After The Thrill Is Gone, or: How to Make Your NaNoWriMo Pay Off
Editor’s note: So far this November, we’ve talked about National Novel Writing Month‘s good points and bad points, strategies for making it to 50,000 words, and why NaNo might not be for everyone. In the last post in our NaNoWriMo series, Alpha graduate Lara Donnelly talks about what comes next.
So you’ve spent thirty frantic days and thirty sleep-deprived nights typing away in a word document named NaNovel 2011 (or maybe you’ve got a title already. If so, congratulations, you’re way ahead of me on that one). But now it’s December, or near enough, and you’re thinking, Now what?
Well, friend, I can at least attempt to answer that one. I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo the last few years, and in between Novembers, I’ve been steadily working my way through my very first NaNovel, morphing it from the nigh-unintelligible goop of late nights glued to the laptop into a veritable book, readable by sane people, and maybe, some day, agents and editors.
I’m here to tell you how I have done it, and how you can do it too. I’m not saying everyone has to subscribe to these methods, but I will tell you it’s worked for me and might work for you.
DISCLAIMER: This process has happened over the course of about three years, so some of the chronology may be iffy. But the chronology isn’t important. It’s the spirit of the thing that counts.
First of all: This whole fallacy of DecemboEditMo, or whatever it is kids are calling it these days, should be disregarded at the outset. When I finished NaNovel 2008, now known as A Pound of Flesh (or more commonly the pirate ballerina story), it was pretty much the last thing I wanted to look at. So I read some Emma Bull and let my brain take a holiday in somebody else’s fantasy world (it was Territory, so the world consisted of the Earp brothers and the wild west. With magics).
At some indeterminate point, I actually wanted to revisit billionaire heiress and ballerina Bela Saji and Captain Marina’s crew of piratical miscreants. At this point, I opened the novel up, reread it, and was like, this is not actually terrible! How did that happen? As I reread it, I poked at a few things here and there. It’s surprising how many amusing typos you can make when you haven’t slept.
I let a few people read it. Parents. A boyfriend. My British neighbor, who got very drunk one night, banged on my door, and stumbled into the house declaiming about how much he liked it. This incident tipped me off: someone thought this thing was good.
It took a while, but after a few readings and some comments from trusted sources, I started in on serious rewrites. The first chapter, I heard from numerous critiquers, was pretty stinking awful and needed to be totally scrapped and redone.
So I did that. Then I moved on and did some piddling rewrites over the summer. Then I sent it off to a reliable Alphan with good taste who read it and sent back her thoughts. And one of those thoughts, I recall, was that the first chapter was still pretty bad.
I sighed, put A Pound of Flesh into its own file, and ignored it for a long time while I worked on short fiction.
So THIS summer (2011), while I probably should have been finishing a historical fantasy piece about the Boer war, I decided to procrastinate by revisiting A Pound of Flesh, which I had been putting off because I was discouraged by the terrible first chapter.
Let me tell you something: the first chapter is IMPORTANT. So it was reasonable to work hard on it and take a long time and be kind of intimidated. But the third time was a charm, and I wish I had gotten to it sooner. So while I do advise taking a break between NaNoWriMo and EditNoWhateverMo, I don’t advise sticking your novel in a folder for two or three years and not thinking about it. I could have had this thing knocked out a long time ago!
One advantage of a break, though, was a new piece of character development that fell into my brain randomly one day and made me more confident about the character it pertained to. So I suppose there are advantages and disadvantages to putting off your editing.
Anyway, with a spanking new first chapter, I spent my summer alternating between short stories and novel editing, so I had something to do when I got bored of the other thing. I’m now halfway through rewrites (with an outline for the rest of the book), and looking at finishing up in January, while I ignore my current NaNovel (or, perhaps let it age like fine wine in an oak cask—er, folder on my desktop).
Then, of course, the rigmarole of seeking representation and being rejected, over and over again.
To sum up, for the TL;DR crowd: In November, write your novel. In December, read somebody else’s. Then sometime in the next two to three years, get that novel out and DO SOMETHING WITH IT. It’s not going to edit itself. You may even find that outside the stress of NaNoWriMo, you actually enjoy the world and characters you’ve created.
What about you? If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, what are your plans for this year’s NaNovel? Let us know in the comments!