November is winding down, and every author has one thought on their brain: what's the plan after NaNoWriMo is over? Under the extreme heat of the ticking clock that is November, writers don’t have the luxury of creating unnecessarily elaborate writing regimens. Let’s be honest, people who want to be writing but aren’t usually give three excuses: lack of time, fear, and fear disguised as a lack of time.
You’re past this. You’ve made time – even when it seemed impossible. But once you’ve got that first draft – whether it happens before November 30th or a bit beyond – you’re going to have to confront both time and fear again, but in new disguises.
Whatever skills you’ve learned about your creative process from the month of November are ones you should hold onto. If you’ve created a less prissy process and if you’ve figured out how to create boundaries to allow yourself more time to devote to your craft, make these things an ongoing discipline.
In other words, as you are likely painfully aware, you’re not finished. This is the beginning.
Which brings me to fear. The next phase isn’t about getting over your fear of your inner critic, it’s about getting over your fear of inviting other people into your process and, eventually, unleashing your inner critic. Handing over your work is a new kind of fear altogether.
But before you hand over your work, I suggest you:
1. Cultivate Your Inner Reader
After your revision process, try to read through the novel as if you’re finding it on a shelf. Try to be someone else. Try to read with a stranger’s inner ear. This is your inner reader, a voice that you need to cultivate within yourself. You need to be the writer, but also be the reader – someone who knows nothing about what you’re trying to create, someone who wants to be given art or entertainment or, mostly likely, both; someone who doesn’t care about whether you succeed or fail, but only that you deliver.
Note: Your inner reader is different than your inner critic. The inner reader is someone who is desirous, who wants story, who wants to be drawn in. Your inner critic comes later.
Is your inner reader leaning forward? If not, find a way.
2. Pay Attention To Your Inner Critic
Well, to be honest, the inner critic has been there all along. But you knew that. It’s a voice that can whisper through any muzzle. There will be a time when you really have to use your inner critic to get at the manuscript and shove it through yet another revision. Your creative voice and your critical voice have to learn not just to coexist but to be collaborative partners. So yes, when it’s time, take off the muzzle and let that critic have at it.
Your inner reader and your inner critic have done their jobs. You’ve gotten the manuscript as far along as you possibly can, you need to find ways to open it back up again for more revision.
3. Don't Be Afraid Of Critique Groups
There’s that old pervasive myth of the writer out in a cabin or holed up in an attic, writing away furiously then shipping to some literary force who deems it brilliant. Voila, you’re transported to a dinner party where Truman Capote instantly appears.
That’s bullshit. In my experience as a writer and a teacher, trading manuscripts with voices you trust is priceless. Join a critique group or a writing group.
Do these groups work because there’s some collaborative creativity that gets heightened when multiplied? Sometimes yes. I believe so. Is it simply because the writers have a way to hold each other accountable? Studies show that just setting goals with another person helps create accountability and goals are more likely to be achieved. (That’s actually the main operating function of NaNoWriMo, right?) So, yes, that too. Is it because the kind of person who’s more likely to want ongoing critiques is the kind of person more likely to make changes and be open to learning and evolving as a writer? Yep, probably this most of all.
4. Suffer Fools Gladly.
In the workshops I teach, I have students who block out the advice from the entire class except maybe one other student and me. They think they’re superior and dismiss all notes from anyone they don’t deem on their level. This is a huge mistake. Sometimes the best notes come from those who haven’t been writing as long as you have so don’t have the chops. Sometimes a person’s gift isn’t writing but editing, and they give brilliant notes. Sometimes the person who actually doesn’t seem suited to writing or critiquing and who’s not said one helpful thing … will suddenly have a brilliant suggestion. Don’t miss that note.
5. Write For Readers, Not Other Writers.
So many times writers read for each other; it’s how we keep things even. But ultimately we write for readers not other writers. I lived next door to a lawyer who read a ton of sci-fi. He ended up being a great resource for me when I moved into that genre. It’s possible to ask a friend to read your work but before you make this move, make a rule that whatever they say, you can still be friends with them.
Even if they hate it. If you know you can’t abide by this rule, don’t hand it over.
Don’t hand it over to someone you’ve got a crush on or are newly dating. Trust me. For some people, this extends to the person they’ve married. Only hand over a small sample – a first chapter – not the whole novel. Test the waters. Don’t force anyone. They’ve got to really want to be of use.
It’s best if it’s a friend who reads heavily in your genre, for obvious reasons.
Writing a novel is a brutal and wild process, sometimes a whirlwind and sometimes a long marriage. It requires everything from you – because without you, the work doesn’t exist. This is why it’s so powerful and terrifying. That’s my wish for you – not that it’s easy or quick but that it’s engaging in a way that is ultimately worthwhile, that keeps calling you back to the page.
Julianna Baggott is the author of over twenty books including The Pure Trilogy and, most recently, The Infinity of You and Me, under J.Q. Coyle, the joint pen name she shares with author Quinn Dalton.
The Infinity Of You And Me by J.Q. Coyle, $11, Amazon
Images: Ilya Pavlov/Unsplash