Articles, Writing

So You’ve Finished NaNoWriMo – A Past Winner’s Tips

NaNoWriMo is finished for another year! I didn’t do NaNoWriMo, but in a sense I wish I had. Indeed, I have previously reflected on my experience from years ago. After thirty days, you’ve done it – you’ve put 50,000 words down into a (hopefully) cohesive work and you can call yourself a novelist. Now what happens?

First of all, relax. You’ve just done a great thing, regardless of the perceived “quality” of what you’ve created. Writing a novel is difficult, but you should absolutely feel rewarded in having put the work and dedication into create a story – and hopefully you’ve made memorable characters and insightful events happen in the course of 50,000 words. It’s a tremendous accomplishment after a month of madness – dizzying excitement, harrowing stress and everything in between.

Second of all, you have not written a novel. At least, not a finished one. Here’s what absolutely should not happen:

  • You post what you’ve written straight onto Amazon as a self-published book
  • You send what you’ve written to a literary editor

Why do I say this? Because a novel forged in 30 days at absolute breakneck speed is bound to be a litany of flaws, errors and narrative meandering and dead-ends. Heck, even one you wrote and thought you’d revised can turn out to be drek.

And that’s absolutely fine. Every narrative piece – from my experience – is formed in this fiery crucible. Without tooting my own horn too much, even an experienced writer such as myself writes dreadful first drafts. You will not like the response you get to either of those things listed above.

But remember what a first draft is really for: a first draft is for the writer to simply get the story down in its most base forms. The first draft is the one you will, in time, hone and mould into a polished piece to be proud of.

So, what should you do?

Ask yourself the following question: did I get the whole story down from beginning to end?

If you did: Take a break from the piece. Let it sit in a drawer or on a shelf for a few weeks. Potentially until January so you can get Christmas out of the way and be ready to approach the piece with fresh eyes which should pick up the errors more readily. You can better question the decisions you made simply to hit 1,667 words before the clock struck midnight in the cold light of day. I find taking some distance from a project can be a wonderful experience; take some time away, or even approach it in a different medium (print it out and read it fresh in hard copy) and it’ll be like reading it like you’d never even written it.

If you didn’t: Take a break anyway. The NaNoWriMo drafting process is brutal, but utterly rewarding. Give yourself some time to think about where the story still needs to go. But do not go back and edit anything. Make notes of your ideas. And, once you’ve had a rest, keep that momentum going and get the story finished. Then take another break before you prepare to climb the mountain once again.

But what if you didn’t hit 50,000 words in November? Is this cause for celebration? Yes! Are you a failure? No! Embarking on the journey takes guile and courage. The 50,000 word goal across November is totally arbitrary. You created something out of nothing and that’s absolutely laudible, brave and courageous. One of the refreshing aspects of NaNoWrimo is that there is no real judging,; it’s a challenge you set yourself because you want to, and the only reward at the end of it is the gratifying feeling of accomplishment.

The advice still stands if your story didn’t hit 50,000 – if there’s still some narrative way to go, use that momentum! If you wrapped it up in 35,000 words – well done, you’ve written a novella, which is just as brilliant and as much an accomplishment.

You may find that what you have written is irredeemable, rotten garbage. Y ou may feel that now, but in the light of day it may be an inaccurate assessment. Even if this is the case, 50,000 terrible words is still a damn sight better than zero non-existent ones. You may think there’s wheat among the chaff. That’s fine – a first draft (or to use a method I learned from Jason Arnopp, draft zero) exists solely for the author. It shouldn’t see the light of day until you’ve taken the time to polish and prune it into something wonderful – arguably the harder task after slamming down the words initially!

Editing, querying and preparing for publication can take many times the time it took for you to get those words down initially, but you’ve done the first step in an amazing creative journey. NaNoWriMo winners can and have been published, so writing those thousands of words in 30 days is just the first step along an incredible journey!

Recommended reading: So You’ve Finished NaNoWriMo by Stephan of Story Factory UK

Read more of my posts about NaNoWriMo

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