(Didn’t win? Check out “so you lost NaNoWriMo: what next?”)
First of all: Congratulations! You did something incredible. Millions of Americans want to write novels, but now you’ve joined the significantly smaller numbers who actually did it. Regardless of how you feel about the finished product (if it even is finished — many aren’t yet at 50k), you have completed an astronomical task.
But you can’t stop there.
Writing a first draft is a major part of having a completed novel, but it’s just that: a part. There are a lot of difficult steps in your future, too. Here are my tips for how to not lose the NaNoWriMo steam that pushed you through November.
give your novel some space
You just spent a month immersing yourself in this book. You interacted with your characters every single day. You thought up plot twists and exciting scenes and witty lines of dialogue in the car, in the shower, in the drive-thru, and in the middle of the night. And that was a fantastic way to get your first draft out. But if you look at that 50,000 word mess that resulted from November right now, you will do one of two things.
- You will excuse all of the issues you find, because right now, they still make sense to you (after all, you just wrote them.)
- You will set your novel on fire in a ritual ceremony and never behold it again.
In order to get any sort of outside perspective on your novel, you have to give it space. I suggest at least two months, although for some people you might need more or less time. Right now, that novel is your baby. You ruined your life this month trying to create it. You probably don’t have it in your to tear it to shreds. But that’s what you have to do in order to edit that hastily-put-together glob of words into something workable.
don’t let people read it
I have those friends, too: “When can we read this novel you keep talking about?” The answer you should wholeheartedly give them, over and over until they stop asking, is “when it’s ready.” A first draft can be almost like stream of consciousness. You wrote sentences, paragraphs, and chapters this month about which you undoubtedly thought, even as you typed, “I’m deleting this the minute December starts.”
Everyone has different tactics to write themselves into meaning. Some people will write the same sentence ten times and in the edit, they’ll pick their favorite. Some people will use a ton of adverbs and in the edit, remove all of them as they rework the rest of the sentences to more subtly convey the same meaning. Some people write entire conversations and scenes whose sole purpose is to better understand their own character — and then they delete those scenes in the final draft. The point is, a lot of the things in your first draft were written for you, not for your readers.
But even more importantly: getting feedback at this stage could easily be deadly. You are still figuring out what you want your novel to say, even now, and hearing what other people think it means could completely derail your process.
Obviously, if you want someone to read your novel draft, I can’t stop you. But I highly encourage you to keep your work secret a little longer. Allow yourself to have a romantic editing vacation with it where you shyly get to know each other in private. Once you know what you’re saying, you can start gathering the commentary and input that will help you refine your writing.
don’t stop writing
This is by far the most important part. Even if you hate what you wrote this month and never want to look at it again, your achievement is still valuable, because you learned that you can write incredible amounts and be unfailingly creative no matter what. Days when you’re tired, or uninspired? You still wrote. And you wrote a lot. You got up early before classes or work. You stayed up late at night to finish a chapter. You wrote on lunch breaks, on bus rides, during meals, with friends, alone, with the fire of motivation behind you, with the wall of writer’s block in front of you.
And that isn’t limited to November.
NaNoWriMo is a great one-time thing to do, to teach yourself what you’re capable of. But what good is it to know what you’re capable of if you immediately stop doing it?
You’re a writer. You proved that. Now keep writing.