For those of us who are struggling to cross the finish line for NaNoWriMo this graphic is a wonderful resource. Visit Life Of A Story Teller for this and much more great advice on writing.
But today’s blog post isn’t about writing, or about the luminous end of NaNoWriMo. It is about the days and weeks and months that will follow.
Let me say, that if you are lucky enough to be completing your novel by the end of the month, congratulations. I know many of us will need a few more days to complete our first drafts. Keep the faith! Don’t give up. Your story is worth it.
But what then?
If you, at the end of the month of November, look at your rough draft and cringe with the inescapable knowledge that it is not ready for human consumption I would like to lend my support to that opinion. Very few writers are good writers. The best writers are amazing re-writers.
So once you’ve completed the first draft, don’t look at it again for at leaste two weeks (Stephen King says 6 weeks). Get some emotional distance from your darling because what comes next is going to be hard. In the life of a writer, there are few stages that are as painful and as rewarding as the rewriting phase of a novel.
This is when you use your rough draft as a guide, moving or deleting whole pages, chapters, and paragraphs. You want to focus on the theme, here. What is your story REALLY about? Rewrite about 90% of it to make it better, sharper, cleaner. Your word count will shrink and then explode, and then shrink again. In the end, the second draft will be about 10% smaller than your first draft and about 30% better than what you have now.
But you’re still not done. Now comes the “table reading”. This is when you *gulp* read the novel out loud. This time focus on voice. Does each character have their own voice, their own way of speaking and acting? Do all the girls sound like the same girl with different names? Do all the boys sound like some version of the same guy? If so, get to work. Nail down who each of your characters truly is, even if they are minor characters because guess what? THEY DON’T KNOW THEY’RE MINOR CHARACTERS! In your mini-universe, they each have a backstory and a future and you had better know those stories as well. This will improve your novel by about 20%.
Does this sound exhausting? It may be but you still aren’t done.
Cue the outside help. That’s right! Beta readers and editors. Be sure to proofread at least once before you start letting other people read this stuff. It’s already pretty toxic.
Your editor is going to use their writing and storytelling expertise to point out all the stuff you couldn’t see with your naked eye. They are going to talk to you about pacing and POV and plot holes. Listen to them but don’t take it personally. All unedited books suck. That’s why editors exist. If you work well with your editor you will find that your book will improve by another 30%.
You’re up to an 80% improvement. Not bad, right?
Finally, your beta readers (whether that’s just your best friends or the girls in your facebook group) are going to tell you what readers see when they read your book. Pick betas who are avid readers and not necessarily fans of YOU. Your mother, for example, isn’t a good choice. Good betas enjoy the genre you are writing, read a lot, and aren’t afraid to tell you the truth.
The key here is to know which bits of feedback to ignore and which ones to consider. My general rule is if the reader is very specific and knows EXACTLY what’s wrong with the story and how to fix it, then it’s okay to ignore them. What that reader wants is to write their own story. And they probably should. Just not in MY book. But, if most of my beta readers pick up on the same issue it’s reason enough to take a second look at it and find a way to fix it. It may be a good idea to refer back to your editor if you make big changes.
Remember that you can’t please everybody. Don’t try.
After all of that is said and done, give it another read through. Proofread once more, and then release your little darling into the world (or begin querying for an agent, whatever makes you happy). The point is that the magic doesn’t stop here. The road from “writer” to “author” takes time to travel. You’ve done the most difficult part, putting words on blank paper (err..screen?). Don’t let all of that effort go to waste by never finding out how great that novel can be.