Thursday, December 13, 2012

Guest Post: What To Do Before Revising a NaNoWriMo Novel

I'm super excited to host Angela Ackerman, co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus! I used her reference book to create varied character reactions while writing my NaNoWriMo draft last month. Here, she shares strategies on how to take that draft and prepare for revision. 

Beauty or The Beast: What To Do Before Revising A Nano Novel

The month of November is a bit of a sugar high, isn’t it? There’s Nanowrimo, and the stream of words fueled by coffee, old Halloween candy, Kraft Dinner and not enough sleep. The Muse is fired up, leading us down the Yellow Brick Road and we follow at full throttle, writing whatever craziness comes to mind. Then there’s the ultimate high: achieving the 50K! Writing The End. There’s fireworks. Tears. Maybe cupcakes and bacon. Huzzah! We are MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.

And then comes that not-so-delightful...December...crash. We have a novel. It is a mess. We feel like we’ve just woken up to a strange noise in the dead of night, sure a Stephen King-esque monster is under the bed.  We play online Scrabble and wish people Happy Birthday on Facebook rather than edge the mouse toward the ‘open file’ button.

For some, writing the novel is enough. For others, like the authors of Forest Of Hands And Teeth; Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, Water For Elephants and Wool, the journey does not end, and the hardest part begins.

Life After Nano: Moving Forward

Because Nanowrimo focuses on the creative process rather than slow and steady technique, I think writers need to approach rewrites differently than with something written over the course of a few months or half a year. Here’s some food for thought!

Take Advantage Of The Process

One great thing about Nano is that we’ve written it so fast, the character’s journey is fresh in our mind from first page to last. Take this opportunity to make some notes to yourself and ask these three questions:

1) What plot twists/ideas/story elements did I love best?

2) What parts of the book am I pretty sure need to change?

3) What ideas have sprung to mind since finishing that I might want to go back and incorporate?

While the story is fresh, you’ll want to capture these answers. If you don’t get this down, you may forget the good ideas that writing the story generated. Maybe you had a brainwave for an earlier scene but didn’t want to lose the flow, so you promised yourself you’d add it during revisions. Or perhaps over the course of the book, you realized the logic didn’t work somewhere and it would require retooling. Are there plot holes? Events that need foreshadowing? Make copious notes-everything that comes to mind.

Finally, answer one more question:

4) What worked and what didn’t with each character?

If you’re anything like me, you get to know your characters as you write. They evolve, too. Make notes on each--things you really like and things you need to develop. Who still needs fleshing out? Who needs motivation for things they do (or don’t) do? Who developed a quirk partway in which needs to be added right from the start?

Let Your Novel Sleep

All writers know the power of time. For some, hearing that they should shelve this book for awhile is music, while others want to rip into it right away to see how bloody the waters will get. Resist the urge to read your Nano right after writing it. Give it time to settle. Let your notes about the book steep. Wait two 
weeks to a month, whichever feels right to you.

Pull That Sucker Out Of The Closet

It’s time to find the Beauty in your Supposed Beast. Set aside time to read your novel and try to do it within a short period. You want to be able to view the book as a whole, not as parts.
But before you start, tell yourself two things:

First drafts are never as bad as writers think they will be.

I will read this as a reader, not as a writer.

Do not make corrections. Do not fix typos. Read your novel for the story and characters. Appreciate the journey that your creative brain sent you on and don’t let your Internal Editor interfere. If he starts to rant at you, shove him in a room full of virtual clowns. :)

After you’ve read your manuscript, bask in ALL THE GOOD THINGS. There are pearls, rubies, diamonds, even! Then, pull out those notes you made. Go through them and challenge your initial thoughts and beliefs. Do you still believe X is a plot hole? That Character Y needs to be cut from the manuscript? 

Does Z subplot still make sense?

Add To Your Notes

Delete what you no longer agree with, and add new ideas to what you want to develop. Think about bigger problems you noticed, and mull over how you might fix them.

Finally, sit back and reread what you’ve written, because these notes are your pathway to revisionYou now have a place to start, the big issues lined out. Choose what you want to focus on first. Maybe like me, you want to fix all the typos before you dig in. Or you want to finalize the bones of the plot, or develop your lead character. Maybe you decide to see how your novel stands up to a Save The Cat Beat Sheet. Whatever you choose, come back to these notes for ideas and inspiration and remember how many published books out there started just like yours...a simple Nano challenge!

Angela Ackerman is a Canadian who writes on the darker side of middle grade and young adult and blogs at the award winning resource, The Bookshelf Muse She is also a co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression, a writer's guide to help navigate the challenging terrain of showing character emotion. This brainstorming tool explores seventy-five emotions and provides a large selection of body language, internal sensations, actions and thoughts associated with each. Written in an easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment.


  1. Thanks, Angela! I love your idea to let the novel rest, then read it like a reader without editing. That will take amazing restraint on my part, but I'm going to try it.

  2. I really think it's important to jot down all the concerns we have and then tuck it away before we start revising. We need the distance to see our work with fresh eyes. I think as well, even as we take time away from a project, our brains are still working on the problems we outlined so it's a win-win!

    Thanks so much for inviting me here today :)


  3. I think my novels have been sleeping too long. Time to wake up little ones. You've given some good guidance here.

    A Faraway View

  4. These are great ideas for tackling the revision process. I like letting my manuscript sleep - but not for too long, otherwise it might go into a coma!

  5. Wonderful post - thank you for sharing this. My NaNo novel is having a lovely little nap right now even though I was so excited to get back to it.... sometimes life gets in the way and I think in this instance, that's exactly what I needed!

  6. Arlee, sometimes going back to an older novel can be a very good thing! There are gems there, otherwise you would not have felt compelled to write it, right? Good luck!

    @Sherry, thanks! I agree, and I always will let the MS have some soak time between each revision. The clearer our eyes are, the better. :)

    @Sara, I know what you mean--in some ways the holidays and the business that comes with is a blessing, because it helps us from starting revisions too early. Good luck when you get back to it! :)

  7. I'm wondering if I did something wrong because I finished the challenge and am actually happy with what I have.

    Don't get me wrong. Editing is to follow and I'm finishing up some books I've put aside right now and won't start editing this one until after the holidays. But the story went somewhere I had no idea it was going.

    And I like it. I think every author should take part in this November contest at least once. I'm noticing my other writings flowing more now.

    Great article by the way.

  8. That's great that you are happy with the book, and I agree, it is an excellent way to get in touch with 'pure creativity'. I also think all writers should give it a go!

  9. I love this advice! I participated (and won!) my first NaNo last month. Thanks to a lot of great advice, I haven't re-read it yet, but I'm excited to. As a freelance editor, it's hard to turn that off, but I love the idea of reading for characters and story first and taking notes.

    Thanks for the great post!


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