November’s over… Now what?
Obviously, this post is mostly for people who participated in National Novel Writing Month. (I didn’t — I never do — but for some reason I still think I have something to say about what to do with a piece of writing after the first draft is done. Go figure.) On the other hand, these steps work equally well if you didn’t just spend 30 days writing frantically.
♦ Finish the story, if you haven’t done so already.
If you’re unhappy with what you’ve written, and you’re sure it can’t be salvaged, leave it alone and move on to something else, but save what you wrote anyway. You never know when it may become the seed for a new story.
♦ Wait at least a few days before messing with it again.
♦ Read over what you’ve got and decide if/where/how you need to make any changes in plot, characters, worldbuilding details, etc.
This is the revision stage. It’s important. When not writing for NaNo, this sort of thing can be done on the fly, but since the “rules” of NaNo forbid revising or editing during NaNo…
♦ When you’ve got the substance of the story the way you want it, proofread/line edit it and fix any errors you find, plus make sure every sentence says what you mean it to say.
Don’t rely on spelling/grammar checkers alone. A sentence can be perfect in terms of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and yet still be totally wrong because it doesn’t mean what the author intended. (Any spelling/grammar checker that has a metaphorical fit every time it encounters any use of a to be verb is not going to give you the best advice on how to improve your manuscript. Not every use of to be is passive — like this sentence, for example. 🙂 Besides, passive voice is not the Great Evil some
parrots people make it out to be; it does have its place and is sometimes even necessary.)
♦ THEN give it to your beta readers/writing buddies for feedback.
Don’t send them a copy full of errors you could have caught and fixed yourself; that’s just inconsiderate. Besides, too many errors can get in the way of readers even finding the story, so how are your betas supposed to give you useful feedback if the manuscript is a mess?
♦ Go through all stages of receiving feedback and responding to it that you feel are appropriate.
Sometimes you decide to change a major element of the story because of a comment or question from a beta reader; sometimes you decide the only “problem” is that the beta reader isn’t part of the intended audience for your story, and them “not getting it” is not an indication that your story is flawed. (“It doesn’t work for me” is not the same as “It doesn’t work,” and a good beta reader understands that.)
♦ Give the story another round of line editing and proofreading.
If you want to hire a professional editor, this is the point to do it. Or perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have a really, really good beta reader/writing buddy who is willing to edit your manuscript for free or in trade for something. DO NOT assume the person who loves your story is automatically qualified to fix punctuation and grammar, though. Considering the stupid mistakes I’ve seen in supposedly professionally edited novels lately, I think you shouldn’t assume anything without getting a sample to show that the editor in question knows what the hell he/she is doing.
♦ Then, and ONLY then, publish it — or submit it to agents/traditional publishers, if that’s the route you choose.