National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) is over for another year. Some of us are swimming in pride because we reached the coveted 50,000 words and others are wondering how things went so wrong.
No matter what happened this past month, know that you did your best, and that’s all anyone can do.
But for those of you who finished, continue to ride that high from finishing your first manuscript or getting those 50,000 words down on paper. You deserve a break!
However, just because NaNoWriMo is over, it doesn’t mean your work is done. Instead, your work is just beginning.
It’s a different work type than you may be used to, especially if this is the first story you’ve ever finished. Have no fear, though; it can be quite fun and stress-free.
Before you dive into what’s next, take that time to celebrate. Your hard work should be rewarded with a long nap and some much needed social time.
What is NaNoWriMo?
I know, I know. Most of you already know what this but for those who don’t we’re going to define it for them:
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month): is an online writing event that brings writers from all corners of the globe together to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.
NaNoWriMo isn’t just a writing event. It’s also a nonprofit organization dedicated to “support[ing] writing fluency and education.” They offer a variety of teaching platforms designed to get students into creative writing.
The organization also “hosts more than a million writers, serving as a social network with author profiles, personal project libraries, and writing buddies. NaNoWriMo tracks words for writers like Fitbit tracks steps, and hosts real-world writing events in cities from Mexico City, to Seoul, to Milwaukee with the help of 900+ volunteers in thousands of partnering libraries and community centers.”
And it has led to many successes for all types of writers. Here are a few of the authors that have written their best-selling novels during November:
- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
- Wool by Hugh Howey
- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
- The Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough
- Cinder by Marissa Meyer
As you can see, NaNoWriMo can lead to many publishing opportunities for writers if they know how to make the most of the event.
After NaNoWriMo: The Next Steps
You ended November with a win because you probably set some realistic goals for yourself and then have the self-discipline to see those goals through to the end. And that’s a skill that you need to carry with through the remaining 11 months of the year.
If you want some quick tips, you may want to check out this video by author Jenna Moreci:
Aside from those two things, here’s the other bits of important information you’ll need to know:
Finish Your Manuscript
Fifty thousand words is the bare minimum required to write a novel.
It means that you will probably have to flesh things out to meet the word count requirements for your genre, which will look something like this:
- Crime: 90,000 to 100,000
- Mystery/thriller/suspense: 70,000 to 90,000
- Romance: 70,000 to 100,000
- Fantasy: 90,000 to 100,000
- Paranormal: 75,000 to 95,000
- Horror: 80,000 to 100,000
- Science fiction: 90,000 to 125,000 (it takes a lot to build a fictional world)
- Literary/commercial/women’s: 80,000 to 110,000
(LitRejections has a detailed overview of this that contains the word count suggestions for every genre.)
I know this discouraging to know. But here’s the silver-lining: you only have to write around 20,000 to 50,000 more words.
You are already halfway through your novel! The backbone of your story is already on paper. You just need to keep going.
In other words, you may need to find more time to write. So look at your schedule, see what you can fit in where, and carve some time out to write. This is where those realistic goals and self-discipline comes in. Find what works for you, and then stick to your game plan.
Once you’ve got your first draft down on paper (or typed up on your computer), relax. Take a break. Go for a walk.
Do something other than look at the manuscript that you’ve just finished. You have been immersed in that thing for a month or more and can’t see it for what is: a hot mess.
No first draft is ever error free. But we’ll come back to this in a moment.
What you do with this down time is up to you. There’s no restriction other than take a break – a few days at the least – from your manuscript.
But if you’re itching for some suggestions, this is what you could do:
- Start editing another story (if you have one).
- Write a short story, poem, or flash fiction.
- Look into your publishing options.
- Research marketing strategies.
- Keep in touch with the friends you made during NaNoWriMo (aka networking).
- Start designing the cover for your novel.
- Start researching, outlining, plotting your next novel.
- Create an author’s website.
And that’s just some of the writing-related things you can do while you let your manuscript exist. But don’t let that intimidate you! These are all easy things that you can do if you take it one step at a time.
Mourning is Part of the Post-NaNoWriMo Process
This is also an excellent time to mourn. Finishing a novel or writing project is an emotional experience.
And I know this from personal experience.
Earlier this year, I finished writing the last story in my short story collection. I’ve been working on this series for close to 10 years.
The first emotion that blazed like a wildfire through my body was elation. I couldn’t feel the extremities of my body; I was floating so high. The next emotion that flooded in was grief.
It was the last time I’d be writing for those characters ever again.
I bawled my eyes out (no exaggeration here) for about three hours. Like, ugly-cry type tears. It wasn’t pretty.
