3 Things You Should NOT Do with Your NaNoWriMo Novel

The end of November is fast approaching, and with it comes the end of NaNoWriMo. The blog posts I’ve read this month have been filled with frenzied accounts of growing word counts and even some samples of WIPs, and for anyone who isn’t participating, November can make you feel like the kid who nobody wants on their team.

I’m an outsider.

No, I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo this year. But I’ve been right there in spirit, and I hope my comments on some of your blogs have been helpful. (That Week 2 slump is a killer, isn’t it?)

But the end is in sight, and those of you who will “win” NaNo are already intoxicated by the sweet smell of success.

Those who won’t make it have nonetheless learned some valuable lessons about writing, yourself, and your approach to writing—so truly, there is no such thing as NOT winning NaNoWriMo because whether you make that 50,000 word count or not, you’re a better writer now than you were a month ago.

By the way, I agree with Chuck Wendig’s comments about the language of NaNoWriMo, specifically “winning” and “losing.”

This isn’t a game of Monopoly, after all. It’s not a race in which one competes.

It’s writing a book. If you finish your book on December 1st, or January 3rd or May 15th, you still won. Because HOLY SHIT YOU FINISHED A NOVEL.

The goal is to write a book whether it takes you one month or one year—failing to complete 50,000 words in a month that contains Thanksgiving and the ramp up to Christmas should never be regarded as a loser move.”

3 Things You Should NOT Do with Your #NaNoWriMo Novel Click To Tweet

So whether you’ve already finished your first draft or you expect to do so sometime in 2015, here are three things you shouldn’t do when you cross the finish line:

1.   Don’t throw anything away.

Is your 50,000 word first draft ready for publication? Of course not—but neither should it be deleted from your hard drive. Yes, there are allegedly writers who do that, but please do NOT become one of them.

Even if you’re a writer who believes the act of putting your butt in a seat for 30 days and churning out the bones of a novel is enough of a reward without having to ever read what you wrote, please believe that you’ve written some gems.

Okay, maybe you’ll delete some—or most—of those 50,000 words, but save them in a separate folder. In a month or two you may reread a well-turned phrase you’d forgotten about and will have a brainstorm for an entirely new scene . . . or character . . . or novel!

2.    Don’t begin editing your manuscript.

You’ve spent plus or minus thirty days with this manuscript—and if you outlined in October, maybe even earlier, that number goes up. Believe me, now is NOT the time to begin editing. You’re too close to your story, and let’s face it—you’ve had an exhausting, emotional month.

What should you do instead? Do a happy dance, pat yourself on the back, announce to the world (or at least your friends on social media) that YOU DID IT, and then put your manuscript away for a while.

For how long? Opinions vary on this one, but long enough that when you open it up again, the story feels new and fresh in that “I can’t believe I wrote this” way. That might be a month or a year, but it shouldn’t be tomorrow. Give yourself some time away to gain a little perspective, and you’ll have more clarity once you being to edit and revise.

Taking a very rough first draft and molding it into a saleable novel will require some ruthless revising and self editing, so give yourself enough time away to gain perspective. As Chuck Wendig writes, “Repeat the mantra: Writing is when I make the words. Editing is when I make them not shitty.”

3.    Don’t stop writing.

If you’re like most NaNoWriMo authors, you’re pretty excited about ending November with 50,000 words—maybe you have the first draft of a novel, maybe only a third of a longer manuscript, but nevertheless, you’ve written a bodacious number of words in thirty days, and you’ve accomplished something pretty spectacular.

So why quit now? You’ve proven to yourself that you can make the time to write every day, so wrap your mind around that new reality and keep writing.

Should you continue with the same manuscript? Begin a brand-new story? It doesn’t even matter, because you are a writer, and writers gotta write. I love the way author Abbie Plouff put it:

For me, this has been an invaluable month dedicated to writing and storytelling that put me back on the right track. It has shown me that yes, even when life is hectic and crazy, I can still carve out time to work on my writing. The habit of writing—finding time to work every single day, thinking about my novel when I have downtime, and other planning exercises has been invaluable.”

And Chuck Wendig offers:

It helps to look at your NaNoWriMo novel as the zero draft — it has a beginning, it has an ending, it has a whole lot of something in the middle. The puzzle pieces are all on the table and, at the very least, you’ve got an image starting to come together (“is that a dolphin riding side-saddle on a mechanical warhorse through a hail of lasers?”). But the zero draft isn’t done cooking. A proper first draft awaits. A first draft that will see more meat slapped onto those exposed bones, taking your word count into more realistic territory.”

As far as I am concerned, every writer who even attempts NaNoWriMo should be congratulated. And although I know it will be a few months before those drafts are polished enough to make their way to an editor, I’m already looking forward to the day when that happens. For an editor, the thrill is in peeking under the hood, so to speak, and helping to polish a novel that was only an idea in your head a mere month ago. I can’t wait!

Happy Writing,


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Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, and writing coach who works with traditional publishers, self-publishing authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help, and on fiction ranging from romance to thriller to psychological thriller. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining an author’s unique voice while helping them create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be. Learn more here.

For more great writing and publishing information, check out  Change It Up Editing and Writing Services on Facebook, where I share interesting articles and links about writing and publishing.

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42 thoughts on “3 Things You Should NOT Do with Your NaNoWriMo Novel”

  1. I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo (why the heck is it in November, anyway?) but I’m toying with the idea of doing Camp NaNo next July – a much better month for me. These are all great tips to remember if I do end up taking on the challenge.

  2. This is great advice, Candace, especially not deleting anything. I copy and paste any deleted scenes into a separate file.

