If the headline really does apply to you, let me start off by saying…
Congratulations! That was a mighty deed!
I’ll get right back to you in just a second, or you can skip down. For everyone else:
What is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and its goal is for participants to start writing a novel on the 1st of November and churn out 50,000 words of a novel in the next 30 days. No mean feat. There’s no judging to the competition, nobody to check your progress, and the only prize is pride and a small amount of kudos.
Why do it? Because writing a novel is hard, but it gets a little easier with a goal and a community to support you. NaNoWriMo has been running for years. The closest thing for screenwriters is Scott Myers’ Zero Draft Thirty which has a similar goal: Write a full feature-length screenplay in one month.
So, let’s assume you took part.
You Didn’t Hit 50k Words
If you finished writing a novella, taken to be between 20k and 50k words, well done! It doesn’t matter that you didn’t hit an arbitrary target, you have a finished first draft in your hands! Skip down to the next section!
If you didn’t hit 50k words because you’re not finished, and you didn’t write an average of 1667 words every day? Don’t worry, the date is arbitrary too. Keep writing. Try to keep momentum going, don’t give up.
If you gave up part way through because wrote yourself into a corner, or lost the flow of your story? Stop there. Most likely what happened is you didn’t do enough prep, but all is not lost. Take a pause and, based on what you’ve written so far, write a new outline. Do a little background work. Then launch yourself back into it, you don’t have to wait 11 months to try again.
So You Hit 50k Words!
Congratulations again! You hit your word count!
But is your novel finished? At 50,000 words it’s essentially a novella, but that’s a fine achievement too. But is it finished? No, absolutely not. Do not show it to anyone, absolutely do not send it to agents or publishers, and my advice is to put it in a (virtual) drawer for a few weeks. After that, you’re ready for what’s next.
Did you hit 50k words and you still have oodles of story left to go? By the gods, keep writing! Keep that momentum going, you are doing great work! Everything you add now adds depth (and pages that can be cut later) and gets you closer to the length a publisher might consider a full novel. That’s about 55k words for YA fiction and 90k words for adult fiction. Keep it up, I believe in you!
And once you’re done, once you’ve typed those immortal, all-important words The End? As above, do not show it to anyone, absolutely do not send it to agents or publishers, and my advice is to put it in a (virtual) drawer for a few weeks. After that, you’re ready for:
So, you’ve finished your first draft. You’ve taken a well-deserved break from it, giving you the distance you need to be critical. Now comes the toughest part of writing: The editing. This can take a long time. Read it through carefully, critically. You wrote it in a rush, so it’s not going to be perfect. This is where you start polishing your jewel. Some people use this opportunity to re-outline and, if the first draft is very very rushed, potentially a page one re-write. Some people tweak and refine in endless iterations.
But make sure you’re at least a draft or two further before you send it out for review. Choose friends who write, or find an online community to help you here. Do not give it to non-writers, you’re not at that stage yet. Especially if they’re friends or family, they will not give you the kind of feedback you need. What you’re after is useful, positive feedback from people who have been in a writing trenches a bit.
Some of the feedback may bite a bit. That’s okay, that’s how we learn. Be gracious for the feedback you receive, someone took a lot of time to read what you wrote. Potentially offer them feedback on their manuscript, it’s only fair.
This will then all feed into another re-write. And this cycle go on for some time. Eventually, if your material is really strong, you may ask a third party editor for their input. Expect to pay for this, but don’t get ripped off. If they offer you any guarantees about the efficacy of their influence, it’s probably a scam.
Then, after all this? If you’ve passed all the hurdles, done countless tweaks and re-writes, if you’re really fully happy with your manuscript? Then you’re ready to either query or self-publish, depending on the path you choose.
All this can take a long time. Novel-writing is a slow process, and writing is re-writing. But if you’ve got this far? Congratulations. You have indeed achieved a mighty deed.