You’ve spent the last thirty days on NaNoWriMo – that annual 50,000-word-in-a-month novel contest. And suddenly it’s 30 November.
That arrived fast! And what counts is the doing – not the ‘winning’. Which sounds facile, but don’t forget that, whether you won or not, you’ve just joined a fairly select group. A lot of people have ambitions of writing ‘their book’. Do they even tackle it? No. You just have – and that’s the first and hardest hurdle. A brilliant achievement. So take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back.
What now? Agents, publications, riches? Don’t even dream of it. Not yet. There’s work ahead, folks. If you haven’t finished in the time – don’t sweat, keep writing and finish the draft – for that is what NaNo produces. And don’t sweat if it’s a little under or over. Word count isn’t an end point. It’s a tool by which you make sure your work’s balanced and to required spec. In point of fact, 50,000 words is a little light for a modern novel.
Next step. When you finish – or if you have already – stick the manuscript in a metaphorical drawer and leave it there until after Christmas. Don’t forget to back up the files. Now go and write something else.
This is actually vital. Putting a pause into the work – even if you’re still in a white heat of enthusiasm – pays colossal dividends. You’ll come back to it with fresh eyes – and that’s one of the keys to good writing. What then? Well, there’s no easy road. If you’ve been following the approaches I recommend, you’ll have something that’s well structured but roughly worded. That’s fine – this is how professional writing works. It’ll need re-writing, possibly completely re-wording, but the hard part’s been done, which is getting the underlying structure, the balance of pace, the character arcs correctly meshing with the dramatic pace of the plot narrative, and so forth.
Of course, that approach doesn’t work for everyone. But either way, the manuscript’s going to need work. How much work? Some writers look on the act of initial drafting – which is what NaNo is – as ‘writing’, everything else as ‘editing’.
Actually, the whole thing is writing and on my experience the first draft is only about the half-way point, maybe less, before it’ll be ready to submit to an agent or publisher. And the publishing process could add as much author time again. The point being that there’s still some effort ahead. But it shouldn’t be a chore. Writing’s fun – and re-writing the first draft, quite possibly, is even more fun, for reasons I’m going to outline soon.
As the song says – don’t dream it’s over.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014