Is It Time for NaNoWriMo Editing?

Is It Time for NaNoWriMo Editing? | Writing Between Pauses

I write about NaNoWriMo a lot. It’s no secret that I really love doing NaNoWriMo every November, even though it often leaves me a bit burnt out. And also that I never plan to publish anything professionally, at least right now. For me, NaNoWriMo is more about having fun and really writing for 30 days—and less about producing something I think people want to read. (This might be the imposter syndrome talking!)

However, I’ve never really touched on what comes after NaNoWriMo. You know, the part where you let your novel sit for a little while then you go back to it. And edit it. And keep writing on it.

I’ve done that. (I promise! I probably reread all my NaNoWriMo novels at least twice a year.) But I never really talk about doing it or write about doing it. (Oof, writing about writing, am I right?) It’s just something I do, piece by piece, for several months, until it’s time for the next NaNoWriMo novel.

And just like NaNoWriMo, I have my own specific process for editing my NaNoWriMo novels. Obviously, I come from the unique place of not intending to publish anything, but just wanting to write something really good that I personally enjoy reading. I thought I would share my process in case it is helpful for others.

1. Find a beta

Betas are, in the writing world, people who edit your work for you. The term popularly comes from fanfiction—and I have a group of people I’ve known for years who beta stories for people nearly every single weekend. It’s just something they enjoy doing and they are very good at it. So if you are a writing hobbyist, and you really want to improve, and you don’t just want someone to read your work and tell you its awesome, look for a beta. There are so many great ones out there and you can get great plot and grammar feedback. Many betas have their areas of expertise, so even having 2 or 3 people read over your NaNoWriMo novel and make notes can make a huge difference.

2. Write a list of scenes

One thing I usually do a few months after November is going through what I’ve written and making a list of each scene. I can then use that list to guide me as I do my big reread and note where I want to rewrite a scene, move it around, or take it out completely. I can take notes on that list about what I want to change, and how, and why.

3. Reread, reorder, & rewrite

Once I have a lot of notes about what I want to do (as well as feedback from my betas of what worked and what didn’t), I start the often rather difficult process of doing those things. For me, this part is really tedious—it’s what I hate most about editing. But having a list of the original order of scenes allows me to know what I moved and where and why, so I can keep better track of what I’m doing without getting confused. Usually during the process, I start doing way more than I originally intended, then make myself tired. I tend to cap editing at about 2 hours a week, because otherwise I will absolutely get burnt out.

4. Print it out

If you read that last sentence, you’re probably like, “hold on… you only edit for 2 hours a week?” Yeah. Alongside all the writing I do, for this blog, for my freelance work, and for my job, doing too much makes me go bonkers pretty fast. And there is nothing worse than being absolutely frozen on a deadline for a job that pays, you know? Steps 2 and 3 usually take me a good 3-4 months (I haven’t even started them yet for my most recent NaNoWriMo novel, I’m not ready!). But, once I get that first round done, I will print out my NaNoWriMo novel and read through it with a pen. At this point, I will start noting what I want to add to it, if anything. Sometimes, I want to add in scenes I had originally removed, but have them rewritten and in a totally new place. Or written a totally new way. This step is one of the most fun parts for me, but can also be quite tedious—like when I randomly decide to change the voice about halfway through.

Once I finish this step, I start writing again—compiling my notes from my printed copy. Then, I start the editing process over again: betas, the list, and more writing. I recently thought about restarting this process for my NaNoWriMo novel from 2014—it’s one of my favorites, but needs the most work, as well as a load of research to fix some major errors.

What’s your NaNoWriMo editing process like?

NaNoWriMo: That Pesky, Persistent Editor

Current word count: 12,031

Current word count: 12,031

Last year at this time, I think I was a terrifying 3 days behind on NaNoWriMo. I distinctly remember one weekend spending every free moment frantically writing -- that's when the "word vomit" happens, the divergence from plot or the random additions of subplots that don't make sense. I think I went a whole week without working on NaNoWrimo. But I valiantly struck back and kept with it and wrote potentially the worst novel on the face of the planet as a result. 

This year, it's like everything has flip-flopped: I'm at 12,031 words, which is about two days ahead of schedule. Two days. I could not write for two days and not fall behind, not feel like I'm trying to scrabble up on a mountain made of virtual text. 

In the past five days, I've written the beginning of a novel that, ok, might not win any awards, but it's something I might read (if it was $0.99 on my Kindle). What's the difference here? 

Last year, I was in a very different state emotionally. I was incredibly critical about myself and I believe I let my inner editor get the best of me. The best, and weirdest, part of NaNoWriMo is that you really just have to hide your inner editor away for an entire month. I mean, 30 days without listening to the voice in your head that says, "This sentence is bad" or "you should think of a better metaphor." Maybe it's good advice, Inner Editor, but I have 50,000 words to write and I don't have time. Shutting that little voice up is the only way to survive and make it through.

Last year, I wrote and struggled the entire time, because that inner editor wasn't just talking about my horrible novel (and it was bad, guys, have I mentioned?) -- it was talking about me. "That's a horrible sentence" turned into "you're a horrible writer." Who wants to listen to that everyday? Eventually, I stuffed it down, but it was always there, poisoning my writing, poisoning my thoughts and behavior. 

This year, I'm mentally and emotionally in a better place. Suffice to say, I don't hate my life and while my inner editor still assaults me with useless feedback ("you're legs look like stuffed sausages in those boots!"), I'm more able to ignore it and move on with my life.

Writing is easier too. I worried that my day job as a writer would make writing difficult -- writing 6-8 hours a day and then writing more sounds pretty exhausting. But I've found the opposite. After 6-8 hours of writing blogs and copy and more, I actually find I'm energized to work on NaNoWriMo just because it's different. Now that I'm not miserable all the time, having energy to write additionally in the evening is just kind of how it is.

As I continue on NaNoWriMo, I'm sure I'll have more observations on what makes it easier or more difficult. Fighting down the urge to edit, to change, to start over and be "perfect" is a big step towards actually completing NaNoWriMo -- and ultimately, a step towards completing a novel that ends up being at least decent.