Thus has ended another November of that reckless writing abandon we lovingly call NaNoWriMo, or not so lovingly call “that stupid mocensoredng writing thing.”
Really, both names work.
In the last month, writers from all over the world tried their darndest to get arthritis in thirty short days by typing 50,000 words or more. Most of us aren’t even “real” writers, the kind that get paid to type until their joints swell. No, those of us doing NaNoWriMo have other jobs, “real” jobs that pay the rent and feed the kids. We had to write 50,000 words in our non-existent free time.
It’s quite a feat, really.
And now that we’ve all rested and stopped shaking from our caffeine-overdoses, we have to figure out what on earth to do with the thing.
So, what’s the first thing you do with a partially completed manuscript of 50,000 or more words? Nothing.
I’m serious—do nothing.
Walk outside and reacquaint yourself with the sun. Maybe go into the living room and see how much your spouse or children have changed over the last thirty days. Check on the goldfish, love a dog, and call a friend. But for God’s sake don’t touch those words.
Let them rest and let your mind wander; it could use the break. If you backed up your work (do it now if you haven’t, right now), those words will be there in a few days or weeks. You need a set of fresh, non-bloodshot eyes to see them clearly now that November’s feverish word war is done. You want to be at your best when you see your precious words again, because believe me, they ain’t pretty.
All those hastily thrown down words need editing. Lots of editing. Oh, sure, you love each and every one of your characters and scenes, but they were created in the mad dash of November, and they kinda suck in parts. So edit. Rip the thing apart and make sure it all works.
Once the story is all spiffed up and made to look pretty, the next step is to go back and finish it. The only book you can publish is a finished one, so finish. How hard can it be, right?
Yeah. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
During editing, I bet you’ll find run on sentences, misused modifiers, and plot holes the size of a volcano’s caldera. Finishing a NaNo novel is a bit like trying to fill a bucket full of holes; it just won’t hold water until you repair it.
Once you’re finished with the story, you’re actually not.
Sorry, but you need to edit it again. And again. And give it to friends who know a bit about grammar and plot to have them edit it. You need to let other writers offer their opinions. You need to send it to people who will give it an honest and objective critique.
What shouldn’t you do with the manuscript in December?
Don’t, don’t, DON’T send anything to an agent. Your story might be brilliant and you may indeed be the next Hemmingway, but your manuscript sucks eggs right now. Your novel isn’t ready for a professional to look at it no matter what your mother said about it.
And don’t give up. Don’t you ever give up. Even if the words you wrote weren’t enough to win NaNo, or the storyline has hit a dead end, or you want to kill off your main character out of spite, don’t give up. Think about what you’ve learned from NaNo, or what you will learn by editing your book and having others look at it. Think about what made you love that story enough to sacrifice your health for it.
You will be a professional writer one day because you have a story within you that is brilliant enough to be published—but only if you refuse to give up.
Oh, and that promise you made to yourself to never do NaNo again? Yeah, whatever. See you next year.