You’ve done it. Whether you’ve created a masterpiece, a rough draft, added a few thousand words to a work in progress, or achieved a smaller goal of your own… you’ve made it through November, and hit that last day of NaNoWriMo. At this point, many people start to ask themselves the all important question- now what?
The goal of NaNoWriMo is to show that anyone can find time during the day to write, even if it’s stolen minutes before breakfast, 10 minute stretches before bed… whenever you can make the time, NaNo teaches you to utilize it. At the core, NaNoWriMo is a habit forming device. They say it takes 30 days for an action to become a habit, and that is precisely why NaNoWriMo is set for a 30 day month.
Due to this, not all authors reach the same finish line as others. Which means our “now what” options are different. There are some highlights that can apply to all of us though, so we’ll go through those below.
That’s okay! For some of us, we just didn’t have the time or energy. Others had holidays or real life thrown into the mix and couldn’t allocate equal time to both. Or, we were writing something longer, and NaNoWriMo was just a portion of it. The great news for you is that NaNoWriMo has added Goal Trackers. These function just like the November stats, except you can do them any time of the year, and can set goals for any word count and up to 3 months per goal.
Those can be found under the My NaNoWriMo tab, in Projects. You create a new project, set your own goal, and update your word counts just like you did during the full NaNo. This allows you to set your own pace, your own goals, and to achieve them on your own schedule. Use the time you took for NaNo to carve out writing time during the other months too, and soon you too will have a finished novel.
Many authors participate in NaNo just for the bragging rights. They don’t intend on publishing their work, and didn’t plan on doing anything with it afterwards, they just wanted to be a part of the event for themselves, or to support other friends. For those people, finishing NaNoWriMo is the reward itself, and that’s perfectly fine. Once you’ve finished, save it in Dropbox and forget it. Share with a few friends just to get their thoughts. Print it out, and toss it in a folder in the attic.
There is no unspoken rule saying that you have to do anything with the novel you wrote for NaNoWriMo. They’re your words, you can do what you like with them. I do suggest at least saving your manuscript somewhere, though. Some just delete it once the event is over, but I can’t help the feeling that it may be nice to go back to it years later and see how far your writing has improved. Or to share it with kids/grandkids if they develop a creative bug. You’ve put so much work into it, it might be nice to at least save it for posterity.
To publish or not to publish?
Simply put- we’ve probably all seen the negative articles and posts about NaNoWriMo. The reason for this isn’t because of the event itself. Nearly all agree that the event has worth, and is a great exercise for aspiring writers to learn to make writing a daily habit. The problem comes on December 1st, when agents are deluged with rough manuscripts and submissions from hopeful NaNoWriMo participants, looking for a book deal or publishing contract.
They see the slush pile. It’s sad, but true. What we write during NaNoWriMo is not ready for public consumption, far from it. You cannot finish NaNo on November 30th and submit your novel on December 1st. There is a lot of work that goes into a final manuscript before it is ready for publication. The first step is to set it aside. Give yourself December to relax and not think about it. This helps to get the story out of your head a bit, so you’re reading it with fresh eyes. There is a good reason NaNoWriMo has set aside January and February as the “Now What?” editing months. It is needed, and is a necessary step in the development of your novel.
In January, go through it again, reading from start to finish. Correct grammar mistakes and typos as you see them. Make notes on where you might like to add a little more depth, where you’d like to change words that you’ve re-used too often. Once you’ve finished reading, go back to the beginning and make your edits. Once that’s done, upload it into ProWritingAid or Grammarly. (I prefer ProWritingAid… it’s far cheaper than Grammarly for the premium, but all the checks are available for free online as well.)
Choose one “check” to do at a time. If you try to do them all at once, you’ll be completely overwhelmed. With practice, you’ll be able to see what checks are important to you and your work, and what ones don’t help you at all. They have great tools for word repetition, finding misused words, misspelled words that aren’t actually misspelled but are the wrong words. (To instead of too, you instead of your, etc). These are things your word processor won’t pick up, so a writing aid like this is essential in proofing your work.
Once you’re satisfied that you’ve done all you can, it’s time to enlist Alpha readers. These are your friends and family, those you know can be honest and helpful, and who have a good grasp of grammar themselves. Let them read it, write down their thoughts and any errors they noticed. If more than one makes remarks about the same thing, consider adjusting it or reworking the scene to make it flow easier, or whatever their comments were.
Once that’s done, edit again, using the alpha readers suggestions. Then, you send it to an actual editor. These can be found cheaply on Facebook and Fiver if you look, many offer sales and help for indie authors on a budget. I myself am opening up an author services business, and will work with authors based on what they can afford. It’s not impossible! The editor will return your manuscript to you with their own edits and suggestions. Once you go through and edit yet again, you’ll likely need a final proofread as well, to pick up any mistakes introduced during the editing stage. Only THEN is your book ready for publication if you’re self-publishing, or for shopping around to agents if you’re looking for a traditional publisher.
It is a lot of work. But you are worth it, and so is your novel.
(Some authors even enlist beta readers before publishing, to get a feel for how real readers react to their book. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s another step that some authors do take. Where alpha readers are there to pick up errors, find plot holes, make sure things are consistent and scenes “work”, beta readers give you their thoughts on your entire book, and whether they’d read more from that series, or their thoughts on the plot as a whole. Both have their uses, but for the indie author, I feel alpha readers are essential, whereas beta readers may not be necessary depending on the quality of your Alpha readers, who can technically function as both.)