The joys of NaNo have ended. Crossing the finish line of victory is now in our past. We must now let loose our Inner Editor and let them wreak havoc on one of our writing babies.
Get Some Distance
Reading through your novel shortly after you finish it is fun. You will see some errors, but I’ve found that mostly you will smile, like the story, and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. If all you want to do is get that warm-fuzzy feeling again of how awesome you did during the NaNo season, then go ahead and reread your NaNo creation.
With that said, though, I will tell you now that I don’t plan on rereading my own NaNo story until at least Christmas, more than likely January. I spent a good part of November rereading chapters the day after I wrote them. I wrote for 30 straight days, ignoring my own advice about taking a day off. The story is good, I know. But the mechanics of it show traces of NaNo, down to the rambling prayers, minor word padding, and the random > symbols that signaled the start of my word wars.
When I look at this story again, I’m not going to be looking for the warm-fuzzy feeling of NaNo. I’m going to be trusting my Inner Editor to tell me what needs to be fixed. And it order for my Inner Editor to do that properly, I need space from my story. Give yourself at least a few weeks, then come back to the story. Your Inner Editor will point out things with clarity not even he had three weeks before.
When you finally get back to your story with enough distance, you will see things that you did not see before.
Wait a minute. She can’t be in her bedroom there! Her sisters were sleeping in her bed last night!
Hmm. How far away is that landmark?
Aren’t the aliens buildings round here? Why are they sitting in a corner?
How did I miss three words in that sentence and NOT NOTICE it before?
Wrong name. Gah. WHY DO THEY RHYME?
Just as I told you before, noticing these things does not make you a horrible writer. Actually, seeing things that must be fixed means you’re on the road to making your story presentable to the masses.
You just hammered out a draft. A draft has problems. A draft is not done. When you go back to your story, do not expect it to be perfect. Do not expect to fix spelling, grammar, and minor errors and be done. There will be rough spots. Chapters might have to be rewritten. You might have to fill in some plot holes. When you come back to your story in order to fix it, don’t be horrified to find yourself making notes every four sentences. These things are typical of a draft.
Each Writer is Different
Some people have set processes and will have a polished manuscript done after one or two editing sweeps. Others will throw out their stories and start from scratch. My guess is you will be somewhere in between these two extremes. You aren’t going to catch everything the first time through. With that in mind, not everything you’ve written in the past month is worth scrapping. There are some gems somewhere in there.
I’ve found a process that works well for me. I print out my book and make my notes by hand. When I go back to the computer, I have my marked up copy with me. I don’t have to read through each line now, I can scroll down until I make my next note. This is harder than it sounds, because I could have “elaborate” written three times in a single page, meaning I need another up to another paragraph or two describing or expanding on whatever I talked about. Then I have to make sure what I just wrote fits with what is already written.
That’s what works for me. Find what works for you. If it's making comments in your computer document on your first read through, go for it. If it's correcting everything you see as you read through it, working on one page a day, pinning each page to a wall once you're convinced it's perfect, by all means, do it.
Let Others Read It
Yes, your writing can be intensely personal. Yes, you poured your heart and soul into this story for the past thirty days. But YOU wrote it, and you aren’t going to see some things. I highly recommend getting a group of people who enjoy reading your type of stories, who will be honest, and will make the time to read it.
Friends and family reading your stuff is good if they will provide you with feedback beyond “it’s good.” Yes, after thirty days tearing your hair out and agonizing over the next words, “it’s good” is an oasis to your soul and a boost to morale. You have not written drivel, but a coherent story. HOORAY!
But if after reading it through again, you decide you want this story fit for publication, you must make your story better than good. In order for your book to have any kind of chance in the marketplace, it has to be phenomenal. And in order to get your NaNo draft ready for the masses, you have to get opinions of people who live outside your head and haven’t done a tour of the main character’s bedroom yet. You have to have people tell you where your weak spots are. “This is a major plot hole” are words you never want to hear. But if you don’t hear it from someone else, you might never see it yourself.
This Takes Time
Writing is fun. Creating new worlds, describing people who you met three minutes ago while you were staring at your computer screen, and plunging head first into a new character’s set of problems is a lot of fun. Terrifying, exhausting, and slightly crazy as well, but writing is fun.
I’ve met a few who think editing is fun. And while there are light bulb moments and you realize the perfect comeback for your witty sidekick or why the main character always sits in a certain chair, editing as a whole is NOT fun. Editing involves critically looking at every sentence, every sentence structure, every word choice, and every piece of punctuation.
Think of it this way – writing is like storming the castle to rescue the princess. It’s hard, but it’s doable. The process of editing is somewhere between cleaning the castle with a toothbrush and dismantling the castle in order to rebuild it, all while your princess tells you that you’re not doing it right. Remember that dragon you slayed to save her neck? At some point you’re going to wish he had eaten her so you will be done with the story and never have to hear her whining voice again. “I’m not whiny. I’m just right a lot. You know, I think that stone looks better over by the window...”
Just like in writing, breaks are good. You gain perspective. You regain your sanity. You can stop thinking about your whiny princess and why you had to dismantle the castle to begin with. Be sure to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.
The problem I’ve found with editing that while other people can see your mistakes more clearly, there’s usually no one better to fix such things than you. Why are you only given a toothbrush? Maybe so when you finish, you know it’s mostly done. At least until the next time you edit.
Editing is a long, hard, frustrating process. It is also very rewarding. Once you finish fixing your mistakes and look over your work, you’re going to be happy with the outcome. Though it drove you bananas, you will be glad that the dragon did not eat the princess in the last scene.