4 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your NaNoWriMo Manuscript

November is history, and so is NaNoWriMo 2016. If you’re like most NaNoWriMo participants, 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. Nevertheless, you’ve written a bodacious number of words in thirty days, and you’ve accomplished something pretty spectacular.

For thousands of would-be novelists, December means it’s time to start down the path to publishing.

Please don’t be one of those writers who rushes to publication. Instead, try these four ideas:



Putting your butt into a chair every day and writing taught you some valuable lessons about yourself and about your approach to writing—so truly, there is no such thing as not winning NaNoWriMo because you’re a better writer now than you were a month ago. But don’t be in a hurry to send that manuscript out into the world just yet. Instead, keep these four things in mind as you luxuriate in your success:

1. Don’t rush to query or self-publish. 

A first draft does not a quality novel make. You still have revisions (perhaps many revisions) to tackle before that manuscript is ready to meet the world.

Author 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.

Give yourself every opportunity for success! Revise your manuscript until it’s as good as you can make it, then workshop it with critique partners, beta readers, or a writing coach, and then revise it again. Hire a professional editor to help you polish it—and don’t let the editing process intimidate or overwhelm you!

2. Don’t begin editing your manuscript today. 

You’ve spent thirty days with this manuscript—and even more time if you outlined in October. 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.

Do a happy dance, pat yourself on the back, announce to the world (or at least to your Facebook friends) that YOU DID IT, and then put your manuscript away for a while.

For how long? Long enough so 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.

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. In a 1956 interview published in the Paris Review, Ernest Hemingway admitted that he rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was satisfied with it. When asked what had stumped him, Hemingway’s response was, “Getting the words right.” Take the time you need to get your words (and plot and scenes and dialogue and character arcs and everything else) right.

3. Don’t throw anything away. 

Even without reading any of what you wrote over the past 30 days, I know you wrote some gems as you churned out the bones of a novel.

Okay, maybe you’ll delete some—or even a lot—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!

4. Don’t stop writing.

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.  

In my book, 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 a writer’s head a mere month ago. I can’t wait!

Added bonus: If you take the time to do the work, you might one day be adding your name and novel to this list of published books that began as NaNoWriMo manuscripts.

Happy Writing,


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Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published 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 paranormal. 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 him or her create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be. Learn more here, and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

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