I do get asked that a lot when I explain National Novel Writing Month to non-writers. You’d be surprised how many people assume NaNoWriMo is “write in November, edit in December, publish in January.” Uh, no. I mean, yes, some people do that. Not I. My process is more like, “rough draft in November, edit the following May, rewrite the following year, perhaps rewrite again the next year, send it to beta readers then my editor that next year, and do the publishing thing the year following that.
Five years from rough draft to publication?
Yes, that is longer that even traditional publishing, which is generally two to three years after acceptance, but since these are the authors I have to compete with, I don’t mind putting an extra step or several in my independent publishing process.
So, What Do You Do, Exactly?
That initial edit six months or so after NaNaWrimo means enough time has passed since creating the draft for it to get completely out of my head. I can approach it fresh, almost as if it’s someone else’s manuscript. I correct typos I find, and I identify inconsistencies and plot holes. I don’t usually address them at that point. I may only make notes and do some cursory research to identify sources. If I’m writing about something ten or more years in the past, I’ll note any tech I refer to, so I can research its history.
For example, in my first novel, A War of Deception, which was a 2009 or 2010 NaNoWriMo project, I thought it would be cool to have the head of the Directorate, Nelson, who is mobility challenged, get around the Directorate on a Segway. Yep, pretty cool. Except that novel takes place in January/February 2001, and the Segway wasn’t available until December 2001. So, I had to switch him back to his canes and the occasional motorized scooter, aka personal mobility device.
After all the research and fact-checking (yes, you fact-check historical fiction) and depending upon how long that takes, I treat the rough draft and its notes as a hefty outline and begin a rewrite. More times than not, things change from the rough draft, sometimes drastically. And that’s okay. Once again, I put it aside for a while, then do a developmental edit on that version. This may get repeated a couple of times, depending on how cogent I was during the rewrite, and we could now be a couple of years down the road.
Now, some people would be happy with that, but again, my overactive brain sometimes won’t let things go. I could be in the middle of working on some totally different manuscript when a thought about that NaNoWriMo project comes to mind. Most normal writers would simply make notes and move on, but not me. I have to go to that manuscript and at least sketch out the scene that popped into my head. Depending on how many times that happens, I may need another rewrite.
What? Are You Seeking Perfection?
Perfection is what every writer hopes for but seldom achieves. As long as you understand you can hope for it, work toward it, tweak and tweak and tweak, you’ll only get close. You’ll never arrive. I don’t care if you’re Margaret Atwood or me. You’ll look back at something you worked on long and hard, and you’ll cringe and declare yourself the world’s worst writer.
No, it’s not perfection I seek but simply that my work be the best it can be at the time. That’s a goal I can usually achieve. And frankly, at some point you simply have to make the decision to stop the write-edit-rewrite-edit merry-go-round, and say, “Fini! Termine! Accompli!” Even now, with nine novels behind me, I still have ideas for them pop into my head.
And quite often, I’m working on multiple projects at various stages along the process. And, yes, that can be confusing. I’ve added whole scenes to one manuscript, only to realize later they were meant to be in a different one.
Writing is fun, for me editing is fun, but don’t let anyone ever tell you it’s easy.
How Did You Do in NaNoWriMo 2021?
My total words for the 30-day exercise was 73,100, not my highest but definitely normal for me. My first NaNoWriMo in 2008 was when I was still working, and I ended up having to take two official travel trips that November for a total of 13 days. So, I had 17 days to hit 50,000, and I barely made it.
Am I pleased with what I wrote? Yes and no. I’m pleased I got all the scenes out of my head and onto “paper.” I’m not pleased with some of those scenes, and I can already tell the parts where I added fluff to make the word count for the day. But that’s what editing/revising/rewriting is for. The fluff gets cut, and the beef gets beefier. Again, for me, that’s almost as much fun as writing.
Will I do NaNoWriMo 2022? You bet your sweet gluteus maximus I will.
Do I know what I’ll be doing next year? Good Lord, no! I still have two past NaNoWriMo rough drafts to work on, a trilogy to begin publishing, and a bonus novel I drafted January – May this year to work on. I’m a busy writer.
But an idea will come to me. It always does.