If you’re reading this, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is over and you have one of the following in your quivering, coffee-stained hands:
- A string of nonsensical words that closely resemble the ramblings of a mad centaur.
- 50,000 words that are mostly just alternations of “I hate this” or “Crap!”
- A pretty solid attempt at something that might be considered a novel someday, somewhere, somehow.
- Something ready to be published, by George!
I’m assuming none of your answers are #4. If your answer is #4, then you’re a more talented and braver soul than I could ever be. Good luck to you and your prodigious career as the most awesome writer who ever lived.
However, if you answered #1-3, you may have a different issue on your hands. Maybe the best answer would be to burn the screeching banshee of a manuscript and hurl it back into the swirling abyss where you jerked it out one painful, gut-wrenching word at a time.
Yes, I said burn it. Throw it away. Hide it. Delete it. Whatever.
“But no!” you may say, “What did I spend this whole month doing then? That can’t be the only option, right?”
If you’re not cursing me by now, I may have a series of answers to your questions.
1. You Practiced Writing for a Month
You spent the whole month practicing writing. That’s not a terrible thing, is it? You learned what doesn’t work and what does for you as a writer. Maybe you’ve found pantsing was the biggest mistake since socks with sandals. Perhaps you need to outline way better next time you attempt something on this scale. There’s even a chance that you found that elusive voice people keep telling you about. All in all, you got a lot of practice at writing. Even if it all amounted to you smashing your head against the keyboard for thirty days, you wrote. Something.
If you wrote 50,000 (more or less) words in a month, that doesn’t necessarily mean what you’ve created should ever see the light of day. It may hiss at you when you approach it, but don’t be afraid to kill it. It’s OK. Take NaNoWriMo as your chance to learn your craft, experiment, and “find yourself” so to speak. If your project is truly, truly not salvageable (and it hurts me to say this because I’m in the “Finish everything” camp) then burn it.
Disclaimer: please don’t actually burn your hand-written manuscript or computer.
By burn it, I mean put it away somewhere to use as a bloody badge of honor, a reference for why you shouldn’t rush anything, or to steal great ideas from now and again. Label it “50K Word Spew”, or “Howling, Dagger-Eyed Witch Sloth”, whatever stands out so you know this particular novel was only for practice. No one need ever see its ugly face. Just because your NaNoWriMo novel faltered to the finish line, doesn’t mean you have to never use anything from it. Plagiarize from yourself if you can.
2. It’s Time to Relish in the Edit (AKA Descent Into Madness: Part 2)
You may have a manuscript that causes you to wake up in a cold sweat screaming about meandering exodus of the goat people sub-plots and elven love triangles. However, if something deep down inside of you says, “Hey, this might actually be good,” then you may burn selectively. Look at your manuscript as a gooey, blackened marshmallow you left in the fire too long. Pick away the inedible parts and dig into the delicious, hot-lava wonderment of wood-flavored mush. Or dig for the good stuff in your writing.
Editing is one of the only clear paths to the best NaNoWriMo project you can manage. If you “allowed yourself to suck” as the saying goes, then you must realize that your novel needs a lot more love than it can get in one month. Ignorance of good editing techniques is not enough to survive. Well, maybe it is, but you can do better, right?
Editing is your chance to kill every single horrible word you wrote in November. You don’t have to accept that what you wrote looks like goblin scratch. Editing is the fire that burns brightest. Your light in the darkness. Your–it’s good, OK?
Let’s take something that may have been written during NaNoWriMo:
a. Rajarth the Rhinoskinned cracked the goblins’ heads together like two overripe coconuts. His muscles rippled and a large vein in his forehead looked ready to burst like the dam of Glazeria or an overstuffed Ladronian hell-serpent. A massive boulder tumbled down the snow-capped mountain toward him, threatening to crush the ever-loving Thunderjackal spirit from his glistening, muscle-cabled body. The mountain housed the Thousand Forked Tongues of the Gigantor Beetle Snakes, which if Rajarth could take but one, could resurrect his fallen unicorn Prettybighorn so they may ride together in the gray hills of the Deadlands of Haaath. It had three “a”s because it was different than Haath which was about three miles away and much dingier. Haaath also had much finer scrambled eggs in their local inn. After Rajarth finished with the dastardly, blood-crazed, whining, smelly, snaggle-toothed goblins, he would have a plate of steaming scrambled eggs, perhaps with a nice sliced tomato drizzled in Mazzari olive oil, not the runnier Trakal version.
Boom! Got that word count goal for the day! Yeah, I’m so awesome!
You might edit this down to:
b. Rajarth cracked the goblins’ heads together. “I’m hungry. Anyone else want scrambled eggs?”
Feel free to argue which version is better.
Editing your NaNoWriMo novel can cut out a lot of superfluous words, festering sub-plots, and characters that just stand there waving with blank looks on their faces. Don’t be afraid to cut or add. Hopefully, you put notes on your novel as you went like, “This majorly sucks” or “I want to shoot this character out of a cannon” or “I’m never writing another elven love triangle as long as I live. This month anyway.” If you didn’t, maybe it would be a good idea to do so before you tackle a heavy edit.
I believe in January and February, NaNoWriMo does a feature called “I Wrote a Novel, Now What?” It may be worth checking out.
3. Live and Learn
Perhaps you feel your NaNoWriMo novel didn’t teach you anything. You didn’t finish it because it was horrible and you decided to spend your time on other things. Maybe you were too busy or just didn’t plan well enough. There are all sorts of reasons you may not feel like NaNoWriMo worked for you.
If this is the case and you feel like nothing good came of it, great. That’s perfectly fine. Don’t be discouraged. Live and learn. Maybe writing 50,000 words in one month isn’t something you should try again. Or maybe November just didn’t work for you. Try doing it another month (CampNaNo allows this as well). It’s fine to be a slower paced writer that takes time if that’s what works for you. However, the key is getting words down so you have something. If you spent all month laboring over each word, then that’s fine if that’s your style and you achieved what you wanted.
NaNoWriMo is really just about setting goals for yourself and trying to accomplish them. Sometimes we don’t reach our goals. That’s fine. Prepare better next time or even continue on with what you DID write. Nothing says November is the end, except the Mayans. Oh wait, that was December. Never mind. Even if you burn you novel and never look at it again, try to learn a lesson somehow.
- I can’t write 50,000 words in a month, but maybe I can try 25,000?
- I don’t like writing fast, so I’m not going to do that again.
- I don’t like putting pressure on myself. My life is already too stressful. I’ll set smaller goals for myself and attempt them.
- Maybe writing a novel isn’t for me. I’ve always wanted to try underwater welding. I’ll spend next November learning that.
Your options are limitless. The best thing about doing NaNoWriMo is learning something about yourself as a person and a writer. It’s not always about having something you can one day publish and show to the world.
A note: I’m a big advocate of NaNoWriMo and finishing things. However, sometimes you have to take one in the arm and keep going. Hopefully, you’ve learned a lot from NaNoWriMo and can carry on as a stronger writer. Most of all, if you do burn your novel, try to make it the last one you do. Because all those ashes are going to crowd up your writing space.
So how do you feel about your NaNoWriMo novel? Was it worth the effort or should you just burn it and cast its ashes into the sea? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. And no matter what, keep on writing!
For discussion of all things fantasy-related, check out Philip Overby’s Fantasy Free-for-All.