Congratulations to those of you who earned win badges from NaNoWriMo. Hitting the 50,000 word mark is an accomplishment for anyone; doing it in thirty days is a highlight few will ever be able to say they managed to hit. Now what? It’s easy to coast on a sugar cookie high (who wouldn’t want to do that?) and immerse yourself in holiday shopping and tree-trimming, but beware… before you know it January will have rolled around, new year resolutions will have begun (and possibly ended just as quickly), and the manuscript you toiled over before Thanksgiving will be a forgotten bunch of words—a sad little file taking up space on your laptop or flash drive.
Doesn’t your effort and time deserve better?
Doesn’t your story deserve a chance to be heard?
Unless you’re some kind of genius who managed to knock out such a brilliant rough draft in the first go round that it’s beyond the need for revision and polish, that NaNo treasure is just waiting for you to open it up and show it some love. If you were a pantser during November, you may have more work ahead of you than the plotters who went into the challenger with a roadmap, but with a little TLC and a lot of work, chances are you can shape your manuscript into a real gem.
1) Reread the novel.
I know, it seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many people try to start editing on page one without having taken a pass at the document. Your fingers were typing at the speed of, well, not light, but they were typing really fast. And you haven’t looked at your draft in over a month. It’s likely that you’ve forgotten some things that are in there, especially if you were a pantser or if you veered far from your outline. Give the manuscript a quick once-over, just to re-familiarize yourself with its contents.
2) Consider goals and conflicts for your main characters
Each character in your story has to have motivation for every action. Do you know what those motivations are? If you have scenes where you noticed your characters doing something you consider odd, or your story veers off in a strange direction, or the pace just lags, it’s probably because the motivation wasn’t logical, or the character wasn’t acting toward his or her goal, or there wasn’t any conflict in the scene (and we all know the only scenes that are interesting are the ones that build conflict). Make notes for yourself in the manuscript to revisit these passages and correct the problems accordingly.
3) Check your scenes for content and structure
Make sure you have each scene written as tightly as possible. Did you stay in the correct tense and point of view? Did you really establish the character’s voice, in both dialogue and internalization? Is the scene building conflict and is there good pace in the scene (rising and falling action)? Do you start with a hook and end with a cliffhanger of some sort to keep the reader turning the pages? If the answer to any of these questions is no, go back and see how you can correct the problem. It might be as simple as rewriting a few passages of dialogue or as difficult as redoing whole sections of text, but the end result will be worth it.
4) Look at individual passages for weak writing
Now that the big issues are dealt with, look for places to spice things up. Add details to make the novel more rich and realistic. Are there places where the dialogue can be tweaked to sound more authentic? Can the setting be described better, or have you neglected to describe it at all? Are there places where you did too much telling, where you can add a scene to show the characters interacting and reveal more about them or their motives? Perhaps there are places where some foreshadowing can be subtly added, or conversely there may be times when you’ve done too much of these things and you need to know when to cut back.
5) Polish the manuscript
The final step in revising your novel is to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Almost literally. Proofread the document. Look for any repetitive words, fragments or run-on sentences. Spell-check and grammar check the document. Find and correct any typos or passages with poor writing technique. This is your last chance to shine. Take advantage of it.
So you did it. You completed NaNoWriMo. Do you have what it takes to edit your novel? If you can write an entire book in thirty days, squeeze in a national holiday, and still manage to function in society, I have every confidence in you. Plus, writers are awesome. We support each other. If you don’t already have a critique group, find one, in person or online, to offer advice or just a hug while you go through the process. And I’m always here for you.
You wrote your draft. That was the easy part. Now you need to make it shine. That’s the hard part. But you can do it. And there are millions of readers out here who want to read it. Get busy editing. We’re waiting.