Monday, November 30, 2015

NaNoWriMo Revisions: Be the Tortoise


Today is the last day of November, which means you very well might have finished NaNoWriMo with a successful run of 50,000 or more words to your name. If not, perhaps you're going to use today as part of your homestretch strategy, and by the time your head hits the pillow tonight you'll have all of those words counted and verified, and you'll be the proud owner of a brand new 2015 social media badge to display! Or maybe you didn't reach the goal, which is also okay. If you gave it your best try and still found yourself with a new pile of words that you'll someday be able to mold into a viable manuscript, it can't really be said that you lost.

So what comes next? Designing mock-ups of what the book cover will eventually look like? Prepping your bio and head shot for the dust jacket? Trying to decide which of the agents in that whole level of the publishing realm will be the favored few to be included in your first round of querying?

No, no, no, no a thousand times no. If you're serious about this, all of those things, and really everything else that would go with them, need to be stored up on your dream shelf for the time being. Save them, and revisit them on occasion because dreams are awesome and they can keep you going through the frustrating times, but if you want a legitimate chance at seeing those dreams climb up to the next step, you're just getting started on your work.

So let's say you finished a new draft. The chances are good it probably needs a coat or two of polish before its ready to see the light of day. I know, I know -- it's brilliant, you love it, you're so proud of what you accomplished that you're about to burst. Believe me, I've been there, more than once. The thing is, you've been living and breathing and consumed by that story for thirty days now, and once you give your head a little time to clear and regain your bearings about how normal life works, you'll see there's still a good amount of work to be done. Once your able to approach your work with fresh eyes, it's time to start revising.

I'm not going to give you a long checklist of tips on the best way to meet your revision goals because each writer has a different process, and what works for some of us might be a nightmare of frustration for others. I am, however, going to recommend you follow one big step in the revision process (to be used following NaNoWriMo or really any other time you finish drafting a new manuscript) which I personally think is crucial for making it all work the best for you:


Don't dive in and start revising right after you type out that satisfying "The End" tag. Let your head clear for a few weeks, or months. Give the work a little space to breathe. Taking some time away from it will let you approach it with more necessary objectivity when you return, and allow you to identify both what's working and what isn't. If you can, go ahead and get the draft in front of some critique partners while you're resting up, and really think about whatever feedback they provide.

For me, revising has never been about applying quick bandage-paragraphs to fix the things that don't work. I usually have to do a lot more than that, and when I travel deep into that revision rabbit hole (which is where I've been living for the past month) I put a lot of thought into making sure everything is going in the right direction. I'm not saying my planning is so regimentally mapped out ahead of time that it won't allow for discovery, but I want to make sure the writing has the best possible chance to grow into something better.

Think back to the Tortoise and the Hare. Do you want to be the writer who charges through this critical stage of the process, which can be so beneficial to your work, or do you want to be the one who invests the time it takes to do it right?

Trust me. Be the tortoise. It can make all the difference.


Michael Crowl said...

Apart from writing the first chapter of my manuscript, I think my favorite part of the process is getting the first feedback from a trusted critique partner. Admittedly, I might read that first inserted comment and make one of those sounds that's hard to spell. "Pffft!" But then, they're usually right on the money. Then a second critique partner provides the same comment, and then the third. You know, maybe it could use a little work... January should be NaNoRevMo, or NaNoEdMo. December should be reserved for not looking at any of that stuff you did in November.

Tom Mulroy said...

Agreed, Michael. I think anyone who has made it through a month of NaNoWriMo has absolutely earned a month away from writing (to say nothing of how that distance can only help later).

WendyMcLeodMacKnight said...

Great advice! I hit my 50,000 last week and am still writing. Hoping to finish before Christmas and then put it away till February or March. I find hitting the pause button now and then on all projects helpful, even in revision when things don't feel like they're working. Perspective is everything, isn't it?

Mirka Breen said...

I'm not a NaNoWriMo person, but I *am* starting on my first revision (which is technically the second draft...) and I say AMEN to waiting and to having Beta readers.

Tom Mulroy said...

I've been in that same situation before, hitting the 50,000 and knowing there was still a long way to go. If you're invested in your story, I'd encourage you to keep going until you finish the draft. I've tried stopping at the end of November to take a mental break, only to find that returning to finish the manuscript was even more of a chore. The pause button can be a great friend, as long as you don't let it hold for too long.

Tom Mulroy said...

I'm just finishing a revision (I plan to be done in a day or two) which I've been working on for the better part of six months now, on and off. I am very lucky to have a collection of trusted beta readers, not to mention an agent who always provides great insight in her notes.