November is quietly creeping up on us, which means very soon writers will join the fray of writing a novel in just one month. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an online forum that encourages writers to write a 50k novel in just 30 days. Bringing with it opportunity to connect with other writers, NaNoWriMo also rewards participants for their hard work. On November 30th, when all writing is finished and recorded, writers need to decide what’s next.
Do not submit your NaNoWriMo novel on December 1st
Celebrate the fact that you wrote a book. That was difficult enough to do in one month, so take the time to give yourself a pat on the back. PLEASE don’t make the mistake of querying agents right away. There is still a lot of work to do before your manuscript is ready. No author has a perfect first draft–not James Patterson or Stephen King or any other New York Times Best Seller. Many times in fact, these famous authors throw away their first attempt at a story. You are not any different. So what should you do?
Let your story sit
You just raced against the clock to write an entire book in 30 days. Don’t go right into revisions and edits. If you’ve written 50k, which equals out to be about 1,700 words per day, you need to come down from that writing high. Let the story settle in your mind for a week or two. It’s important to have a fresh take on the words you wrote. The further away you get from the story, the more likely you are to better evaluate your writing.
The first draft is just getting the words on the page. Once you have taken time away, it’s time to read your draft from page one to the end. Take notes as you read. Evaluate where there are plot holes, where the tension fizzles out, where dialogue isn’t necessary, etc. Once you have an idea of these trouble spots, you can begin revising.
The next stage, you should be focusing on the story. Take your notes from the reread and plan how you are going to execute revisions. Sometimes, you need to go back to the beginning and rework scenes so that they transition into the new content. Knowing where to do this will make it much easier to get those scenes tighter and make the plot effective. This is not the time to focus on your errors. Punctuation and capitalization can wait. This is all about the story–getting the parts to fit together, going deeper with your characters, and building tension is where your focus should be. Once this is done, it’s time to reread.
You think that you’ve fixed all of the plot holes? Built that character up, so that she’s believable? Reread the story. This time, you may find a part of two that still need to be revised.
I know. You really want to submit your story. Don’t. Revise. Get it as perfect as you can. Wait until you cannot fix it anymore. Trust me, it is worth the wait. You can’t take back a submission. Agents will remember if you sent a story that wasn’t ready…Just don’t do it. At this point, it is also a good idea to seek out the assistance of a freelance editor. Someone with a fresh take on your novel is a good way to catch things you can’t. An editor can not only help you to find areas that still aren’t working, but also those pesky grammar mistakes. If editing isn’t your forte, this is the time to hire someone.
Once you really think your story is the best it can be (and of course, at the appropriate word count for the genre), it’s time to edit. Scan your writing for mistakes in word usage, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.
Once you get through these steps, your writing should be the best you can make it. It should be sparkling and ready to submit. For some writers this process can take a couple of months, while others may need more or less time. But this doesn’t matter. When you submit a piece that has been taken care of and molded, agents can tell. Take the time and you might just get the request you’re looking for.