NaNo's Over, Time to Revise!

So you just blew through 50,000 words in one month. Or maybe even more. You never thought you’d make it, but here you are! You’ve written a beginning, middle and end. You’ve crafted dazzling characters, a compelling plot, romance, intrigue—ladies and gentlemen, give yourselves a huge round of applause... you’ve just finished a novel!

And that is an amazing, just spectacular accomplishment. Also maybe the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life.

...until you remember about that teensy, tiny, thing that comes after: revising. Pooh-pooh! Who needs revising?

Unfortunately, writing a novel’s just not one of those things you get totally right the first time, and editing can be the most painful, least glamorous part of the writing process. You’re going back to your first draft—rough, raw, and hard-earned words—with a critical eye, and you’re asked to tear it apart, give more when you feel like you’ve already given it your all, and make impossible decisions. What to do?!

Take it one step at a time.

Step one? Take a break. Give the story—and your brain—time to breathe. Whether it’s just one day or even one month, take enough time to gain a little distance and perspective on your story, but not so much time that you lose the magic of the fervor that drove you to write the story in the first place.

I love Scott Westerfeld’s analogy about revising: “Growing up, like rewriting, is simply admitting how clueless you were not so long ago.”

A first draft is immature. Looking back can be painfully embarrassing, but you’ve learned a lot since then, and unlike in real life, you can change what happened in your novel’s past by rewriting it.

Perhaps the most intimidating challenge of rewriting (and perhaps writing in general) is doubt. Sometimes it’s hard to know if what you’re changing is making the story better or—god forbid—worse. Sometimes you’ll find you can’t make character B a better, more interesting character without maybe cutting out character A, who you really loved. Or maybe you can’t fix one plot hole without opening a couple others somewhere else.

The important thing to remember is that you can always revise your own revisions. Take-backsies are allowed, so if you’re not sure if something will work, just go for it and see how it turns out.

One easy tip for managing all that is to turn on track-changes as you revise. Copy your manuscript and start a new doc for each new draft. Draw up a list of list of characters, scenes, and plot twists you know you want to keep in the story (even if they’re not in it yet!). These are your cornerstones—aspects of your story you know won’t change and footholds you can hang onto when you’re starting to feel a little lost in the revision process!

Scott Westerfeld recommends outlining your first draft after writing it, even if you already wrote an outline pre-first-draft. Things have changed since then, and an outline, the basic skeleton of your story, can be another helpful reference. 

Finally, don’t try to do everything all at once. Focus on one character you want to flesh out, or one plot thread that needs fixing to pave over the plot holes. Or work on one chapter at a time, and what you’d like to accomplish in each one. Figure out what works best for you.

Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself! You’ve finished a novel, which is an astounding feat most people don’t ever achieve!

Be bold––trust your instinct. And good luck!

Any other revision tips, Swooner-Wrimos? Leave them in the comments! 

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Anna P.

Well, this goes without saying but I LOVE to read. I write in all caps when I'm excited which is …

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