace every lackluster word and flat passage. I keep Word Hippo open on my browser constantly while I’m editing because it’s the most comprehensive online thesaurus I’ve found (and it’s free).
- Punctuation – Incorrect punctuation can muddy the meaning of a sentence (or even change it entirely) and yank a reader’s mind completely out of your fictional world. Not only that, but mistakes in punctuation draw scorn from readers and reviewers alike (not to mention agents, editors, and publishers if you’re hoping to publish traditionally). So scour your manuscript for punctuation mistakes. While I’m editing, I keep The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White at my fingertips, but others (including some publishers) follow The Chicago Manual of Style.
5. Enlist beta readers.
When your manuscript has been revised and edited until it is—in your humble opinion—a work of art, it’s time to recruit a team of beta readers.
A beta reader is someone who volunteers to read your manuscript and provide feedback to help you improve your novel. Beta reading is conducted in a series of rounds, with the author sending a few chapters of the novel and a brief series of questions for each round. Betas read the chapters, answer the questions, and (hopefully) return their feedback before the deadline. This continues until the entire manuscript has been read and critiqued by betas.
If you plan to self-publish, then using beta readers is non-negotiable. They’ll help you identify plot holes, characters that fall flat, parts of your story that don’t make sense, and so much more. So for a self-published author, beta feedback is priceless. But even those going the traditional publishing route can benefit from a round or two of beta reading. Agents and publishers like clean manuscripts, and betas can help you polish yours til it shines.
And betas work for free. So there’s that.
We’ll dive much deeper into the beta reading process in January, including where to find beta readers you can trust, the beta contract, and what questions you should ask in beta rounds. I’ll also share some free resources, including one for email subscribers only, so subscribe to my email list in the box below to get that freebie when the blog post is available!
Penny for your thoughts…
What are you planning to do with your manuscript after NaNoWriMo? Drop a comment in the box below to tell me about your book baby and what you’re going to do with it now.
Thanks for joining me today! I hope these five steps help you form your strategy for what to do after NaNoWriMo. In my next post, we’ll talk much more about how to revise your manuscript. That content will be posted on December 16th…just when you’re ready to jump back into your manuscript after your brain reboot.
So I’ll see you then, my friend. Until then, buckle up, buttercup, and let’s write…I mean, reboot!