How to Rescue Your NaNoWriMo Novel:
A Study in the Virtues of Chocolate and Fizzy Drinks
by Destiny Soria
It’s December. You’ve had a whole month’s worth of distance from the 50,000 words that consumed your entire November. You open the document. Depending on whether your proverbial glass is half-full or half-empty, you start reading with either gleeful abandon or miserable trepidation. Regardless, I can promise you that the conclusion you’ll reach by the end (or in the most cases, by the end of the third chapter) is that this is utter and complete garbage, and you’ve wasted thirty days of your life, and oh the horror, etc. etc. ad nauseam. If your conclusion is none of these things, then congratulations you’ve achieved the highest level of ascendency, continue onward to fame and fortune. Or possibly you are sloshing about in a state of egg nog-induced delirium and should maybe take a nap before proceeding.
As for the rest of us, those poor souls leading their lives of quiet desperation at just how terrible we are at writing, we are faced with a choice. Option #1: Bury the “novel” in a folder so deep in the bowels of your computer that it will never again see the light of day. Option #2: Dust off the red pen and get to work.
For those of you who choose Option #1, I commend you for a draft well-finished. Carry on without shame to the “Third” section of this post.
For those of you who choose Option #2, you have a long and lonely road ahead, full of weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Unless you like editing better than drafting, in which case, the hard part is over!)
I’ve won NaNoWriMo five times, so I consider myself fairly seasoned in that regard. But I’ve only revised one of those winners (heavy air quotes) into a real actual novel—my debut Iron Cast. So in the NaNo revision department, I’m in the same boat as most of you, and probably several strokes behind those who are more dedicated than I. All the same, I’ve got a few tips that helped me survive my miserable trepidation (oh yes, my glass is always half-empty) and salvage a novel from the wreckage.
Go easy on yourself. You wrote a novel! In thirty days! No matter how terrible it is, that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating. I recommend chocolate and a fizzy drink. And while you’re treating yourself, take a few minutes to write down everything that works in this draft. It can be as broad as a plot twist you’re proud of or as specific as a witty line of dialogue that you love. I promise the manuscript, no matter how disjointed or rambling, is peppered with these gems. Having them written out will not only help you during revisions, but it will also remind you how awesome you are.
Find the revision process that works best for you—not what you think is the “right” or “best” process. I’ve known authors who covered a wall with every beat of the novel on note cards before they even touch the first sentence, and I’ve known authors who start at Page 1 and revise/rewrite everything in order. And if you’ve revised novels before, what worked then might not necessarily work for you this time. Don’t be afraid to branch out if your tried and true methods aren’t quite so true anymore. Here’s my personal process, which might be worth trying if you’re not sure what works for you:
-I set my critique group loose on the draft. Sometimes I have an idea of what I want to keep/change, but mostly I just let them tell me what they think is working or not and what characters/concepts they wanted to see more or less. Nothing’s off limits.
-Keeping my critique group’s comments in mind, I write out a list of all the changes I want to make, big and small. Obviously it’s not an exhaustive list at this point, and for every item I cross off, I usually end up adding two more. But for me lists are much easier to tackle than 50K+ words all at once.
-I make changes chronologically, chapter by chapter. I know a lot of writers who prefer to start with big picture and work their way down to small. There’s any number of ways to do it, but the important thing is that you dive in. The most daunting part of the editing process is actually starting. Once you’ve gotten that over with, the rest is much easier.
-Once all the items on my list are crossed off, I consider my second draft complete. If possible, I take a break for a couple weeks to clear my mind. The third draft involves more hard-hitting edits—usually a lot of cutting and being sad about the things I’m cutting. I might have another critique partner give their thoughts at this stage too, just to make sure everything is cohesive.
Have some more chocolate and fizzy drink. You earned it.
Once your draft is fighting fit, you can move on to the next stage of the never-ending publishing process (assuming that’s what you want, of course). If you’re looking for tips on what to do next, Live, Love, Read has got you covered. (Personally, I recommend the posts by Ava Jae, Rebecca Podos, and Elise Kova.) No matter what stage you’re in—querying, submission, crying under the kitchen table—the important thing to remember is that you did the thing! You did the thing that almost everyone you meet in your entire life is going to tell you they wish they could do, and that is finish a novel. I salute you.
Destiny Soria grew up in a tiny town in Alabama that you’ve never heard of, where she spent her summers playing with sticks in the woods and exploring such distinguished careers as Forest Bandit, Wayward Orphan, and Woodland Fairy Princess. After college, she ran away to New Zealand for seven months and only pretended to be a character from Lord of the Rings on special occasions. Nowadays she lives and works in the shadow of the mighty Vulcan in Birmingham, AL.
In 1919, Ada Navarra—the intrepid daughter of immigrants—and Corinne Wells—a spunky, devil-may-care heiress—make an unlikely pair. But at the Cast Iron nightclub in Boston, anything and everything is possible. At night, on stage together, the two best friends, whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art, weave magic under the employ of Johnny Dervish, the club’s owner and a notorious gangster. By day, Ada and Corinne use these same skills to con the city’s elite in an attempt to keep the club afloat.
When a “job” goes awry and Ada is imprisoned, she realizes they’re on the precipice of danger. Only Corinne—her partner in crime—can break her out of Haversham Asylum. But once Ada is out, they face betrayal at every turn.
Thank you so much, Destiny, for this wonderful post! You are just the sweetest for being a reader of Musings, as well! Plus, who doesn’t love chocolate and fizzy drinks?! You’re amazing, just like your book!
Thank you so much to everyone who is a part of Musings. Your words of advice never go unnoticed and unappreciated.
We hope you all have an amazing rest of your week!