It's been just about a few weeks since you finished your National Novel Writing Month adventure — all told, there were some 15 million words written during the annual challenge — and whether you "won" or not, hopefully, you've got (many) more words than when you started. But what you do once you're finished? These published authors have some tips about next-steps after finishing your manuscript.
Maybe you've taken a well-deserved break from the mad dash, leaving your novel folder untouched on the computer for the last few days. Or maybe you're still full speed ahead. Either way, it can be hard to figure out exactly what to do with that (usually messy) pile of words once the adrenaline tapers and reality sets in.
But don’t despair. According to NaNoWriMo, there have been hundreds of published novels that have come out of the challenge. And yours just might be next. So we’ve gathered up some awesome advice from writers — including Julie Murphy, Beth Revis and Susan Dennard — who've been-there and done that when it comes to NaNo, and come out the other side with a published book. Consider these when plotting your NaNo Next Steps:
Lauren Gibaldi, author of AutoFocus
"You've finished your novel! You're now probably thinking –what next? Before you do anything, congratulate yourself. Finishing a draft is a Big Deal, and something you need to be proud of. Now, let's begin.
When I finished my first NaNoWriMo draft – for the manuscript that would become my debut novel, The Night We Said Yes — it was a mess. A huge mess. First you have to accept that it's not perfect, and that's okay. This is the time to make it perfect, and you don't have a deadline. Simply read your draft first to see what you have, and what you need to do. As you read, keep a notebook or blank document ready to jot notes down, or create reminders for yourself. That way, once you're done reviewing, you have something to go back to. Then, figure out the very base of the story--the message you want to convey. From there, dive in. Don't be afraid to Frankenstein your draft--you know, cut it up and piece it back together. Most first drafts need that. Always keep anything you delete in case you want to add it back in (though most of the time you won't)--it makes you less hesitant to cut it. Go in several times until you're happy with the draft you have (or, at the very least, comfortable with it). From there you can get beta readers and reviewers to help you make it even better. Take your time, don't rush. Really invest in your story.
It's scary to remake a story you've completed — it's hard work and intimidating. But give it time and you'll see that with each cut, each addition, and each transition, your story becomes more beautiful, more complete, and more you."
Susan Dennard, author of Truthwitch
"My best advice for post-NaNoWriMo chaos is to have a plan. It's highly likely that your manuscript is a mess. Ain't no shame! Everyone writes terrible first drafts (and if they don't... well, I'm wildly jealous of them), and revisions are — for many authors ‚ where the true magic begins. However, it can be daunting to face 50,000+ words of you-don't-even-know-what-this-is-but-you-know-it-is-NOT-a-book-yet. Which is why going in with a Plan of Attack can help. Start big, making a list of issues that pertain to plot, character, world-building. Then make new lists that get progressively "smaller" in scale, going from book-wide issues down to scene-level... down to sentence-level. Remember: you don't have to fix it all at once (I'll layer through a book 10+ times before I ever hand it off to my editor!), and there's no sense in perfecting a sentence if you're going to end up cutting that scene in the end."
Jessica Taylor, author of Wandering Wild
"I’ve done NaNoWriMo several times now, and usually with my NaNo projects, the biggest struggle is wrapping my mind around what I have to work with. When I’ve written 50,000 in one month, everything tends to blur together. My first step is always making a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline of what I have. Usually with a NaNo book, I already have an outline to build from, but if not, I open a blank document and get to work. In this outline, I go into a lot of detail about where my main character is at emotionally in each scene and the state of her relationships with other characters and the love interest. When I’m done, I highlight a word or two at each point in my outline where my character changes; this is an essential step that helps me to determine if the character arc is doing what it should. Next, I pick another color and highlight a word or two at each point where something "surprising" occurs in the story. My goals vary with each book, but I usually hope to include a surprise with each chapter. Once I can easily see where my arc is at and how many unpredictable events occur, I have a greater sense of the flaws in the story and the best way to approach my first big-picture edits."
Erin Summerhill, author of Ever the Hunted
"The NaNoWriMo challenge inspires writers to pump out 50,000 words in a month. I’ve done the challenge. After each Nano-sprint, I wanted to share my book with the world. Or fifty of my favorite literary agents. But my novel wasn’t ready. I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-sweatpants type of girl, and I want results quickly. But what I needed was time. My biggest tip is to put the book down. Come back a month later. Or longer. I waited a year. Distance and time make the mind clearer. There could be manuscript issues you wouldn’t otherwise notice fresh off a Nano-sprint. After you’ve given the book some alone time, return to it. Read it. Jot down what works and what doesn’t. Be critical. By the end of your read-through you’ll have a list of revision notes.
Remember, you did the hard work to the tune of 50,000 words. What’s another month and a revision? You got this!"
Beth Revis, author of A World Without You
"I've done NaNo three times. And I 'failed' each time. I have never gotten to the illusive 50k goal – at least not in the month of November under the context of NaNo. So my best post-NaNo advice is simply this: 'winning' wasn't the goal. The goal was to become a writer. And becoming a writer doesn't always (or even usually) mean writing 50,000 words in a month. It means dedicating time to writing — any part of the process, including thinking or editing. It's a shift in your mindset. Before you started NaNo, you may have thought being a writer was impossible. After, even if you didn't 'win,' you know that it's not. Being a writer is not about 50k words. It's about an attitude. It's about knowing that you can and will put in the work — all of it. The first draft, the editing, the revisions, the next draft. You can do it. You just proved it."
Dahlia Adler, author of Out On Good Behavior
"NaNoWriMo is about writing at maybe a faster and more consistent speed than usual; it has nothing to do with how fast you should be revising (and certainly not be a suggestion to skip revising)! It's important to consciously separate those two things in your head, and give a NaNo draft just as much care in the editing process as you would a book that had taken you six months or a year or five. Get out of your head that writing it at NaNo speed makes it a throwaway project of sorts!"
Julie Murphy, author of Dumplin'
"I've won NaNo three times now, and have made other failed attempts — including this year. Did the election really throw a wrench into anyone else's writing plans? I am mega impressed with anyone who won NaNoWriMo or even wrote in November, because it really was the culmination of the 2016 Dumpster Fire. All that said, I've learned time and time again that the amount of time I spend drafting is directly correlated to the amount of time it takes me to edit a book. Fast drafting is great, especially since I prefer editing to drafting, but there's no short cut when it comes to writing. It will always take me a specific amount of time before the book is ready for publication, so I guess my advice is to dedicate yourself to editing. Think about your initial vision for the book and all the ways your current draft is lacking. Figure out you can make your vision match your reality and make it happen. One step at a time."
Images: Lauren Mancke