Wednesday, December 01, 2010

NaNoWriMo is Over: Now What?

Let me confess now: I am a huge cheater and rebel when it comes to NaNoWriMo. I did start my current WIP during NaNo, but I have used it since to force myself to work on the same book intensively for at least one month out of the year. 

Some other writers do this same thing, using the freedom and camaraderie of the event to get some serious writing done. I'm a serious introvert, but I love doing the write-ins. I get an excuse to drink coffee sweetened and creamed to shameful levels, swap war stories with other writers, and write side by side with other people.

There are a lot of true winners out there, though, people who began on 11/1 with zero words and had 50K written before 12/1. I've been congratulating them on Facebook, Twitter, and on the main NaNo site. You have a lot to be proud of, too! 50,000 words in one month is impressive. My personal best is about 14K, accomplished during NaNoWriMo (of course).

So... now what do you do with your magnum opus? Some people are content to write for themselves, but their numbers are a hell of a lot smaller than the numbers who want other people to read their material. If you're reading this blog based on the title, I know you fall into the latter category. Here are my suggestions and caveats for your new child:

Nota bene: The focus of NaNoWriMo, is quantity, not quality. They say so right in the intro material. This means it's time to work on the quality of your piece.

Not everyone gets this. A number of winners, flush with success and possibly an overdose of coffee, join AgentQuest immediately and start sending out their manuscripts as soon as they have some names and addresses. The NaNoWriMo blog addressed this last year:
In fact, several agents joke that December is "NaQuRejMo," which cruelly stands for "National Query Rejection Month." In all seriousness, though, we do see a lot of queries in December.
Take the time to reread and edit your work before sending it out. Once an agent has rejected your book, you  don't get to resubmit it. Agents always have lots of other query letters and manuscripts to read. Take the best shot you can the first time.

Okay, so I've convinced you to review your novel. What should you be looking for?

First things first: you need to make it longer. Fifty thousand words is really good, but publishers are generally looking for novels that run somewhere between seventy to ninety thousand. The good news: when you reread your MS (manuscript), you will spot places where you didn't give enough description or need to add a bridge scene so the reader will know what the hell is going on. Yes, you'll find them, even if you thought you did way too much description in that one scene (shorten that scene, BTW).

Next: there's a good chance your main character is a Mary Sue. You may find her adventures scintillating, but no one else will (because they know it's about YOU and not THEM). I read one story where the main character got a hot tub for Christmas. Several people died during the novel, all in connection with water, so I assumed the heroine would find herself in mortal danger from its roiling waters before the end of the book. Nope, all her dips were heavenly. She just wanted a hot tub, so she gave one to her character.

Finally: NaNo tactics don't always adapt well to the world of publishing: Unless your story is set in Japan, you really need to delete that Wall of Ninjas scene you used to boost your word count. Come up with something else. Like I said, you don't want to submit your manuscript during December anyway. If you can do 50K in one month, I am sure you can make up the word count before January.

Once you begin rereading your MS, you will begin to feel certain emotions. Remember all those pep talks from the NaNo folks about the way you would be feeling when you hit certain word counts? Excited during the first 15K words, in the doldrums at 25K, plunging down the hillside at 40K? The feeling you will get when really reviewing your NaNo MS will make you remember 25K as a joyous time.

Why? Because you're going to be thinking: "OMG! This is so disjointed and repetitive! It has all sorts of plot holes! This is the worst sex scene ever! I used the wrong character's name at least six times! I can't spell worth a damn, and look at all those typos! I thought I'd made a few in my rush to finish, but wow! I suck as a writer!"

No, you don't. In fact, you're thinking like a real writer.

NaNoWriMo is all about the joy (or, in some cases, madness) of creation. You've given birth to something. Like most infants, though, it looks like a squalling mess on arrival and it needs to be cleaned off and clothed before you introduce it to the world around you.

There are a few authors that - bang, right out of the box - can produce a marvelous story. Most of them learned how to do it through practice. Everyone else is doing what you did - brazening it out for the first writing, then berating themselves when they realize how many do-overs are needed. That's okay. That's normal.

It's also something you need to do before you send your MS to an agent. If you want them to take you seriously, you need to take the writing seriously. Not during the first write-up, but afterwards. If you decide that you really were doing it 'just for fun', fine. No harm, no foul. Please don't send it to an agent, though. The self-publishing industry can help you make great Xmas presents for your friends.


Marian Allen said...

Love this post! You have so many good things to say here about NaNo and about the writing process in general. I'm glad to read about your "NaNo is MINE" attitude, using the event in the way that nourishes YOUR process instead of obsessing about "their rules". :)

Marian Allen

Sarah G said...

Thank you! Gwen joined NaNoWriMo first, as a spur to kick off writing her first book. Within a few days, I was sold on it and signed up.

Using it to further my personal writing agenda is probably the Capricorn coming out in me. The frenetic energy of the 'traditional' Wrimos lifts and energizes me, and we all try to help each other with plot problems, providing information, etc. It's a great writing community.

I hate the snotty attitude some 'real' writers have taken with NaNo. 'Real' readers can always use more books.

michelle b. said...

very sound advice. i think if more people took this attitude, there would be better books out there. written in four weeks or four years, everything could use a thorough edit [or three].

Sarah G said...

Thanks! Went over to see your new site: I see you're gearing up for a 2011 publication date, too.

It looks really good. I haven't gotten my Web site set up yet, although I do have a domain.