Editor’s note: Immanuela Meijer is the Paolinis’ assistant, webmaster, and archivist. She is also the owner of Talewind Editing, a service for aspiring authors. Visit her website for more information.
NaNoWriMo provided the perfect opportunity to finish the first draft of the novel you’ve been thinking about writing for years, and you did it! Now you’ve got the manuscript sitting in front of you, but what’s next?
First, congratulations! It’s a great accomplishment to complete a project, and not many aspiring authors even reach this point. Celebrate and then consider the following steps.
It could be a week or a month—however long it takes you to gain some emotional distance from your work. You’ll likely have to make some changes to your literary “baby,” so it’s best to be less attached to its preliminary form.
Read your draft through once, and rather than worrying about grammar and spelling errors initially (which are relatively simple to fix), focus on answering the following:
Do you still love the project and its subject material? Is it a good story? How does it flow? Does the plot make sense? Are the characters relatable, even the villains? When a chapter ends, do you want to know what happens next? What can be improved? What other impressions do you have of the work?
These questions, along with others you may think of, will help you to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your project.
If you have an overall positive response:
Excellent! Time for you to review the manuscript again and clean up any spelling and grammar errors, improve weak plot and character development, flesh out world-building details, and otherwise refine your manuscript.
Once done, consider sharing your second draft with trusted friends and family for their feedback. Ask if the story is compelling. Ask if the style you’ve chosen serves the project well. What is the consensus? Incorporate any changes you agree with into your third draft and take it to your mentor. (If you don’t have a mentor, a local librarian may be able to direct you to an editor, writing group, English teacher, or author in your area that will be able to help you.) Once again, make any changes you agree with.
You’re likely on your fourth draft by now, if not fifth or sixth. Though biased, I highly recommend you have an editor take a look at your work, if you haven’t already by this point. A professional will help you to detect patterns, as well as grammar and spelling errors you might have missed, and may also provide guidance on pacing and narrative arc; everyone needs an editor, from New York Times best-selling authors to editors themselves.
From here, you can decide to submit your polished manuscript to agents and publishers, or to self-publish. Check out the Writers Corner on Christopher Paolini’s website for invaluable resources, such as Kenneth Paolini’s “Paths to Publishing” article.
If you aren’t sure:
What if you love the story, as do those you’ve shared it with, but your writing skills—and therefore your manuscript—need substantial improvement before the book would be salable?
Sit down with your mentor(s) and sift through everything you’ve developed so far for your plot, characters, and worldbuilding. For nebulous sections, ask Why? and What if? over and over again until you’ve fleshed out the answers. Remember, you must deeply understand your characters, even if you don’t always agree with their decisions. Now look at that first chapter again. Does it accomplish what it needs to? How should the chapter be structured? Take the critical feedback from your mentor or editor on grammar, style, plot, and character, and revise your chapter. Review the new chapter—and repeat as necessary. Then move on to chapter two and repeat the process.
If you don’t like your novel anymore and don’t care to rewrite it:
This is normal. It takes a lot of practice to become a proficient and compelling writer! Many authors table passion projects that taught them a lot about the craft of storytelling but, in retrospect, have fatal flaws that would take a complete rewrite to rectify. Take the energy and lessons learned, and then apply it to your next novel.
Authors Tamora Pierce, Delilah S. Dawson, and Scott Reintgen have shared their own experiences with fatally flawed manuscripts, which they regard with a sense of humor and acceptance. It’s going to happen to most writers at some point, so you might as well embrace it, learn from it, and move on to the next project without grand tragedy.
Not ready for another big project? Practice in the meantime!
Practice your craft by trying this exercise. Consider writing the first two sentences in a short story of your invention. Pay attention to how you frame the scene. How do you draw the reader—and yourself–in? How do different styles affect the mood of the scene?
For example, if I choose to open with the journey of a leaf falling from itss branch to the ground below, I could start the first paragraph in many different ways:
Light filtered through the trees, its warmth no longer strong enough to be summer’s agent. The crisp wind rattled a branch and loosened its remaining leaf, one that drifted toward the ground in lazy juxtaposition to the battle raging below.
Dry leaves crunched under Jack’s shoes as he made his way up the driveway, lost in thought. He batted away a yellow leaf that had drifted down toward his face, then watched as it floated away in the small creek that ran parallel to the driveway.
The nearly silent snick precedes the sensation of a fall–one there is no way to control. “It is inevitable,” the leaf thinks, “I must fly.” Only a vast abyss separates it from the unknown future.
Try another short story and experiment with different styles than you used in your first.
I hope this article has been helpful to you in some way. Writing is a long-term endeavor, and one that takes a lot of practice. Be persistent, practice your craft every day, don’t expect it to be easy, and have faith in yourself!
You can learn more about Immanuela’s editing services by visiting TalewindEditing.com.
Update: We’re now giving away one of Immanuela’s “Preview Edits,” a chance for one lucky fan to have Immanuela edit and offer advice on the first few pages of their book or manuscript! You can enter the giveaway by visiting our latest article. Entry ends on December 11th, so be quick!