The end of NaNoWriMo stirs up bittersweet emotions. There’s a part of you that slumps onto the couch with a relieved sigh, saying, “Ugh! Thank God that’s over.” Another voice inside you is cheering, “Woohoo! You wrote a whole lot of words!” And a third may be wailing like a kid on the last day of summer camp: “But I had so much fun! I want to do NaNoWriMo forever!”
Even if you didn’t make it to 50,000 words during November to “win” NaNoWriMo, you gave it a go, that is still huge. For whatever reason you didn’t finish, chalk it up to a lesson learned and keep it in mind for next year. (And use potholders when taking the turkey out of the oven because you don’t want to burn your fingers. Not that anyone I know did that.) But remember what you’ve discovered about yourself this past month: you can write a ridiculous number of words every day. So whatever you do, keep writing. If you didn’t get to the end of your novel at the same time you hit the 50,000-word mark (because few writers do), keep going and finish that story. Even if you realized 7,000 words into writing that this novel is the worst thing ever penned, finish it. After all, you began NaNoWriMo to write a novel. Don’t abandon it after you’ve poured all this work into it!
For those who made it to the 50,000-word mark—whether or not you reached the end—that is a huge accomplishment. You seriously deserve some cake. And if you managed to complete your novel over the last 30 days, too, you should treat yourself to the entire cake. Go ahead. I won’t judge. In fact, I’ll stand in the corner and watch enviously.
Assuming you have a completed manuscript on your hands (and sadly, I don’t), now is the time to relax for a bit, sleep in, call your friends and family to let them know you weren’t abducted by space pirates, and catch up on TV shows and current events. If your creativity is still in overdrive and you feel like plotting your next novel, that’s a great thing to do, too.
But whatever you do, do not start sending your novel to literary agents and editors.
That bears repeating: Do not, under any circumstances, send out your novel.
And for the love of all things good and/or holy, if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, now is not the time to self-publish it, either.
Yes, you’ve finished your novel. Yes, it is a tremendous, glorious accomplishment. Yes, you have every reason to be proud of it and want to share it with the world.
But what you finished during NaNoWriMo was your first draft. Your rough draft. A draft that, no matter how carefully you think it was written, is guaranteed to have typos, glaring inconsistencies, and/or massive plot holes that rival the Grand Canyon. No one needs to see this. No one needs to know about this. So don’t put your messy draft out on display for the world to see.
Instead, tuck it into a drawer (physical or metaphorical—totally up to you) and hide it for a few weeks. Just as marathon runners need to take breaks between races, writers need to take breaks from their work. When asked how long to wait between running marathons, one marathoner famously replied, “Until you’ve forgotten about it.” While that’s not as true of endurance writing endeavors (like NaNoWriMo, which is more of an exercise in daily writing), it’s good advice in terms of how long to let your manuscript rest, if for no other reason than to read it again from a fresh perspective. Take a break from it, hydrate, and ice those creative muscles. You’ve finished the first leg of this journey. You have a finished manuscript, and that’s the end of the beginning.
So celebrate your novel’s completion now, but the real trials are still to come. Remember the Inner Editor you carefully locked away as you wrote? She’ll be perched by your shoulder these next few months, anxious to pour red ink all over your masterpiece.