|You're right, this isn't wheat bread.|
Congrats to all you NaNoers out there! Even if you didn't finish the 50,000 words, any words are better than no words.
Every time you write a first draft, you are getting practice at that part of the writing process--that's the fun, inspiring "follow your imagination" part of writing.
If you ever want to see your work published and enjoyed, however, you also need to practice finishing a novel. NaNo gives some good resources to start you on your journey, but you'll need more than PB&J sandwiches and chocolate kisses to make it. You'll need egg salad sandwiches on wheat bread and spinach for dessert. I've covered the five stages of the writing process in a previous post, so I won't go into that much in this post. Today I'm just going to mentally prepare you for the road ahead, post-NaNo.
After NaNo you'll have a first draft to work with. You may suspect that it is pure drivel or you may be very fond of it. Let me encourage you if you're feeling down: first drafts are all monstrous. But no matter how you are feeling about that manuscript, it's time to move beyond that first phase of writing. We have to get to and through that middle, slogging stage. Then we'll journey through the "finishing touches" stage.* Finally, we get to send it out to agents or publishers. Or, if you are self-publishing, this is where you format and pay for your copies and begin marketing like a crazy person.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. It's good to take a month long break from your NaNo manuscripts before starting on the gigantic "middle phase." **
I'm still developing my own writing process, but it's starting to kind of look like this:
First Draft Revisions
That big, long second stage that lives on into the wild blue yonder is called "Revision." It does end...eventually ;) I've posted about revisions before, but this is the perfect time to think about it again. It's a completely different mindset, a new type of writing. You'll probably love some parts and hate others...But every manuscript needs revision.
The end of NaNo begins the next stage of writing. The middle. Embark with me!
You Can Make It!When you're stuck in the middle of the revisiony swamp, maybe dealing with writer's block, keep chugging along, my friend. It will end. Try this: Imagine eventually ending your own story. Imagine the pristine state it will be in. That feeling...it's so good! It's what I write for. But the only way to finish that story and get that feelingis to muck through the middle and find your way.
How to Get Started
There are tons of great books and blog posts out there on revision, so I won't go on about this too long. (I linked some great blog posts from published authors on revision to my "Five Stages of Writing" post.) To get started, I recommend these steps: 1.) Print out your work. 2.) Read it through, preferably in one sitting. 3.) Make a list of things you want to fix. It's like a to-do list. "Make Carlton a more realistic character." "Add some conflict to such and such a scene." "Tie the ending more to the beginning." Start off with the big stuff, like plot. Editing words and syntax will come later. 4.) Don't get overwhelmed by thinking of all the things you must fix. Take it one task at a time. 5.) Finish your list. 6.) Give it a few weeks, and read it all over again to make sure you've finished the big stuff. Meanwhile, you can begin editing the small stuff--grammar, voice, etc.
Working to Find What Works For YouYou can get help, but you can't immediately accept someone's advice and expect to know everything about revision. You have to get through it yourself before you can start figuring out how you did it and how to do it better next time. It takes practice to hone your process. Years of it.
And It's Oh, So Rewarding.I think Revision is the most rewarding process for a writer. After a long, hard day of revision, I always feel like "Hah, yeah, I'm a real writer." Don't skip it, scribblers. Jump right in write for those wonderful moments when you see things clicking together.
* This post is not about the last phase, but I thought I'd throw this in anyway. The "Ending" stage isn't too hard to practice, even if you've never written and revised a story to practice on. You can just go to any workshop class or online writing group and practice ending, which is also known as editing. Critiquing other peoples' work and getting your own work critiqued is a wonderful and necessary part of growth. I do this on a site called "Critique Circle," which taught me tremendous amounts about the process.
**A note about taking a month long break: Many experts recommend this and I have tried it myself. It works best if you already have a plot in place. If you have not finished your planned plotline, or you aren't sure that your character has followed any sort of sensible journey, I recommend holding off on the month long break because it will take your head out of the game while you still need it to be immersed in planning the plot. I've learned this from experience. If, however, you have finished your plot line, then break away! :) It's good to take a break and get some perspective on what you've written, once you've finished the story. Perspective will help you see the weak points of your rough draft. (And trust me, all rough drafts have weak points.)
jill, jellidonut... whatever. "best egg salad sandwich ever, flying star, Albuquerque NM, 12/7/2007." Wikipedia Commons. Originally published on Flickr. 7 December 2007. 13 December 2012.http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Egg_salad_sandwich.jpg(2007-12-07). 13