NaNoWriMo: Get Editing

This series will cover the stages of National Novel Writing Month and offer support and advice. This essay deals with getting editing.

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Follows: Get Finished

So you’ve managed to finish National Novel Writing Month. Congratulations, regardless of whether you hit your target, it is brilliant that you’ve decided to push yourself to achieve your goals—that needs rewarding. Take some time off, away from your work.

As cheesy as this sounds, it can be a good thing to miss your work. Sometimes when I need to give my writing mode a good kick up the rear, I start a new project. It’s as though my initial ideas get jealous and start bombarding me with exciting images. Not to say this will happen to you, or that you need to start a new project, but it’s good to give your hands some cool down time, and your mind some space to breathe.

Take this extra free time as a chance to read, catch up on your favourite TV series or just go out for some really long walks. Distance yourself mentally (or even physically) from your work.

For the other essays I have been stressing that what you write during National Novel Writing Month is not your final draft. What you’ve been writing is the skeletal framework of your novel/idea, and the heavy-duty work starts now—and should be completed without a superficial deadline.

What comes next is reading through what you’ve written. There’s no need to go through and spell-check everything, as your next edits should primarily focus on the story. What scenes fit? What scenes are just word-fill? How can you make this more streamline?

Re-reading your work and going through the plot points should be your main task. These are the essential edits, the fat trimming or the bulking-up of your story. If your story started to evolve, can you see now where it is going?

This is when I normally sit down and have a good hard think about my evolving characters and their place in the shifting plot.The parts I enjoyed writing and the parts I hated are what I focus on and work out why.

For me, these heart breaking edits have been slowly building with the help of a writing group, and sharing ideas or asking advice from fellow writers and booklovers (these are the best as these are your target audience, after all). It can be nerve-wracking to share ideas, but you don’t necessarily have to give away all your genius plot twists to get help.

Editing a novel can be an emotionally draining and exhausting affair, but it is worth getting used to it now if traditional publishing is the route you want to go down. As much as you might hate hearing this, your initial ideas aren’t going to be perfection, and outside advice isn’t evil.

Taking all of this into consideration, learn your story. That might sound like pretentious waffle now, but the next piece of advice is going to be to re-write it. From scratch. Don’t look at what you’ve written, look at your notes. Write slower, write more honestly and clearly, no rushing as there is no deadline. This might sound so frustrating but it is the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given. You will naturally write better, and this end result is the one you tweak and check for spelling errors. Or the next re-write, or the one after.

What I used to do was take what I’d already written and copy and paste it into my new draft, with the end result being a mismatch of writing styles from my own personal evolution, and a mismatch of skill. You are a better writer now, and the more you practice on this story the better it will become.

This is also the reason for that big break at the beginning of the editing process, as without this you’d just end up writing the same mistakes out. Reading other works can help clear your mind, but also demonstrate the stories that do get published, and help avoid writing clichés. So, if you write sci-fi, why not read some action? Or horror?

It is easy to forget that at any point in the process of writing a novel, one can get consumed with doubt. There is no shame in taking a breather, in re-filling your energy. There is no time limit now that NaNo has finished. There may be one that you have given yourself, but please try to refrain from mentally beating yourself up. It does you and your work no favours.

That is why I recommend some self-affirmation in one’s life. Music is a good source of motivation and inspiration for me, and I take it as a great way to let off a little steam when I’ve been cooped up in my room for far too long. Staring at a screen all day can be exhausting, so try hand-writing some notes or a chapter here and there. A change of scenery such as the library can help remove you from distractions such as chores.

People may say that there is no such thing as an original story, and that may be true, but that doesn’t make this story any less yours. It is yours to tell and working out how you want to tell that is part of the editing process. Re-writes may come by the dozen, but that doesn’t make you any ‘less’ of a writer if that’s what happens.

So, National Novel Writing Month has come to a close. You’ve managed to get something out of it, regardless of whether it is a whole novel, 50,000 words or just a load of notes from October. What I hope you manage to take away from this experience is that your first draft is not your last, writing is an art form—it is subjective and it is yours, and finally: keep writing through all of your mistakes and perfection.

One day you will reach your true goal with perseverance.

Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.

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