Tuesday, November 15, 2011
NaNoWriMo? What Now?
Guest Post by Emily Matthews
Every year, more than 200,000 people participate in NaNoWriMo, and 34,000 complete the first draft of a novel. That’s at least 1.7 trillion words! But once that first draft is completed, what happens next?
Lock it away. That’s right, you just spent a month of your life slaving over this novel, but that’s exactly why you shouldn’t be looking at it. Because you’re still so close to the narrative, you won’t be able to look at it with the necessary objectivity. So hide it away - for a week, or a month, or however long it takes to feel creative and excited about the project again. Because the next step is the one that’s going to hurt.
Any published author will tell budding writers that a good first draft is exactly that: a first draft. It is especially important in a competition like NaNoWriMo to let your creativity flow unhindered onto the paper. There is no time for rewrites and editing. Once you've gotten all of the basics of the story in place however, you need to go back through and evaluate what truly works and what doesn’t, and odds are, at 1,667 words a day, there are going to be quite a few things that don’t. Don’t be discouraged. This was a submission for a contest online, not your masters degree thesis. Editing a story the first time through usually requires a lot of corrections for typos and grammatical mistakes, but it will also open up the author's eyes to any weak spots in the overall story line.
After you've given your NaNoWriMo novel a first look over, give it to someone else to read. Preferably that person will have at least a basic background in writing, but if you don't have such a person available to you, then anyone who enjoys reading will do. Have them make notes on the margins of a printed manuscript, pointing out any typos or continuity errors. Most importantly, make sure you've selected someone who you can trust to tell you the truth about whether they like or dislike your novel. Keep in mind, however, that everyone has different tastes in literature, so don't be too discouraged if the first person to read your work in progress doesn't love it. Regardless of their personal opinion of the work, be sure to also ask them if they were able to get a good picture of the characters in their mind based on your written descriptions of them.
Once you've received their feedback, go back through the novel with a fine-toothed comb. Take their suggestions seriously, but don't make a revision simply because they've suggested it. Pay especially close attention to any comments about continuity errors or sentences that don't make any sense. Also, if they weren't able to properly envision your characters, be sure to add at least a few sentences to clue future readers into their physical appearance.
After this process is completed, consider going to a writing workshop where you can share samples of your novel with published authors or literary professors. Again, utilize their comments constructively to help make your novel more publisher-friendly. If you're still receiving a lot of correction suggestions after following all of the above steps, consider doing each step over again, as many times as necessary to reach your goal. After all, over 90 authors have published a book that they began during NaNoWriMo and with enough dedication you can be the next to join their ranks.
Emily Matthews is currently applying to a masters degree program across the U.S., and loves to read about new research into health care, gender issues, and literature. She lives and writes in Seattle, Washington.
Thoughts? Do you NaNoWriMo?
Image: Andrea Brill