But it’s something that we all have to through at some point, and it’s okay to take some time to let those feelings run their course. So if you do have those feelings, let them go. There’s no shame in them.
And when they’ve run their course, pick yourself up off of the floor and get back to work.
After the Break, Start Self-Editing
Whatever you do after returning to your finished manuscript, don’t start trying to publish it. Your work is still not done yet before you can hit the New York Times best-seller list.
You need to go through numerous rounds of editing first. Particularly, self-editing.
Self-editing looks differently for many people. Some authors like to dive right in and start fixing plot holes and beefing up lackluster characters. Others will choose a specific aspect and fix it before moving onto the next stage.
Whatever your style, you need to complete this step before moving on to the next step.
It helps you find where your weak points are and changing as much as you can before enlisting others for help, will save you some heartache and money down the road.
Please note: you will go through multiple rounds of self-editing before you enlist the help of a professional editor.
If you want to learn more about self-editing, and my self-editing process, click here. I’ve covered this topic more extensively in that post.
Enlist the Help of Others (NaNoWriMo friends can be helpful here)
No matter how hard we try, it’s hard for us to be objective about our own writing. Our lack of objectivity makes it necessary for us to find someone else for feedback.
Outsiders (whether beta readers or a professional editor) can give you the constructive criticism you need and notice problems you don’t see. This is vitally important for your novel and will give you a fresh new perspective on your story.
Unfortunately, the hardest part of this step is finding the right people. You need someone to give you honest, well-informed, and constructive criticism, and not everyone has the knowledge or temperament to do so.
Here are some resources to help you find the person you need:
- The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback
- How to Work with Beta Readers
- How to Find and Work with a Professional Editor
- 41 Places to Find a Critique Partner Who Will Help You Improve Your Writing
- How to Build an Ideal Critique Partner Relationship
You can also turn to your NaNoWriMo buddies for help with this stage, among many other things. Just be aware that if you use other writers as beta readers or critique partners, you will have to return the favor.
Publish Your NaNoWriMo Novel
Once you’ve gone through all of the self-edits and the ones from your professional editor. You’ll be ready to publish your book.
Depending on what you did in your downtime, you may have already looked into the three publishing options available to you as a writer. If not you’ll want to do that research now.
There is no one right publishing avenue, and your choice will honestly depend on you and your novel. For some, pursuing a traditional publishing contract might be the better way to go. For others, it will be self-publishing or hybrid publishing.
Regardless of which avenue you pursue, make sure you do your research and avoid companies with bad reputations and vanity presses.
Marketing Follows Publishing
You may have started writing to get those pesky characters out of your head and onto the page. However, if you want to publish you’ll also need to take a crash course in how to be a marketer.
You will need to know what a personal brand is, leverage social media, and build an audience, to name a few. All of this helps you despite the publishing avenue you pursue.
And all of this work will help you find readers and sell your book.
That’s the bottom line for anyone who wants to publish. Publishers and agents look for this kind of stuff before they sign you as a client and it’s a must-have for any self-publisher.
Thankfully, there are loads of resources out there to help you figure all of this out. And never feel silly about asking a fellow writer for advice.
You need self-discipline and realistic writing goals to get through NaNoWriMo. The whole point of this event is to develop those skills and to get rid of the excuses we tell ourselves throughout the rest of the year.
In the aftermath of NaNoWriMo, many writers take a sigh of relief because they think the hard work is done when, in reality, it’s just beginning. That extra work isn’t something to be afraid of but something to be embraced because it leads to something amazing: a published book.
So to all of you who won NaNoWriMo this year – I salute you. For those of us who didn’t, keep going. You’re going to get there despite the fact that the month is over. Just keep working on that manuscript – you’ll finish it, I promise you.
How did everyone’s NaNoWriMo go? If you didn’t participate, why not? Is there anything you’ll do differently next year?
I tried participating this year but bowed out after a week due to stress and exhaustion. I consider the attempt at participating a success as I’ve missed the last few years completely.
(Psst. If you want to know more about my writing journey, you should sign up for my weekly newsletter! You’ll get advance notice of publishing opportunities, a glimpse into my writing life, book reviews, and many more goodies.)
You can sign up here:
Stay safe, everyone.
Until next time.
And, as you say here, don’t be afraid to take the time to do things right. Don’t think that one season ending is an end to your opportunities.
And also as you say, the writer’s work has just begun. As long as you have the wish to create something, you have the opportunity to do just that.
Exactly! There is always time for us to create as long as we take the time to do it.
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