Although I’ve yet to participate in NaNoWriMo, I’m fascinated by it (it’s on my bucket list). So I was psyched when Rochelle Melander of WriteNowCoach.com asked if she could write a guest post on revising NaNoWriMo work. I’m a big fan of writing sprints—I depend on daily and weekly goals to keep me on track—but the downside of sprinting is the aftermath. Below are Rochelle’s tips for living through what comes after November. Please comment and tell us how you feel about what you’ve written and the work ahead of you.
It is my contention that a really great novel is made with a knife and not a pen. A novelist must have the intestinal fortitude to cut out even the most brilliant passage so long as it doesn’t advance the story. —Frank Yerby
Can you feel it? You are almost done with National Novel Writing Month. Yes! And I’m here to talk about what comes after NaNoWriMo: revision. Bringing up revising before NaNoWriMo has ended is a little like asking a runner to analyze mile three of a marathon while she’s running mile twenty-three. Not helpful! If you need to bookmark this article and come back to it after the big NaNo post-game party—go ahead. If you’re brave and willing to consider revision—read on!
I’ve read that agents and editors hate December because National Novel Writing Month participants deluge them with hastily drafted manuscripts. Don’t do it, people! Don’t even think about showing anyone your NaNoWriMo book until you’ve revised it. Here’s how:
Step One: Let it rest. You’ve been hammering away at this book for a month. You’ve taken your characters through an amazing adventure and ignored everything else in your life. Give yourself and your characters a break. Take a month off to recover. Celebrate. Catch up on sleep. Cook. When you feel a bit more like yourself, recall what you’d hoped to accomplish with your NaNoWriMo book. Read a stack of the best books in your genre. Remembering and reading will help you envision your revised novel.
Step Two: Read through. Set aside a day to read your book from beginning to end, preferably in hard copy. Keep a notebook next to you to jot down the revision issues you see in the book. Focus on the big picture, reading for story instead of spelling. Making technical corrections at this point is like filling in nail holes on a wall you might demolish. After you’ve read once through for story, take a second look and note what needs to be revised in the following areas:
- Character (Clear goal, Development, Transformation)
- Story (Conflict, Plot, Action, Pacing)
- Storytelling (Narrative, Dialogue, Voice)
Step Three: Plan your revision. You’ve done your homework and you know what you want this novel to do. You’ve also read through your rough draft at least once and made a “to revise” list. Create an action plan for revising the book, starting with the broadest issues (e.g., fixing the structural issues in the story) and finishing with the details (e.g., checking for consistency).
Step Four: Revise. Work through the issues you raised in steps two and three. Don’t worry about time—revising can take longer than drafting, but at least you have words to work with! Once you work through all of the issues you raised in the first reading, repeat steps one through four. (No, I’m not trying to torture you!) In the second stage of revisions, you will deepen the characters and tighten the pacing of the story even more. After you’ve put the book through a second round of revisions, it’s time to bring in outside help.
Step Five: Choose beta readers. At some point, you need to test market your book on real people. Invite your critique group and other avid fans of your genre to read through your book and offer feedback. If readers are not used to providing feedback—and it’s good to have a few of those read your story—it can be helpful to give them a critique checklist or even a few items to pay attention to. For instance, when my daughter read my middle grade novel I asked her to let me know what she thought of the characters. (Darcy Pattison has gathered a list of critique checklists here: http://www.darcypattison.com/novels/12-writing-fiction-checklists/) As you read the revision recommendations, remember that you are the creator of this story—you can dump any request that doesn’t fit with your vision of the novel.
A novel often goes through at least one more revision after beta readers provide their feedback. Once you get the story to a point that works, it’s time to put on finishing touches: checking the manuscript for details like spelling, grammar, and consistency. Now it’s really time to throw a party! Not only have you written a great book, you’ve revised it enough that you can start submitting it to agents and editors! Hooray for you!
Rochelle Melander is an author, speaker, and certified professional coach. She is the author of ten books, including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It). She’s still revising her 2010 NaNoWriMo project, but hopes to be done very soon. For more tips and a complementary download of the first two chapters of Write-A-Thon, visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com