Week One

In the first seven days of NaNoWriMo, I have written an average of 4,000 words per day. My novel isn’t finished, but I have reached the end of the story. A lot of details need to be added, so I will spend the next twenty-three days doing that. I know what happens, now I just need to smooth it out, lengthen it, and make it plausible.

Starting NaNoWriMo

I was quite nervous, but I got started on Friday. My book took an unexpected detour, and I’ve managed to make up a new word, and am now trying to prevent myself from overusing it. I have an idea of how the story will end. When I revise, I will need to add a lot of details, and I really must stop writing pages and pages of unbroken dialog. I’m starting to like my characters, but I don’t know them as well as I’d like to. One thing I’m happy about is that I was a bit of a Plantser. I planned just enough of the story to stay on track, but I need that element of surprise that comes from Pantsing, so I combined them. One thing I am struggling with is third person narration. My point of view switches between characters, so this narration style makes sense, but I find it hard to take things smoothly into the characters’ heads, and then out again for a more distant view. I find first person so much easier, but it doesn’t work for this book. I’m excited about my story and afraid of what might happen next.

After You Revise

You’ve worked very hard and finished revising your novel. Isn’t it amazing how long it takes? I’ve been working on a fairly substantial book, and have logged about forty-eight hours of revisions. That’s more than a work week. It’s not finished yet. Writing it was fun, and revising it sometimes is, but I find it hard to work on such a long document.

After all that, it’s still not over. You could show it to a friend or family member. I suggest picking somebody you know will be honest but constructive. There’s no point in sharing it with somebody who hates that genre. Sharing it with somebody who will only say nice things won’t help the story much, but might help you if you need to ease into sharing your work. If you find somebody who can offer constructive feedback, that’s great. I am not using the word “edit.” I don’t recommend asking family and friends to edit your book. They can read it and offer comments, but they shouldn’t edit. They don’t know the characters the way you do. They can point out punctuation errors or spelling issues, awkward sentences, and problems with the plot, but you should be the one to change them in your manuscript. An exception to this rule is if a relative or friend happens to be a professional Editor. If you are writing with pen and paper, make absolutely sure that you make a copy of it. Your friend’s toddler might mistake your life’s work for a stack of drawing paper. Having a backup copy protects both of you. Imagine how bad the poor kid would feel when they got older and found out they were the cause of you never speaking to your friend again and of your book never being published! Make that backup copy now.

Once you’ve implemented any feedback, now it’s time to send your book to an Editor. That word always gets a capital E because I’ve gone so long not realizing how important Editors are. An Editor is a reader who will do their professional best to understand your book, and also give it some tough love. That’s their calling. The Editor will spend time reading your book and finding the places where it can become clearer, stronger, and ultimately find its place on the shelves. The Editor will not try to rewrite your story. The Editor is going to say something good about your book. They will transition from that to telling you where it can be improved. They know how to do this because they’ve had lots of training and real-world practice. The Editor is on your side. If you’re self-publishing, you’re paying the Editor for their services. That’s a pretty good way to insure that your manuscript will get the attention it deserves. Editors charge per word, so having a long book edited will cost you. It’s worth it. Save up the money, borrow it, or make room in your budget.

Editing is a process, and you’re involved. You usually send a Microsoft Word document, and they use Track Changes so you can see exactly what they’ve done. You can accept or reject changes. They also often add comments and questions where they need you, the author, to rewrite a portion of your work because it is unclear or doesn’t work. They know when they need to ask you to do this. This is why I recommend using an Editor to edit your book. A friend or relative will probably do it for free, but unless they have special training, they simply don’t know how to edit another person’s work. What an Editor does goes out beyond punctuation and spelling. They catch awkward sentences, problems with the plot, but also things that you didn’t include in your book and questions a reader might have. As the author, you are very close to your characters. They live in your head. You know them so well, you sometimes forget to say things “out loud,” and consequently, your readers, unless they’re telepathic, won’t be able to pick up on.

