Whether you hit the standard 50,000 word count or not, National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) ends when November does. The craziest of us spent Nanowrimo actually attempting to draft an entire novel in 30 days. Now you have this thing sitting in front of you the morning of December first that probably has 3,000 typos, multiple plot holes, a character you wished you killed off in chapter ten, and all you can think is: what now?
The first step to handling your Nanowrimo draft is realizing it’s just that: a draft. It is not a finished work that is wedded to every character and every line and already in the publication process. The piece is malleable, and it’s still young. In this first week of December, you need to decide what you are going to do with your draft. The last time I did Nanowrimo, I was in high school. My creative writing teacher challenged us to write something out of our genre of choice (mine is realistic fiction), so I ended up writing some sci-fi thriller about fugitive teenagers and a dog named Pongo. The story was fast and exciting, and I managed to get 60,000 words out of the narrative, but by the end of the month, I knew what I had to do: I threw out the entire novel. My teacher was devastated.
This is the time for those harsh executive decisions. You may not make a drastic one like I did, but you need to start planning. Are you going to pursue this story further? Does it need to be benched? Does it have the potential to be a compelling narrative for multiple audiences? Are you going to write it for fun or for publication? With my piece, I knew it wasn’t a work meant for publication. The novel was a fun experience for me as a young writer, but after critically evaluating my writing I had been working on for a month non-stop, I realized the story really ended up being for me and my joy. The beginning of December is the time to have those honest conversations with yourself, and to think about the future of your writing.
If after this first week you decide you want to continue with the piece, this is when the real planning comes in. The second, third, and fourth week of December can be your time to seriously look at your draft and kill your darlings—and create new ones. Does the story need to be longer? Do you need to make major thematic or plot changes? Are there undeveloped arcs and loose ends in the piece? Does your main character experience an internal change? Is your voice and tone consistent throughout the piece?
Ask these questions, and then give yourself ample time to think. You just pumped out upwards of 50,000 words, give your hands a break. Use the rest of the month to comb through the piece, identifying your problem areas, coming up with potential solutions for each problem, and creating an editing plan.
Of course, one of the most important things to understand when finishing Nanowrimo is that you can write a book in a month, but you can’t finish a book in a month. Novels take time. Make December your planning month, and in January, once you have your stamina back, start editing and writing. Some of your favorite books have been through five to ten drafts. This thing you have in your hands now will have partially disappeared in months, or even years. Maybe even by next November you’ll have a draft that’s completely new, fresh, and transformed.
Nanowrimo, in its essence, is a motivator. It is a tool to help you finally push yourself to start that book you have been planning for months, and it encourages you to get that first draft “word vomit” onto the page. Nanowrimo is a wonderful month full of writing, and writers supporting one another as they all crank out thousands of words onto the page. Nanowrimo, as fast and hectic and stressful and wonderful as it was, is just the beginning. Now, it’s time to plan.