Or: Making A List & Checking It Twice aka Tips for Not Querying & Instead Revising Your NaNoWriMo Novel
YOU. DID. IT.
You won NaNoWriMo! Maybe you’re so high off endorphins you can’t sleep. Maybe you haven’t showered for a week. But, you did it. And now your beautiful baby novel is ready to go out in the world, right?
For one thing, depending on what you wrote 50k might not be as complete of a novel as you think it is. And more importantly, no matter how perfect you think it is right now, it’s not ready to be submitted to agents.
DO NOT SUBMIT YOUR NOVEL.
Okay, now that we’ve got that cleared up (and you’ve slept and showered (don’t forget to eat, too!), let’s move on to what you are going to do. Of course, this is just my opinion, but since you’re here reading this post, I’m going to assume you’re looking for one.
1) Take a break.
By this, I don’t just mean “sleep on it” or “take the weekend.” I mean, an actual break.
You’ve been working on this for the past 30 days. Some of you, I’m sure one of you, wrote it in a four-day haze while stuffing yourself with Thanksgiving leftovers (crazier things have been done). Whatever the case, you’ve got 50k+ shining words. At least you might think they’re shining. You’re what the crime shows I binge watch would call, too close to the subject to be objective. You’ve got to give your story, and yourself, some space. 1 month, minimum. Come back in the New Year, after times with friends and family, ready to kick ass.
2) Take an actual break.
It’s two days later, you had an epiphany. You know exactly how to fix your novel and you definitely have the capacity right now to begin revisions. Listen, you do you. All I’m going to say is this: I have a handful of friends with newly minted book deals and oh the revision deadline stories they can tell. You’re not under contract. You’re beholden to no one but yourself. This is your time—this beautiful pre-agented, pre-book deal time—with just yourself and the story. Too often, we (as a community, knowingly or not) emphasize rushing through the process. I don’t think we mean to do this, but do put special attention on those big, publishing milestones and we have a tendency to glamourize debuts. As such we often overlook the behind-the-scenes processes that got writers to that book deal, etc. We ignore the mundane day-today work when we should be encouraging “newbie writers” to embrace the mundane, to take time, breathe, and work on your craft. this is your time. Don’t rush the process. Take all the time you need to spend time with family or even just yourself. You wrote a book, that’s no easy feat. Trust me, your book baby will still be there when you get back.
3) Revisions (for real now): The Read Through
I prefer printing out the novel (and maybe that’s why my friends call me a grandma). For those of you who are better (younger) souls than I am, what you really want to have the manuscript in whatever format that allows you give it a good read through.
Story time: back in my theater days (aka high school), the first thing we’d do after the play was caste give it a read through. No focus on character (although there was ALWAYS that one kid who not only memorized their lines but was already in character…anyway, I digress). This was to give us a sense of how the story fit, how the words flowed when we were all together, and of trouble spots (scenes that would need extra attention, emphasis, and/or work). There’s a reason why no two performances are the same: the caste molds the play to fit them just as you’re going to mold this story (starting with a read through) to fit your needs.
Remember, you’re a reader first and foremost. In fact, you’re your first reader. Read this with special attention to story and overall flow, or to nothing at all. You wrote this for a reason that likely has something to do with your tastes as a reader. Evaluate this as you would any novel you’re reading for personal satisfaction. What do you notice? Are you engaged or would you rather be reading something else? Maybe on page 59, you realize the beginning is all wrong. Maybe on page 207, you discover a minor character that should actually be the lead. Your inner reader will surprise you with what it picks up. I tend to focus on: 1) logical issues (does this scene make sense?) 2) character (why is this character here right now?) and 3) pacing (is the first 1/3 super slow and the rest too fast?). I also ask myself is this the right beginning and did I support my ending well enough? I phrase it like this because I always know my endings when I start drafting. However, my beginnings always change and are often found several pages in. *Note the use of “I,” this may not be the case for you.
How you keep track of everything is up to you. I prefer taking notes in the margins of the manuscript. I like having it all in front of me, easily accessible anytime, anyplace (or not so because it’s a printed manuscript). I know writers who keep the manuscript clean and jot down notes in a separate journal, and others who make spelling and grammatical changes throughout while they’re doing the initial read-through. Yes, the point is to revise this novel. But writing is a career, so it’s equally important for you to figure out what works and doesn’t: what’s your revision style and process.
4) Making a List… Now what?
You’ve read through the manuscript and you probably have a list of things that need fixing. When it comes to fixing pacing (because I always have pacing issues), I’ll usually reverse outline my novel. I use a boiled-down guide based on the Save the Cat beat sheet (speaking of which, Janice Hardy’s blog is a goldmine of writing tips). It’s offered as a plotting tool, but I think it works just as well (better?) for revising because you already know what you wrote.
Now, I’d have my notes from my read through PLUS my reverse outline, which helps me to clearly pick up on pacing weak spots.