When you get your edited manuscript back, it won’t be chopped up. In most cases, it will be smoother. Yes, your Editor might include a typo. They’re human, and they sometimes hit the wrong keys. If you really don’t like something, tell the Editor in a constructive way. Maybe they misunderstood something. You can rewrite it to make it clearer so that your readers won’t also misunderstand it.

One round of editing likely won’t be enough. Unless your plot and story are very polished, you will probably need a big picture kind of edit, and then some nitty-gritty stuff in a subsequent round. A final check of all systems might also help your book to gain positive reviews later. A proofread can be performed by another Editor. If your book were a person, it would be so happy that you made sure it got the care and feeding it needs to put itself out into the world. Your wallet will be thinner, but your book will have a better chance at success. I have to say “chance,” because there’s no guarantee. Books with many typos are sometimes bestsellers. Wonderful books can and do languish in the dusty basements of obscurity. The tides of popularity are a factor. What sells now may not sell tomorrow. If people don’t know about your book, they also can’t buy it. I recommend talking to a marketing expert who will help you get your book out there, in spite of the uncertainties of fad and fashion.

Give your book both professional editing and assistance from a marketing expert.

The Hardest Part of Writing

For me, it’s not getting the idea that I find difficult. I don’t struggle with the blank page, nor with the first chapter. Sometimes, I do find the middle of the novel a little bit slow, but if I sit on it for a few hours, I usually figure out how to fix it. Writing the end isn’t too bad.

What I find the hardest is revising. Every novel needs it. There’s no such thing as a first draft that’s ready to publish. It may be good, great, or even fantastic, but it’s not finishe yet. It may not be good. Don’t spend time worrying if it’s good or not. It’s a first draft. Parts of it will be bad. Other parts might leave you in awe of yourself, and that’s an interesting feeling. You might ask, “Did I really write that?”

As you revise, step into your characters’ heads again, but in a different way. This will help you get rid of the things your characters wouldn’t say. Is a sentence spoken by a two-year-old going to contain a semicolon? Does that teacher really swear when there are kids in the room? Maybe so, but these are questions only your characters can answer.

Also look for holes in the plot. Did the police forget to look at the crime scene? No problem. Add that. If you revise carefully, your readers won’t know that part was added later. Read the book as a whole and try and catch anything that doesn’t make sense or that you didn’t return to later. Did the manager drop his keys but later you forgot to have that promotion-seeking employee find them and sneak into the manager’s office to read those confidential reports? If you plan and outline, this kind of thing might happen less often, but nobody’s perfect, and it’s easy to miss adding something or add things you didn’t plan when you’re caught up in the adventure of writing your novel.

A spellcheck never hurts, and you’ll probably need to do more than one as typos can and do creep into revisions.

If you don’t like the beginning, the middle, or the ending, change it / them. Make a copy of the original and again after major revisions so you have them to go back to in case you decide you don’t like something you added or wish you could recover something you took out. Even if you know something doesn’t belong, sometimes you just have to keep something for yourself. Maybe those pages will turn into another story.

Once you’ve revised your book, you’ll be so much happier with it. It will be better, greater, and more fantastic than your first draft. It still won’t be ready for the shelves, but that’s for another post.

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

I was too late last year, but this year, I’m going to do NaNoWriMo.

National Novel Writing Month is November. I have thirty days to write a novel. My first NaNoWriMo novel will be called “On Ice,” and is a sci-fi romance about a researcher stranded on a very cold planet and the computer expert who loves her from a long distance. I don’t have an ending clearly in mind, because I’m a Pantser, but I intend to get there in thirty days!

You can participate in NaNoWriMo. Head over to http://www.nanowrimo.org and create an account. You don’t have to have written a novel before, and you don’t need any credentials except an e-mail address and password. Writing is so much fun, and if you enjoy a challenge, I urge you to join NaNoWriMo right now.