So you’ve toiled away all November, and now, on the first of December you have the first draft of a novel (Congratulations!). The past month’s a blur full of late night drinking and snacking, immense bouts of doubt and writer’s block, and drifting between reality and the world of words you’ve spun from your mind. Without a daily word count to meet or a deadline staring you down, you’re feeling a little lost. Worse, you’re not quite sure how you turn this little word child you’ve birthed into the pristine published works that fill bookshelves.
Fear not! I have some tips:
First off, this is a big deal. Sure, there’s lots of work ahead of you, but it’s important to celebrate these milestones. Treat yourself! Frame your certificate of completion! Brag about it on Facebook! Bring out the champagne! Have a nice meal out!
Give Your Brain a Break
Cranking out a novel in one month is no easy feat, especially for your brain and your creativity. You need to relax and refuel. Read some books. Watch some TV shows (get caught up on those episodes of This Is Us you missed or take some time to binge Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life). I recommend taking (at minimum) several days off from your writing project. Focus on works that are comparable or inspirational for your own project. Be a student of these good stories.
I don’t care if you’re a planner or a pantser when it comes to actually writing. Revising is a whole different beast. Spend some time with your novel draft as a reader, not a writer. Take notes on where things fall apart, where it gets super boring, what scenes are missing, what can be cut, etc. Now take those notes and new ideas and turn them into an actual plan of attack.
Build Your Writer’s Toolbox
Stock up on food and beverages to fuel your (re)writing sessions.
Purchase reference books–get both works to draw inspiration from and manuals that help with the actual storytelling and writing.
Invest in apps to make writing and revising easy and organized. I recommend Scrivener (for managing your manuscript & research), Wordly (for tracking your progress if you miss that aspect of NaNo), and Write or Die (for getting yourself to spit words onto the page when you really don’t want to).
Immerse yourself in the advice, tips, and experiences of successful writers. I’m particularly fond of the writing advice Maggie Stiefvater gives on her Tumblr. There’s also some great writing podcasts, like The Writers Panel.
Find a Writing Community
The great thing about NaNo is that for once writing does not feel like a solitary activity. You are working alongside thousands of other people who are going through all the things you are going through. But when the month is over, that sense of community is ripped out from under you. To fix that, you have to be proactive about finding a new community. Local libraries often have writer’s groups. The internet, of course, is full of them (check out #amwriting and #amrevising on Twitter). Find your people!
Get Some Critique Partners
You need some outside your brain to give you perspective on your work. By outside perspective, I don’t mean a parent, significant other, or friend. You need strangers. You need people who know the ins and outs of writing and can help you not with just your novel, but with querying and all that comes with seeking publication. You need people who will read and critique the many, many revisions of your novel. I highly suggest joining Scribophile (especially the Ubergroup) or finding a partner through Maggie Stiefvater’s Critique Partner Matchup.
Get to Work
Okay, let me be really real with you. As someone who’s done NaNoWriMo countless times and is currently revising the hell out of three novels (two of them born from Camp NaNoWriMo), this is just the beginning. Writing the first draft of a novel is just the start, and possibly the easiest part (I’ll wait while you run to store to grab some more wine–you’re going to need it).
A complete first draft is not a novel. Ernest Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” But shitty first drafts are important.
Embrace it for what it is. Love it despite its plot holes and poorly developed characters. There are many drafts ahead of you. And after that, there’s the scary world of querying and publishing.
It only gets harder after November 30th, but you’re a writer, which means you love a challenge (Masochists! All of you!). You love taking on the impossible (why else would you sign up for NaNoWriMo?). So go get ‘em. Go show the world what you can do with this shitty first draft. Go make all these impossible, seemingly insurmountable mountains of drafts into a fantastic novel.
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