The National Novel Writing Month, set during November, is a wonderful, magic-filled time of scribbling, plotting, typing, crying, coffee-drinking, chocolate-eating, cackling and most of all writing. Each year participants throw themselves into the event with abandon. They toss aside restraint, leave caution in the wind and write, write, write, until their fingers bleed. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating that last point, but it can be pretty close. When we are finished on November 30th (and please remember, it is the 30th, November doesn’t have 31 days or anything like that.) we are left panting, stumbling across a finish line of our own making, to where we collapse in a caffeine-induced coma through December. It doesn’t, however, have to be that way.
Many people, when December 1st dawns, wake up, stretch, rub their eyes and stare at the monstrosity they spent 30 days creating. After the initial shock of “what have I done?” and “how can I ever unleash this horror on the world?” has passed, we are left with one stark, blinding question… “Now what?”
As the NaNoWriMo site will offer – You can join the “Now What” months: January and February. But wait. Why not December? I mean, November wasn’t that hard, was it? I could sit down right now, take my book-baby with three heads, five arms and a tail littered with seven eyes, caress it and make it pretty for the world to see. Ok, stop right there. Back away from the book-baby. Like any new parent, you fall for the same thing. You think your baby is beautiful, special and wonderful just the way it is. You need to stop that. What I am about to say, while it may seem cruel, is necessary: Put it away. Stick it in a folder on your laptop. Put it on the top shelf in your office. Stick it in a safe. Hell, stuff it in a coffee can, go out in the backyard under the light of a new moon and bury it where you can’t find it (But make a map, cause you’ll need to recover it come January).
If you do a quick look about the interwebs, or thumb through your favorite author’s tome on the craft, you’ll find the same advice. Put the newly completed work away. Give yourself some space. Tell the manuscript, “It’s not you, it’s me. I just need some space.” You’ll be grateful for it. Go do something else. Read, write, play video games, crochet handbags for hobos, anything other than looking through your book. Are we clear? Awesome, now for what happens in January and beyond!
1. Print it out – Why you ask? So you can see just what sort of beast you are about to deal with it. Also, because it gives a certain satisfaction to hold a monstrous 300-900 page beast in your hands, cackle manically and say “I created this. It’s mine. It lives, it lives!!” Also, you must be a good consumer and support the economy by buying reams of paper and ink. Or you could print it out at work and… wait, what? Ok, legal says I can’t suggest you steal from your work. Point is, print that puppy out. Turn it from 1’s and 0’s into a real thing, something you can hold in your hand. Lift both of them and say, I did this.
2. Read it – I’m not talking about sitting down on a cold winter’s night, warm blanket wrapped around you and a hot cup of cocoa at your side. No, what I am talking about is 5am, house is freezing cold and your manuscript is all that you have left to burn. Read it like you stole it. Burn through it and be critical. Get some highlighters, some pencils and the one tool no High School English Teacher would ever leave her house without: The Red Pen. Cut up your manuscript. Use your tools like a scalpel. Point out every flaw, every mistake and then move on to the next. You are a Drill Instructor zeroing in on a recruits screw up and moving on. Read all the way through, don’t stop, don’t take breaks, get through to the end.
3. Give it away – Ask other people to read it. Remember that this your bouncing book-baby. It’s cute, cuddly and it could never do any wrong… yeah, you need a fresh pair of eyes. Ask your mom, your dad, siblings, significant-other(s), (I put that in plural in case some of you polyamorous peoples are reading this, you guys rock) Co-workers, neighbors, the kid that delivers your paper, your high school gym teacher, the guy who cuts your hair, random people on the street! Get someone else to read it and give you their take on it. Yes, writing is a very personal endeavor, but guess what? To mis-quote Hilary Clinton “editing a book takes a village”.
4. Keep many iterations – Hopefully you’ve swung into the digital age and your not editing on an old Remington typewriter snug high up in the Rocky Mountains while your wife tries to pretend that everything is just fine and your son is getting freaky dead chicks flashing him in the empty rooms of the hotel your babysitting. Preferably, you are doing your edits on a computer. Every time you make a change, save it as a different version. Didn’t like the way little Johnny is coming across and you make wide-sweeping changes turning him into little Joan? You never know, you might want to go back. If you have the previous edition, you can do just that.
5. Advice from multiple sources – Don’t just listen to me, or Stephen King or Ayn Rand, or your barber on how to edit your novel. Find multiple people and look at their advice. Take from it. Mix and match, think of any advice as ala carte. You can pick and choose and make the editing meal that you can stomach. Besides it’s always best to have a cornucopia of information, rather than taking in the same thing every day.
6. Reverse – Having trouble because you’re still in love with your hideous three-armed book-baby? Cut that out! Start at the back, read through to the front. Think of it as looking at it from a new perspective. Here you don’t have the distractions of plot, characterization, and development. You just have a jumble words, in the wrong order, but you can focus on individual pages, rather than the book as a whole.
7. Listen to the words on the wind – No, I’m not rewriting a Disney song. Find apps, software and devices that utilize text-to-speech. Have them read your novel to you. Hearing the actual flow of the words can help immensely in spotting problems. Don’t have the money for such new-age, fangled doo-hickeys? Read it aloud yourself, or have someone else read it to you. In fact, do both if you can. Text-to-speech can sometimes come across like a robot reading to you. Having a real voice, a real person put tone to your words will give you another perspective on your growing book-baby.
8. Invest – Think about putting down $3-6-9-18 on a piece of software that can assist you. There are two that come up time and again when I do searches: Grammarly.com and Hemingway App. These two do more than just your Microsoft Word spell check. They look at grammar, punctuation, use of passive voice and give you an overall idea of the strength of your writing. The old adage states “You have to spend money to make money” , same is true for writing. Want to get published? You’re going to have to invest.
9. A For-Realz Editor – Yep, I said it. A real, no-shit, suit and tie, tough-as-nails, red-pen-wielding, flesh-and-blood person who’s career is – EDITOR. Yes, it is going to cost you, but just as #8 said, you need to invest. What you put into your work is what you will get out. If you decide to go this route, do your research. Don’t just Google: Editor and hit “I’m feeling lucky” because you won’t be. Look through periodicals on the subject, market guides, talk to other writers, get opinions and reviews, and most of all, talk to the person before you enter into a relationship with them. I mean, you’re about to give them your little book-baby. They’re going to hold it in their arms and then slice it up with a red pen before handing it back. You want to trust them, right?
10. Kill your darlings – As William Faulkner is attributed having said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings” . There is a lot of debate as to what he meant by it. I’m going to give you my take. When I am writing, I love throwing things in that tickle my twisted sense of humor. I like giving characters certain quirks. As I’ve been stating in the past 9 steps, you’ve just created this work of… ok we’ll be nice and call it ART. It’s your pwetty-wittle-boowk-bwaby and you just wants to bounce its wittle bottom on your wap… cut that out. You have to be critical. Look at the things that you love, that just tickle you pink about your novel and ask some hard questions like: “Does this further my plot?” , “Does this promote character development?” and “Does this have anything to do with the plot, theme, character or story?” If it doesn’t, you need to kill that darling.
There you have it. Ten of my steps for moving on from writing to editing as you close out your NaNoWriMo season. I’ve included below some links to other blogs that can help give you some differing perspectives and ideas on what to do. Look them over, pick what you like from them, most of all EDIT. Get it done, no excuses. Cheers!
Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Mind’s Blog – 25 Steps to Edit the Unmerciful Suck Out of Your Story
SEOCopy Writing – What Stephen King can teach you about editing
Writer’s Digest – 7 Tips for Revising a Novel