NaNoWriMo Week 5: How To Finish And Edit Your Story - An old man holds up a finished draft.

NaNoWriMo Week 5: How To Finish And Edit Your Story

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Hello authors, and welcome to the fifth article in our month-long National Novel Writing Month coverage. It’s the last week of NaNoWriMo, and you don’t get all of it, but there’s still time left to hit your goals and come away feeling proud.

Last week, I covered how to conclude your story, so this week we’re looking ahead, past NaNoWriMo and into the future. How do you start editing your NaNoWriMo story? How do you make sure you keep working and complete the sections you haven’t already written? How do you look back on NaNoWriMo as a positive experience, even if you didn’t get everything you wanted out of it? The answers are below.

Looking back with pride

One of the most immediate things to consider about NaNoWriMo is how to look back on it as a positive experience. If you’re already doing so, congratulations! If not, let’s dig a little deeper.

The most common source of NaNoWriMo misery is word-count dissatisfaction – maybe you didn’t reach your goal and you’re upset. That said, it’s just as common for authors to reach their goals and still feel a little hollow. Maybe you haven’t made as big of a dent in your story as you wanted, maybe 50,000 words didn’t turn out to be that much, or maybe you were hoping that NaNoWriMo would make writing easier, and it was a slog all month.

First of all, and corny as it may be, the first step to being happy with your progress is to recognize that having sincerely tried is its own success. As runners say, even if you came last, you lapped everyone who stayed home. Every word you managed to write is one more than if you hadn’t bothered, so if you’re sitting around comparing yourself to a fantasy author who hit all your goals, at least factor in the (much more common) version who has nothing to show for the month.

Feeling blue after NaNoWriMo? Imagine how bad you’d feel if you hadn’t tried at all.Click To Tweet

On top of that, try to keep in mind that 50,000 words is a motivational goal. It wasn’t meant to be all you’d need to finish a project, just something attainable to help you make substantive process in little time. If you made it and it didn’t take you as far as you wanted, at least you know how much you can do in a month, which means you now have a more realistic timeline for your first draft.

If you didn’t make it, there’s a lot of utility in turning your NaNoWriMo performance into a tool for reflection and then motivation. Did you really do your best this month? If so, you just found out that you can’t produce as much as you thought. It’s a rude awakening, to be sure, but really you just found out something that was always true, and you can adjust your expectations accordingly. If not, it’s a good time to look at your motivations. Are you prioritizing your writing over other tasks? Did you set small goals and stick to them? Were you truly trying to succeed, or did you slack off a little so you didn’t have to truly fail?

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They’re valuable questions, and this is a great time to ask them. Once you’ve done so, turn your thoughts to the fact that NaNoWriMo is really just November. And I don’t mean that any celebration or occasion is basically arbitrary – I mean some people just picked November to be National Novel Writing Month. There’s nothing stopping you from making February your own NaNoWriMo and learning from the things that held you back in November. You can use all the same tools – yes, there’s less of a sense of community, but there are always authors trying to finish, and you can find them on any social media if that’s what’ll help you write.

If your NaNoWriMo total wasn’t what you hoped, that’s your new record, and it can be beaten in the months to come. December is never great for productivity, so half it for then, but return in January with the goal of beating November’s total. Do it right, though – if NaNoWriMo didn’t work out, you should reassess your methods and figure out how to experiment. That method of working that everyone else swears by but just doesn’t work for you? Now’s the time to give it another try.

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A final piece of advice: don’t resist the truth. Take a good look at your habits, consciously work hard, and test your limits, but don’t torture yourself with the theoretical. If you really, really want to write but find yourself getting distracted after a few thousand words, maybe that’s just how you work. If so, there’s a lot more utility in restructuring your approach than in trying to force yourself into someone else’s mold. Obviously, you shouldn’t use this line of thinking to excuse yourself from trying, but you should also be trying to learn yourself.

NaNoWriMo reveals problems you can either solve or account for.Click To Tweet

Do you write better at a certain time of day? Do you need to accomplish a specific task before you can really focus? Is there a particular activity that makes you feel creative? Build your writing habits around what works, and apply this to your writing too. Was writing one character a breeze and another a slog? Maybe it’s something you need to push through, or maybe that character just isn’t for you.

On the subject of slogs – if you’re a writer who just found out that you find it genuinely difficult to write, you have my sympathies. Conceiving of a story and wording that story are different skills, and any given author has a different relationship with them. Writing isn’t usually easy, but it reliably rewards persistence, and, put bluntly, there are only so many words in your story. Keep going and you will get there.

