Thursday, November 23, 2023

From the Archive: Dear O'Abby, I'm going to win NaNo. What next?

 Dear O’Abby, 

This is my first time doing NaNo and I’m pretty close to finishing my book. I’m super excited about it because I’ve never written a book before. But I was wondering, what do I when it’s finished? Send it to publishers? Do you have any advice for a newbie? 



Dear Noob, 

Firstly, congratulations on finishing a book! That’s a fantastic achievement and one you should be very proud of. 

But finishing a novel is really only the first step in the writing process so please don’t rush off and send your freshly finished manuscript to anyone.

The first thing you need to do is let that manuscript sit for a few weeks. Don’t look at it. Write something else or plan something else. Take a break and do something not writing-related for a while. Whatever you want to do except looking over that book you just wrote. I like to give my manuscripts at least a month before I go back to them because that’s long enough to be able to look at them with fresh eyes. 

When you do go back it, you will probably find a lot of things you need to change. Character motivations may not be clear. Tension might not be high enough at key points in the manuscript. The ending may not be as satisfying as you thought it would be. You may even find stupid things like a character’s name changing between chapters or their hair going from blonde to brown. Fast drafting, which NaNo is, is a fantastic tool for getting you story on the page, but it isn’t a finished book yet, even if you have typed THE END. 

Revision is crucial to the writing process. And I find it usually takes me WAY longer to revise a book than it does to write it in the first place. I would suggest doing a first read-through where you don’t make any changes, but write notes for yourself about things you notice that need to be changed. If you change them as you go, you may find things you do early on in the book no longer make sense by the time you’ve made changes toward the end. I often find that after this first pass, writing a synopsis of the book helps me to really figure out the shape of the story, and where scenes or characters may need to be changed or moved. 

The next step is to make the changes you’ve noted. This could take some time, if the changes are substantial. I’ve re-written entire books from a new POV at this point, or scrapped the entire middle and re-written it so it works better with the ending, or ditched a character completely because they didn’t really have any function in the story. I’ve added 20K in some revisions, and cut the same amount in others. Each book is different. 

And when you’ve done, let it rest again. Then rinse and repeat. 

When you get to the point you aren’t actually changing anything substantial anymore, just moving commas or changing ‘asked’ to ‘queried’, it’s probably time to get some new eyes on your work. You need to send your book to a critique partner or beta reader to see how it reads to someone who doesn’t know your story. In fact, you probably need to send it to at least three people who aren’t intimate with it. Ideally people who aren’t just going to fangirl about the fact you’ve actually written a book. You need feedback on what you’ve written. 

Once the feedback comes in, you need to read it carefully, consider it and make decisions about which pieces of advice are helpful and which are not. Not every suggestion made by a crit partner or beta is going to be useful. But if you get the same piece of feedback from multiple people, you probably should pay attention to it. I also find it’s often useful to give feedback time to settle in. Don’t rush in and change things as soon as the feedback lands. Take some time to think about the things your readers identified as problematic. You may find even better ways to address them than anything that was suggested.

Then you revise some more. And send to new readers. And revise some more. 

Told you it was a long process… 

Once you’re satisfied it’s as good as you can possibly get it, there are other decisions you need to make about how and where you want to publish. But maybe we’ll look at that part of the process in next week’s post. 

Happy revising! 

X O’Abby

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