NaNoWriMo next step

This post is for my writer friends. Readers, look away unless you want to see the vulnerable underbelly of writing.

I like writing a fast first draft. The Force is strong in my Internal Editor (as it was in young Anakin, and look how well that turned out) so I have to outrun her or the story will never get written. But then comes the “what next?” stage. How do I turn a hot mess hot draft into the next phase of a finished story?

1. Let it cool a bit.

Like a cookie fresh out of the oven, I always want to start snarfing right away. But giving the cookie a moment to cool on the pan develops some flavors I wouldn’t otherwise notice while scalding my tongue on molten choco chips. Same with the story. Most writers I know don’t have time to let a story sit for months, but taking even a short step away gives me a new perspective.

2. Re-read and see what’s on the page.

I usually make some notes as I’m going through, but I don’t slow down to do actual revision. I just want a sense of what the story turned out to be, and I want to hold the whole thing in my head at once before I go back again and make some real notes.

3. Know what I forget.

There’s a bunch of things I always forget to put in the first draft. Like, um, the romance. Derp, I know. But the romance is hard, so I usually have the plot beats (first kiss, first love scene, first realization of love) but I don’t slow down enough to get the feelings on the page. That comes later. Also, my characters are never dressed. Not because they spend the whole story in bed, but because I never bother to clothe them until a later draft. Also, I use an unholy number of ellipses… Knowing what I always do wrong makes it easier to look for those things during revisions, so hopefully I can spare my critique partners asking, “Does the hero ever put on pants?”

4. Don’t edit yet.

After the first draft is when a lot of writers want to start editing. Not yet. Revising comes first. To me, editing is fixing the words. Revising is fixing the story. Almost always, I find I come back to three key points:

  • Why should I care?
    This is about the stakes of the story. What’s at risk and why should that move me?
  • Why does the character care?
    This is about the main character’s issue, arc, and motivation. The trick here is to keep asking: “But why?” Go deeper until the character’s bedrock is revealed.
  • What keeps me reading?
    This is about pacing, making the plot and character revelations unspool in a way that keeps the reader emotionally invested in turning pages.

If I can pin down the stakes, character growth (to a resonant conclusion), and pacing, I’ll feel good enough about my story to send it out to my critique partners for some real savaging.

But first, I have to get my Christmas presents made!

Congrats to everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo. However many words you got done is more words than you had before!

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