Hooray! You dashed off at least 50,000 words in one month. Maybe you even finished a full novel. But once the mad rush is over, how can you salvage the mess you created? (Mess is used affectionately here. Since NaNo produces quantity rather than quality, your draft will be extremely rough.)
I’ve participated in (and won) NaNoWriMo five years in a row. I was a rebel until this year. The first four years, I wrote multiple novellas rather than a novel. However, the challenge sharpened me every time. Whenever January rolled around and NaNo encouraged me to edit my work, I listened. Depending on my schedule, I didn’t always start revisions in January, but I completed them nonetheless.
In this article, I’ll share a few tips I’ve gleaned over the years that I hope will help break down the process for you. As a published author, I like to believe I’m knowledgable about editing, but learning never ends.
1. Start with a Break
Whether you wrote your novel during NaNoWriMo or not, letting it sit for two weeks or more is wise. This distances you from your book so you’ll detect problems during the next step.
Whenever I take a break between drafts, I return to my book with clearer vision. I’m more likely to notice that a minor character’s name changed between the beginning and the end, the age shifted too drastically, or some other small mistake.
2. Do a Thorough Read-Through
Grab a notebook and a pen or pencil (or turn on your word processor’s comments feature), then open your NaNo novel and dive in. Jot down all the changes you need to make, but remember that this is a time to survey your novel, not modify it. The goal is to read through the document as quickly as possible so you can see the big picture, as well as inconsistencies. You’re liable to encounter hair color changes that don’t involve hair dye, character arcs that fall flat, and scores of plot holes. The story may also lack subplots because you were too focused on the main plot to add any, or you may have allowed a subplot to swallow your main plot because you were inspired and needed the words.
3. Prioritize Your List
Map out your revisions so that you address large-scale issues first. Weaknesses in character development and/or story structure will require you to rewrite whole chapters or insert new scenes, so you’ll need to begin with repairing those. After that you can get more nitpicky and fix the places where you accidentally renamed a character, misspelled words, introduced grammar errors, or wrote sentences that tell rather than show.
If you concentrate on a couple items at a time, editing will feel less overwhelming, and using your time efficiently will help you stay motivated to conquer the myriad of issues.
This is almost every writer’s least favorite task. Editing can be hard. But it can also be fun if you avoid tackling everything at once. If your character needs an overhaul, comb through your manuscript and focus on enhancing him, ignoring any unrelated details or scenes. Once you’ve resolved the problem, you can move on to the next one.
Grammar/spelling errors and word choice, however, can usually be dealt with during the same stage. Search for telling verbs like saw, looked, knew, and felt and delete or replace them with stronger words where possible. Substitute “She saw a blue bird” with “A blue bird fluttered out of a nearby tree.” Describe what’s happening instead of stating it.
Helping verbs, such as was/were and have/had, are often signs of passive voice, so check the context to determine whether rewording is necessary. And, last but not least, then can almost always be removed.
5. Call in Beta Readers
You think your story is solid? Send it to beta readers who will tear it apart again. Getting feedback on your manuscript is a humbling but enlightening experience. They didn’t write the book, so they’ll spot weaknesses you would never notice because you’re close to your story and characters.
Finding the right beta readers is an article for another day, but I have two quick suggestions: Enlist at least a few writers who know the standards you’re aiming for, as well as someone who’s familiar with your genre. Writers will be able to provide constructive criticism on story structure, character development, etc., and betas who understand the genre can identify anything that doesn’t fit in.
6. To Publish or Not to Publish?
The answer to this question depends on your goals. If you intend to publish your book, keep doing the dreaded revisions and hire an editor. These are all steps you should follow whether you’re aiming for traditional or independent publishing.
Also consider whether or not your book should be published. It may be a great concept, but perhaps now isn’t the opportune moment to share it with the world. If you’re unsure, I highly recommend seeking opinions from other writing experts.
7. Hire an Editor and a Proofreader
You’re probably wondering whether an editor is worth the cost when you expect your beta readers to catch anything you miss.
I’ve grappled with the same doubts. Plus, I couldn’t afford any of the editors I researched online. Then I discovered a content editor whose fee I realized I could pay. So I tried her, and that was probably the best money I ever spent on my book. She had some great ideas and comments. Not only that, but she praised parts of my story instead of just pointing out problems!
If you’re serious about publication and can spare the money, I encourage you to hire a professional editor. You won’t be disappointed.
Proofreading is another job I pay someone to do. My proofreader cleans up any remaining errors, and then I have my mom and sisters do a final proofread for free (I give them a copy of each of my books though, so they’re sort of paid).
I’m decent at catching mistakes—but only in other people’s manuscripts. With my own, I know what I meant to say, so that’s how I read it. However, Maddie Wilson wrote an article last month on how to successfully proofread your own work.
Congratulations! Not only did you write 50,000 or more words in one month, but you have an editing strategy. Now it’s time to bite the bullet and do it. If you work best with goal trackers, check out the NaNoWriMo website and their handy options. They also have a few resources that I didn’t mention.
Even if you don’t publish your NaNo novel, you’ll gain experience for your next project by going through the process. Are you planning to edit your novel? If so, when do you hope to start?
Faith Blum is a small-town Wisconsin girl. She’s lived in, or outside of, small towns her whole life. The thought of living in a city with more than 60,000 people in it scares her, especially after some interesting adventures driving through big cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Faith currently resides in the middle of Wisconsin with her husband and their cat, Smokey. She is blessed to be able to have writing as her full-time career, with household work and cooking to do on the side.
When not writing, you can find her cooking food from scratch due to food allergies, doing dishes, knitting, crocheting, sewing, reading, or spending time with her husband. She is also a community assistant for the Young Writers Workshop and loves her work there. She enjoys hearing from her readers, so feel free to contact her on her website.