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!


November is National Novel Writing Month when writers across the country and around the world will embark on an exciting 30-day, 50k writing adventure and… I won’t be joining them.

I am a firm believer in daily word counts. I have the Excel spreadsheet to prove it. And I find great motivation in externally imposed deadlines. But for some reason, NaNo doesn’t work for me.

I’ve done NaNo twice. Both times I hit the 50k goal in the allotted time period. And then I went dark for the month after. Not good. Partly I think it’s the timing. I make a lot of my Christmas goodies, which cuts into my writing creativity. Also, I think the validation of having done the 50k in 30 days is a false pressure relief on my writing brain. 50k is only half a book for me. That’s halfway, and halfway is great, but it’s not done. So the celebration doesn’t feel quite right.

But I still love NaNo, for the enthusiasm and the camaraderie. If you’re not taking part, here are a couple ways to enjoy NaNo:

1. Call all your NaNo-ing writer friends with fake urgent messages from their day jobs.

2. Post tweets at 10:30 a.m. saying you already got your 3k done for the day.

3. Tell your family you ARE doing NaNo and disappear from their lives while they cook turkeys and do the Christmas shopping.

No wait, those are all evil ways to enjoy NaNo. You can use NaNo for good even if you can’t NaNo all the way.

1. Follow the #NaNo tag on Twitter and cheer your fellow writers. They’ll cheer you when your time comes.

2. If you only have a couple days free in your schedule, dedicate the same energy the NaNoers do, just for those days. Or, if your writing schedule didn’t work out for first drafting, brainstorm or revise with that same intensity.

3. If you’ve never tried NaNo but would like to, use this month as a training session. Learn how to plan your days so you can get 1667 words done. And most importantly, take what you learn and apply it to the OTHER 11 months of the year. Then you’ll be ready for NaNo next year.

4. And remember, writing is a marathon. A zombie marathon, where you have to keep moving or they get you. But it is also sometimes a race-to-the-train sprint. And sometimes it is a grizzly attack where all you can do is curl into a ball and hope the pain goes away before you die. Mastering all the speeds of your story is the work of a lifetime, not just one month.

Happy writing, whether it’s 50k or 50 pages!