    This year, at the last minute, I decided not to participate in NaNo. I met the challenge in 2010 with 52k words and 2012 with 55k. Rather than have a third unfinished piece, I decided to focus on last year’s project. I’ve always been a strong supporter of NaNo. It’s a great way to get a very rough start to a novel.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Most writers learn the hard way to have a separate document or file for deletions. I might or might not be speaking from experience.
      How exciting to have two novels waiting for your magic touch! As you can probably guess, editing is the part I personally love the best, and I’m in awe of anyone who can sit down and crank out the beginnings of a novel in 30 days; it truly is an amazing accomplishment. I hope you’ll have a great time revising yours.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Jill. I’m thankful for your support.

  3. Having crossed the 50k line last night and still several scenes away from my outlined ending, this is all great advice. I’m especially fond of #3.

    Our mutual friend Oliver told me once that hitting that first 50k on a novel is almost a psychological breakthrough, something I’ve found that to be true. Only by going through the initial first time pain have I learned my own process a little better. By doing so, it’s now much easier for me to sit down and produce.

    But like you said, this is all about the first (or zero) draft. Rewriting comes next and I have a feeling that I will be going through that first time pain all over again. But at least I have more confidence coming in. I have something to work with, even if I only end up keeping a single word out of the 50,000+.

    GREAT article Candace. Thank you!

    1. Phillip, you are amazing! I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of writing 50K+ words in a month–congratulations!

      Ahhh, that wise sage Oliver is a man of much insight! He’s quite a talented guy, and we are all lucky to know him.

      Thanks for the kudos–I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  4. Ahhhhh, thank you for this wonderful post. I had thought most of those points you made and you confirmed them! I see the finish line and know I will make it. It’s been…interesting and I have already learned a lot. Thank you for your support and advice, as always, you’re insights are wonderful 🙂

    1. I’m so excited for you, Tam–once you can see the finish line, you’re golden. I can’t imagine what it must be like to hang in there for all those days–I’m sure “interesting” is the least of it!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for taking time to toss a few extra words my way!

  5. Great advice! Thank you for this post. I know that for me the NaNo experience had been invaluable. By doing it and winning, I have proven to myself that I can find the time to write every day if I really want to. So no excuses for the other 11 months of the year now 🙂 I also discovered that 50k words is not nearly enough to finish a story, I still have about the same amount to go before it’s all done.

  6. That was a great article, Candace! Thank you! I just finished (and won) NaNo last night, with just barely over 50K words and thirty minutes to go. Camp NaNo would have worked better for me, but I wanted the nifty tee shirt. 🙂

    50K words in, though, and barely two-thirds of the way into the story, so I’ll need to keep writing through December to finish it up. Plus, I have my other WIP, the one I set aside for NaNo, to finish (a rewrite of last year’s NaNo, at about the two-thirds mark, as well). Once I finish those two books, I can let them rest and start a new zero draft.

    I’ll be following your blog!

    1. Tammy, I’m exhausted just reading your post! Wow, you are an ambitious writer! Congratulations on finishing NaNoWriMo, and happy writing as you finish this draft. Do you plan to publish either draft when finished, or are they just for you?

      1. Thank you, Candace! I plan to finish them both, take a few more drafts to polish them up, then I intend to self-publish when they’re as good as I can get them.

        I will be needing editorial assistance on them, eventually, of course. Do you edit science fiction?

    1. Congratulations on your NaNoWriMo win! I guess you know I’m suggesting you wait a few weeks to begin editing, right? But with all that writing energy flowing through your veins, this might be the perfect time to begin something new. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks so much for stopping by!

  7. While this is was both my first NaNoWriMo attempt and win, I went into it with a focused goal.

    I drummed up an outline, set up guidelines, and let my inner editor hover over me with a rolled up newspaper. It worked great. I ended up with a 52,000 word complete and coherent novel that just needs some polish.

    I think different people look at NaNoWriMo differently, but I took the write a novel in a month as a very literal challenge. http://nanowrimo.org/participants/dimanagul/novels/the-macro-corp

    1. Congratulations on your accomplishment, Eric–completing NaNo is a big deal! And having a novel that just needs polishing says a lot about that inner editor! From all the comments I’ve read, it sounds like the writers who successfully complete a novel in 30 days start out with a clear plan and often an outline, as you did. Best of luck to you with the polishing.

      1. Yeah. While it may take me a while to iron out the wrinkles and silly errors, the planning is deciding factor.

        The outline I used wasn’t concrete, but instead a strict guideline. A number of chapters, What I wanted to accomplish in how much time, and NaNoWriMo gave me the push and the deadline.

        Not to say there is any problem with using NaNoWriMo to get those first 50,000 words on paper (which your article seems to address), but different authors use it for different things.

  8. Thanks for this excellent piece. I’d been ignoring my other writing during November, so I put my NaNoWriMo novel aside until this week. I then started to edit it and felt depressed – it is nowhere near as interesting or engaging as I hoped it would be. I do think I have something promising to work with, but I suspect it starts too slowly for the impatient modern reader. I may put it aside again until after Christmas. Thanks for the advice.

    1. Please don’t be discouraged! You probably do need a little more time away from your draft, but if you’ve already identified a problem with the beginning, you’re on the right track. Remember that you don’t have to begin your edits on page 1; you can even leave the beginning for the end, and as you revise other scenes, you might even have an a-ha moment about the perfect way to begin your novel. Good luck!

      1. Thanks so much. I have tried to edit the beginning so that it’s good, tight writing. Once I’ve worked through the rest of the draft, I’ll have a better idea of where and how the story should begin. Anyway, thanks for letting me share my reflections here. I love your page.

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