If the novel’s not complete, finish it. You’ve got momentum coming out of NaNo, really good writing habits, and the ideas are still sunshiny fresh. Besides, your friends haven’t seen you for a whole month. They won’t miss you if you’re absent for several more days.
Then when the novel’s done, toss it into the bottom of your literal or figurative drawer and ignore it for at least a month. Call your parents, remind your friends you’re still alive, apologize to your significant other for ignoring him/her/it for so long, and wrangle up a date for the Christmas party.
And then what? What can you really do with that tangle of words conjured up in a single heady, highly-caffeinated month?
First, read it (and yes, it’s perfectly normal to cringe.) In spite of all the tricks you used to inflate the word count, do you see in it the glimmer of a great story? Do you want to go further with it?
Of course you do!
Last year, I took part in NaNoWriMo for the first time. My 70,000-word partially complete NaNo novel hit 120,000 words by the time the first draft was done. Seven major revisions later, it has 91,000 words. The novel recently placed second in the Royal Palm Literary Awards for Science Fiction (unpublished), and the full manuscript is currently sitting on the desks of several literary agents, where I’m hopeful it will go further.
The key to getting your NaNo out of that bottom drawer is to edit, edit, edit. Compared to writing, editing is slow and laborious. The rewards aren’t immediately obvious; instead of seeing that word count climb, you’re likely to see it fall. But it’s the only way that NaNo novel is going to go anywhere.
Join a critique group and find the guts to read your novel in front of other people. (I’ll confess, I’m still trying to work up the nerve for this one.) Beg your friends to read your novel. Score double points if that friend is also a writer – they provide better feedback. Take part in NaNoEdMo and commit to 50 hours of editing. Invest in yourself. ‘Writing the breakout novel’, by Maass, provides fantastic tips on creating a story that’s worth telling. ‘Self-editing for fiction writers: How to edit yourself into print’ by Brown and King teaches you how to identify and correct stylistic problems.
Don’t be afraid to substantially edit your novel. It’s not a baby (really, truly). Think of it as a bonsai. Regular pruning is absolutely required for growth. My writer friend told me that the last third of my novel sucked (yes, that is a technical term). So, I ripped out about 40,000 words, and eventually replaced it with something much better.
Are you done editing?
Do it again.
Do it until it’s the absolute best you are sure you can do on your own. And then, if you’re not the archetypal poor college student and can find $1,000 – $3,000 to spare, seek out a good professional editor (the key word here is ‘good’, not just ‘professional’), and get them to look over your work. (Full disclosure: I didn’t even consider going down this path until after my novel won the award. I figured a winner was probably worth a larger financial investment.)
Finding an agent and getting published is a whole other story, and it’s a path I’m just embarking on. But you’ll never get there unless you edit that NaNo novel. Good luck, happy writing and merry editing!
Jade Kerrion is a Science Fiction author. GENESIS, the first book in her DOUBLE HELIX series, placed second in the Royal Palm Literary Awards, Science Fiction (unpublished) category. Find her online at JadeKerrion.com.