I’m a big believer in the power of finishing things. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual writing adventure challenging writers of all skill levels to write 50,000 words in the space of thirty days – this is an average of 1,667 words per day. For most of us, this is a challenge. As a multiple year winner of NaNoWriMo, I can tell you that typing those last words on a manuscript is a great feeling but I can also tell you that “The End” is just the beginning. So, you’ve won – what next?
First Things First
Celebrate. Kick back on December 1st and relax a bit. You’re a NaNoWriMo winner! Be sure to upload your novel text and get your official word count verified. Be sure to look for the emails about the winner’s prizes (and there are usually some great deals). Post your success and get virtual high fives on social media. Take a little time to enjoy your success, but don’t be surprised if the urge to get back into your manuscript is there gnawing at you. What do you do?
Do not open that NaNoWriMo manuscript for at least a month – six weeks is best. Your goal right now, Winner, is to forget that you wrote that book. Yes, there are things you need to fix. Yes, you have a passive voice problem or a comma splice problem. Yes, you have a character that explicably vanishes from the story in Chapter 3. I got it. Your mind is whirling with all of the “I should fix this immediately” things. If you’re really scared you’ll forget them, write them all down on a piece of paper but do not open that manuscript. At the end of that six weeks, sit down with a notebook and a pen/pencil alongside your manuscript. You’ll see immediately that you’re reading with fresh eyes. Again, though, resist the urge to make corrections. Read your manuscript as a reader would and see what pieces of the story develop as you go. You’ll see holes and find things that seem out of place – make a note and move on. When you’re done with the read-through, close your notes, and give it a few days to percolate. Now you’re probably thinking that this is a lot of time when you’re doing nothing on this manuscript – and you’re right. What should you be doing with your new disciplined approach to writing every day?
Write Something Else
If you want to write on December 1st or 2nd, open up a new file and start typing something else. Make it something different than your manuscript. Different characters, different settings – everything in this new piece should be different. If you wrote fantasy during NaNoWriMo, write science fiction. You get the idea. Write something that you’d never be caught dead writing. I’ve messed around with a romance novel idea, a zombie apocalypse story, and a few other things that may never see the light of day in this phase. Think of it as cleansing your writing palate. When the six weeks described is up, you’ll be ready to jump back into your NaNoWriMo winner and edit it from start to finish. But what if I want to keep writing that new project? Do it. Adjust your writing goals and expectations, though – you’re trying to get your NaNoWriMo winner in shape to send out into the world.
After Edits – The Next Step
I can’t stress hard enough that you really need to run through your manuscript at least once before you look for potential first readers. Gaining insights from others is a huge piece of this step. You cannot write in a vacuum and expect to put a rough manuscript into consideration for publication or start the mechanics for self-publication. Take the time to get it read, reviewed, and even professionally edited. Trust me, it’s worth your time to do this even before you submit it to a publisher or do it yourself.
NaNoWriMo is a race to 50,000 words. It’s a challenge that teaches you self-discipline and creates a habit of writing daily. Publishing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take time to get it right. There are times it will seem like glaciers move faster than your manuscript through the process. Keep writing other things and do not, under any circumstances, get caught up in any one novel project. Keep moving forward. That’s really what NaNoWriMo is all about. Starting a project, finishing it, and moving on to the next one. And the next one after that.
That’s how you win NaNoWriMo, folks. Keep moving forward.