Friday, November 30

NaNoWriMo Ends. Editing Begins!

NaNoWriMo Ends. Editing Begins!

If you participated in NaNoWriMo 2012 you're a winner! It's the end of the month and you survived with your sanity (more-or-less) intact.

Whatever your word count, this should be a day of celebration. You wrote more than you normally do, you stretched yourself as a writer, and are heading into December with what Jim Butcher called writing momentum. Because I think his advice is fabulous I'm going to include it here even though I posted about it only a few days ago.
Write every day.

Even if you only write a little bit, even if you only write a sentence or a word, write. Because, even if you've just written a word, you're one word closer to the end of the book than you were at the beginning of the day, and that's progress.

Writing is about momentum, so get that momentum, set your time aside every day and stay honest.  (Jim Butcher's Advice For New Writers: Write Every Day)

What The Future Holds: Editing

For those of you who did finish and wrote 50,000 words over the course of November, you rock! But it's not over. You have a first draft. Great! Now put it in a drawer and back away slowwwly.

1. Take A Break

Resist the urge to read your manuscript over. Let it rest. Stephen King usually gives it about six weeks, but do what feels right for you. I think that having at least a week off would be an excellent idea.

Part of the reason for giving yourself a break is so that you'll be able to come back and, to a certain extent, read your story with fresh eyes. Passages you thought blazed with unsurpassed brilliance and creativity will seem less brilliant (after all, you were sleep deprived and over-caffeinated) but parts that you thought hadn't turned out as well as you wanted may strike you as pretty darn good.

2. Read Your Manuscript Through But DO NOT EDIT IT

When you come back to your manuscript read it through once, from beginning to end, but DO NOT EDIT IT.

Because you've gotten some distance from the story you will have forgotten some of its twists and turns. Given that, it would be BAD to make major alterations before you've loaded the story back into your noggin.

I know it's agonizingly hard to read your work without editing it. Or perhaps that's just me. It's like torture. But your restraint will pay off.

By all means, take lots of notes about what you'd like to change, but put them in a different file, or you could even use a paper notebook. I often enjoy the act of writing on a physical page when I'm taking notes.

3. Unleash Your Inner Editor

During NaNoWriMo I've been saying to people, "Take your inner editor, tie her up, and lock her in a closet." Now it's time to let her out (and hope she's not too grumpy). Now you want to think about how other people would read your story.

Here's a rule of thumb: 

Above all else, you want your story to be clear. Remove anything that doesn't serve to push your story forward.

For each element of your story look at it and ask yourself, "Does this need to be here? Would the story be the same without it?" If its absence would leave the story unchanged, be ruthless and cut.

Protagonist's goals: 

Is it clear what your protagonist wants? What their external goal is? For instance, winning the hand of the princess, finding the golden bird, bringing back the lost ark, and so on.

How about your protagonist's inner goal? How do they need to change in order to get what they truly want? For instance, Shrek was lonely, isolated. He wanted friends, but in order to get them he had to change and let people in.


How many subplots do you have? If you want to write an 80,000 word story and this is your first book you could go easy on yourself and have only one, or perhaps two. If you're writing a 40,000 word novella (which I think would be an excellent thing to do!) you wouldn't need any sub-plots. Again, this advice is for new writers, if this isn't your first book you know best what you're comfortable with.


If a character doesn't do anything to advance the plot get rid of him. Or perhaps you could combine him/her with another character.


You only want to include what is relevant to the other characters in the novel at the time it's given. Robert Sawyer gave a beautiful example of this. (Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling)

Best of luck as you continue to work on your novel! Do you have any advice you'd like to pass on?

Here are a few articles about editing:

- Creating Memorable Supporting Characters
- Editing: Make Sure Your Story's Bones Are Strong
- Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling
- 11 Steps To Edit Your Manuscript. Edit Ruthlessly & Kill Your Darlings
- Check Your Writing For Adverbs And Other Problem Words: MS Word Macros
- How To Find The Right Freelance Editor For You
- Want Help With Editing? Try Free Editing Programs

Photo credit: "The BIG Guy" by VinothChandar under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.


  1. My takeaway from Nanowrimo this year is how truly beneficial writing everyday is for a long project. I've beat this drum for years and I'm pretty good at getting myself to write every day, but when you're working on a long project, there's really no substitute for the momentum you get when you write every day. I'm not anywhere near being ready to start editing yet, but these are good tips.

    1. Thanks Charlotte! Wow, I admire your dedication. Writing every day has been a challenge for me, especially when I'm editing one book and (trying!) to write another. Thanks for your comment! :-)

  2. I am terrified to let my manuscript sit because I never went back to my book last year. But I like the idea of just reading it through without edits, I think it will help. I was thinking about reading it and writing an outline based on what I read, rather that what I thought I outlined, and see how it matched up so I can find the missing pieces.

    1. "I was thinking about reading it and writing an outline based on what I read, rather that what I thought I outlined, and see how it matched up so I can find the missing pieces."

      I love that idea!

      About letting your manuscript sit, I think everyone is different, so (this is my 2 cents) if plunging right into editing feels right to you, go for it!

  3. Great post. I didn't finish a NANOWRIMO novel this year, but I did reach my goal of making 30,000 words worth of progress with my current novel, so I was writing alongside everyone. And yes, since I was working faster than usual, the editing phase is coming up. But not until I'm completely finished. I find that editing myself while I'm working causes a lot of problems, including the "this is total garbage" problem, which is especially deadly. Congrats to all who hit their goals!

    1. Thanks mfawriterguy!

      "I find that editing myself while I'm working causes a lot of problems, including the "this is total garbage" problem, which is especially deadly."

      Oh, I hear that. And then I think, "Oh, I'll just fix THIS part, and before I know it I've lost my momentum.

      Congrats on meeting your goal!

  4. This is all great advice. I didn't do NaNoWriMo this year because I'm actually rewriting/editing what I wrote last year. It's hard to let it sit, but I did. The distance helps.

    1. Excellent! I'm thrilled that you're picking up your 2011 NaNoWriMo novel. Go you!!

      Thanks for your kind words, and for your comment. :-)

      I'm already looking forward to NaNoWriMo 2013! lol


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