As you might have guessed, there are a few other steps. Next, you’ll look at your notes and separate them into changes that are specific to a scene (e.g. this scene serves no purpose) and those that apply to the entire story (e.g. this character serves no purpose). I suggest making the scene-specific ones first, as they’re easier, and then going back and doing a much slower read through (maybe only 1 scene/day) where you take note of and address those larger (global) story issues. I then suggest letting your novel sit for a week or so, to clear your head, and then doing a line edit where you’re making minor story and grammatical changes as you go. Veronica Roth, whose writing process I highly identify with, outlines a lot of this in the following three-part post: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. In part 3, combines the slow read to make global changes with the line edit. I don’t because my brain doesn’t work like that and I prefer to let time sit before I do that final, line-edit read. In these posts, she splits her revisions between notes on the manuscript/in notebooks and Scrivener. I also do a mix of those. Again, what you decide, if you find this method works, is totally up to you. P.S. She titles the posts “revision day one, day two, etc.” but trust me she definitely didn’t revise in 3 days and in regards to the time she did it in, she’s a full time writer revising the 3rd book in a series.
5) External Feedback Needed
At this point it’s ready to be sent to critique partners. If you don’t have one of those, two great resources I’ve used are 1) the YA Buccaneers (I’m a member!) do frequent writer bootcamps, during which writers set writing, revision, etc. goals. Sometimes there are teams, sometimes there aren’t, but there’s always a Facebook group and that’s a great place to seek out help from others as well as find critique partners. 2) Maggie Stiefvater* hosts an amazing annual Critique Partner Match Up. Though this year’s is formally over, the google group still exists! Don’t hesitate to reach out to people.
I know this seems like a lot. It is. Which is why I advocate taking as much time you need in between reads. I enjoy editing and revising. (LOL, wouldn’t it be hilarious if I was an editor who hated editing.) The first thing I want to do after finishing a novel is 1) tweet about it 3) celebrate and 3) dive right into revisions. It takes a lot of restraint for me to even wait a month, but I do it because I need that time to clear my head. For some of you, you’re going to be then opposite. I don’t expect you to love the idea of revisions after taking that break, but I do hope you see the necessity of the process. It’s a means to an end, which, again, is to 1) strengthen your novel and 2) hone your craft. If, then, you still think it’s too much time or effort, you’re not ready. This is not me saying you can’t handle it. It’s me saying, not today (or even a month from now). The fact is that you’ll read this manuscript dozens of times. I’ve already read drafts of authors’ novels several times and they’re not even at copyedits yet. Again, you’re your first reader. You bear that responsibility. It is your job to make sure your manuscript is in a decent shape before handing it off to critique partners and beta readers and certainly a good shape before before querying agents. I’m not trying to scare you by being all “you only have one shot.” As much as I love Eminem (blame middle school…he was hot then), this isn’t 8 Mile. That being said, this might be your only shot, for the foreseeable future, with THIS novel if you don’t put in the necessary time and effort. Querying is your first impression and contact with most agents. You want your writing to truly speak for itself AND your capabilities as a writer. Don’t throw away your shot (No way you were getting out here without a Hamilton reference).
Get ready to kick ass. (Don’t forget to shower, sleep, and eat.) Take a break and congratulate yourself on a job well done <3
P.S. I doubt myself at every point of the process. Here are a few posts & podcasts (great for the morning commute!), from my favorites, that I regularly turn to for a pep talk.
Leigh Bardugo –
- 88 Cups of Tea podcast (highly recommend this entire series)
Susan Dennard –
- Sooz’s Guide to Revisions (for a more-goal oriented take)
Claire Legrand –
Malinda Lo –
- On Writing the First Draft
- How Not to Give Up When Writing (tips on not giving up at every stage of the process)
- Veronica Roth –
- “How Much It Changed” – (Divergent was originally 56k, you can do this)
- Be Brave and Revise (Or, Alternately, My Struggle With Fear)
Victoria Schwab* –
- First Draft podcast (highly recommend this entire series, too!)
- Just. Keep. Writing. (her entire blog is full of advice)
- On the Slow Pursuit of Overnight Success
Maggie Stiefvater –
- On Writing (round-up post with links to all her writing-related posts…there are a few in which she details her revision process)
Courtney Summers –
- On (revising) Unlikeable Female Characters (to make them still unlikable but also compelling)
Chuck Wendig –
- The Zero-Fuckery Quick-Create Guide To Kick-Ass Characters (having trouble with character? Look no further)
- 25 Things You Should Know About Revising and Rewriting (his blog is gold)
- How Chuck Wendig Edits a Novel (for another, more humorous take)
- Stephen King’s On Writing (the only writing book I recommend to everyone without a second thought as it’s half-memoir and great for anyone seeking inspiration)
- Cheryl Klein’s Magic Words (& her blog – Yes, we’re colleagues, but I’ve been reading her blog long before I started at Scholastic. Cheryl has years of wisdom as an editor.)
*Yes, Maggie & Victoria are Scholastic authors. Yes, I’ve been using Maggie’s Match Up & both their blogs since before I worked at Scholastic and would recommend them no matter what (disclaimer over).