Editing your story

Editing your story is a part of the process that can stop many authors in their tracks, and they’re not wrong to hesitate. Editing is time consuming and difficult, but it’s also the mammoth share of actually producing a book. Writing is rewriting, after all.

In this section, I’ll be suggesting a lot of resources to help with the editing process. It may seem like an intimidating amount, but remember that this is something you approach gradually and in steps. Don’t feel pressure to do everything at once – you can save this article to refer back to as you move onto each subsequent stage of editing.

Editing is a multi-stage process – take it step by step.Click To Tweet

So where do you start? Well, the mindset has to come first. Everything you do from here is in service of improving your book, but that means getting a handle on what improvement means, as well as the biases and preconceptions you may be bringing to the story.

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Once you’re clear on the philosophy behind your editing, it’s time to look at structural details that you can change now, before you bother editing anything that has to go. Does your story progress in the right order? Does it meet the milestones I mentioned in Week 2? Has the process of writing your story revealed any weaknesses that you can now address?

Alongside this, consider the basic ingredients of your story. Are your characters all pulling their weight? Are there any plot holes you want to plug or story lines that don’t quite work? Remember that your NaNoWriMo writing is a very rough draft. Copy and paste sections into different places if it means you’re creating a better blueprint (but save a safety copy or three before you do).

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Once your story feels structurally sound, it’s time to start thinking about consolidation. Great stories use the fewest words possible to achieve their goal – even when they’re verbose, they’re verbose for a reason. Look at your story and consider whether it makes sense for two characters to become one more complex individual. Can you deliver exposition while also establishing character? Can you use dialogue to move the story forward? Can your world building make the passage of time feel more natural?

The answer is usually ‘yes’, and the technique of folding (explained in the first article of our recommended reading, below) will be one of your greatest tools at this point in your editing.

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Now your story is the shape you want it and you’ve taken steps to consolidate its details for better pace and flow. You may tweak these details more as you edit, but you’ve achieved a more or less solid foundation. Once you’re happy to move on, it’s time to start thinking about the mechanics of how you’ve told your story. You’re almost certainly overwriting (everyone does, in one way or another), so now’s the time to take a look at your work with the intent of cutting out everything that isn’t helping the story.

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It’ll take a while to apply all these stages, but the story that comes out of the other end will be worth the effort. Don’t be concerned if these stages comingle – addressing one issue can force you to confront another. You cut out a chunk of unnecessary description, for example, and now a chapter doesn’t quite have enough content to justify itself. It’s an involved process, but quite a satisfying one.

Once it’s finished, however, it’s time to look at directly improving the writing. The intent here isn’t so much to add – not after you just pared away everything you didn’t need – but to see if there’s a way to alter or replace what’s already there to make it better. Sense writing is one way to do this, and reading aloud can help you pick up on how the flow and pace of your story can be improved.

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Progress through these steps and you’ll have a much-improved book, but be careful not to get trapped in the process of rewriting. At a certain point, you’ve spent long enough on a single work – it’s time to publish it or let it go.

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Manage all that and you’ll have the best version of your book, finished and ready for readers. So where exactly can you find them?

Finding readers

First of all, I should make it clear that your NaNoWriMo draft almost certainly isn’t ready for readers. There’s a lot you can still do yourself before you ask for feedback – especially considering feedback is usually a limited resource.

A lot of NaNoWriMo authors are looking for readers, so consider a little quid pro quo.Click To Tweet

That said, if you’ve reached a point where you feel like feedback is the necessary next step, there are a range of options open to you. I’d explore them here, but since we’ve already got an article on this exact subject, I’ll suggest heading there instead.

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Final NaNoWriMo resources

NaNoWriMo may be ending, and our coverage with it, but that doesn’t mean we’re leaving you in the lurch. We’ll keep releasing insightful articles and useful tips twice a week, and producing free tools for you to use in your writing and editing.

We’re also here to help you with your editing, whether you want a story consultation to discuss your fledgling story or a full edit to get it to a publishable standard. Once it’s there, we can provide cover design, print book formatting, e-book formatting, and platform creation. NaNoWriMo may be winding down, but you’ve just begun a project that could end on the shelves, and we’re more than happy to help it get there.

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I hope you have an enjoyable, productive four more days of NaNoWriMo writing (though if you want to cheat and see out the week, I won’t be judging), and remember that every word is a word you wouldn’t have written otherwise. Let me know how it’s going, and how you end up doing, in the comments below.

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