Life after NaNoWriMo: What next for my novel?

Dear fellow writer,

How did you fare in November's NaNoWriMo madness? Did it work for you? Did you walk away with 50,000 words? Or did life get in the way and slow you down, force you to stop and reassess? Perhaps the deadline did little for your creativity, drowning you with fear and anxiety and taking the pleasure out of your writing... Maybe all of these things happened or maybe none of them.

I wrote this piece on Medium about my NaNoWriMo experience. I "won" with 50246 words which I finished on the 26th November after a crazy two days of more than 10,000 words. I'll be honest I did it out sheer bloody mindedness; I was NOT GOING TO LOSE, despite slipping further and further behind my word counts (see evidence here). I haven't opened that document on my computer since. In other words, NaNoWriMo was VERY HARD for me this year . I had more going on in my "real life" - going to Dutch school, having visitors to stay, going to Porto with NewMan and keeping clients happy - and rather than working on another short story collection, I began the first draft of my first novel.

Wow. Novels are peskily tricky things. At 50,000 words I'm only eight chapters into the twenty I have planned. I have more characters than I currently have names for and already a succession of plot holes have opened up, wide and deep enough to catch a doubledecker bus or two. Not only do I dread getting back to finishing the rest of the first draft, but I already know that the editing process is going to take a very long time. If this book sees the light of day next year, it will be a small miracle and that makes me feel deflated, defeated and a little disappointed with myself for thinking it would be easy...

But enough about me. Let me at least offer you some advice on what to do next, because I have experience of this and I hope it will help if you managed to finish the first draft of something during NaNoWriMo. This is my advice for you once your first draft is finished, which I hope for you is already the case!

First, let it sit . Leave it alone for at least a month. Yes, really. I did this by accident last year as we headed back to London for the month of December and suddenly my social diary was full to bursting and I forgot about those thirteen stories and countless charactes I'd created. I returned to my first draft of Shy Feet in early January, eager to get to know my new friends better. Being able to see the stories with fresh eyes was invaluable.

Secondly, read it through and try not to stop. You'll see errors pop up off the screen and you'll tut your way through hundreds of typos but you need to read it with as few stops as possible so you can see how it flows, how well you are whisked along with the story and what messages keep sneaking off the page and into your mind. Or not...

Next begin the long and slow process of editing. Editing is not a one step process and one day soon I'll share with you some of my thoughts and approaches to editing but for now it suffices to say be as thorough as you can possibly be with everything. And then do it all over again. And again.  Plot lines, language, sub text, flow, tone, grammar, repetition, re-writing, characterisation, language, spelling, proofreading, ameding and adding the magic you need to make your book everything you want it to be. My advice is take your time, forget about the book seeing the light of day, just focus on making it magic. (The book that helped me the most with learning to self-edit is The Artful Edit by Susan Bell.)

And most importantly, kill your darlings. Get rid of what you're a teeny bit unsure of . Even if it's good on its own, even if it moves you, if something isn't quite right and you can't figure out how to make it better - get rid of it. Keep only what is necessary to the story - not what feels necessary because it took you a long time to write. When I finished the first draft of Shy Feet, I had nearly 55,000 words and the final version that you can buy today is actually just under 48,000. I decided to chop not just pages and pages within each short story but I actually threw out two of the stories I'd written. I nearly cried when I had to make that decision on one of the stories - a sort of romantic mystery about three strangers who travel around New Zealand in a campervan together - but it was nowhere near what I wanted it to be. One day I'll resurrect the story but it just wasn't meant to be part of Shy Feet.

My final piece of advice as you embark on editing or rewriting your novel, your non-fiction book or whatever it is, is to enjoy it . Right now the thought of editing my novel (once the first draft is finished!) makes me want to shove hot pokers in my eyes; I'd much rather curl up and read someone else's well-written and edited books, because I'm very, very tired. But that's why you put it away for a while. After I've had a week or two away from the draft, and I have spent many an hour reading someone else's well-written and edited books, I will be eager to pick it up and make sure that this weird and wonderful idea I had for a novel is on its way to being as interesting, engaging and as brilliant as I believe it has the potential to be.

Oh that reminds me, be liberal with your love for this book of yours . It's a part of you, so love it like it's your child. That mighty love of yours will see it grow and grow into the best version of itself.

Now, having reminded myself of that I am off to make draw up a calendar of when I'm going to finish the first draft of my novel because I must make sure it happens. I owe it that much. I love it that much. So, whether you're still in the same boat as me or whether you're about to take my advice and begin editing your book after a little break, I wish you every happiness in continuing this wonderful journey.

Your fellow amateur author in the making,

Frances M. Thompson

P.S. Here are  some quotes about writing to keep you inspired and here's some advice on self-publishing for beginners and a self-publishing checklist, if you think that's what you'd like to do. 

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before putting down some roots with her Australian partner and having a baby boy in July 2015. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her son around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+

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