What I learned from editing my NaNo novel

One of the thrills of finishing a NaNoWriMo novel is the fact that you've finished a novel. Congratulations! There is something to writing 'The End' at the end, knowing that you've expressed yourself, made a story, and now off to do other important things, like prepare for next NaNo, world build, read books, and...editing?

So editing your novel can be the hardest thing you do. It's what turns crap into very well polished crap, and it's what removes the dirt from that diamond in the rough. And it's pretty difficult. But why?

Well, here's what I learned.

It's easy to expect the same pace, but you just can't keep it up

One of the biggest shockers for me was the fact that I can't keep up the 50K/month pace with editing. I just can't go through 1600 words a day, edit them, polish them, and call it "ok" and keep going. It's very difficult.

When writing NaNo originally, the idea is to just keep going. Something doesn't make sense? Did you break continuity? Ahhh, well, editing your NaNo is the time where you'll have to work that out.

So don't expect to be done in a month.

Editing takes several "passes"

One thing I've learned from others and my own workflow is that editing is more about "passes" than going through the book once. For example, it's easy to get caught up in grammar, perfect sentence structure, while reading but on the first pass, the best thing you can do is ignore all of that.

Here's a sample workflow:

  1. first pass is all about plotting out the story, making notes on the content, pointing out inconsistencies
  2. second pass can be all about deleting stuff that does not fit the story, marking holes, and dealing with that.
  3. third pass can be about writing in those holes, rewriting stuff that doesn't sound exactly right and moving on
  4. grammar and finally polishing up everything.

You may need to go through the process several times with iterations but see, it's much different than "write! write! write!". You have to think about it too.

World building can be very important

After reading the first six chapters of my book, I realized how confusing my entire world was. I changed my mind on the timelines several times, the functionality of certain items, even relationships between distinct groups.

I worked on world building a lot before I started writing but my problem then was not knowing exactly what was necessary. Once I started editing my book, I realized what needed to be done to keep consistency:

  1. write a list of blarring inconsistencies (I do this as I read a chapter)
  2. go back and create a "canon" and adjust everything else to it
  3. add extra behind-the-scene details in order to have a more realistic view of the world

I'm left with a lot of extra work for my book but I'm glad about it because now, at least, I know what to do.

There are Gardeners and Architects, and others of different styles

I don't know if you've ever heard of this concept of "world building" or "story building" but there are (essentially) two approaches:

  • The Gardener which is a person that plants ideas, plants stories, characters, and when they're done, they go back and weed out the issues and problems, and help the stories/ideas/characters grow.
  • The Architect on the other hand preplans everything with a blueprint in mind and executes each stage as per a grand plan.

I've always thought I was an architect until I became a gardener. Finding my own style helped me work on my story. Following the advice of using the "snowflake method", or others slowed me down. Editing my book makes me realize that I was right to do what I did, leave my original outlines and bootstrapping my book.

Edit other works, too

What helped me the most was editing other works that I've done. In the past month, I've edited several stories, poetry pieces, essays, and other works. It's pretty fantastic seeing the difference.

I have always been the kind of a person that writes out an essay, a story, or whatever but never going back. I never edited, re-read what I had written, and just released it. My blogs are a testament to what that does.

I started posting anonymous articles on reddit and elsewhere, careful to edit them, and they sound much better.

Looking through my book now, I feel much more confident in editing it and have more experience with it.

It's not something you can do alone

Self-editing is fine but to get the best result, you need another set of eyes. Another person will be able to get a fresh look at your book and come into the picture without any knowledge of all the work and thinking you've put into it. This helps you get someone objective (and differently subjective) on the job and make the book much better.

There are plenty of places to get feedback at online. You can also ask a friend, or a family member. At least at first. Compile your book into an ebook format, and send them a copy.

However, if you're serious about self-publishing, find a place online and pay for editing.

I had a friend go through one of my books, at least the first 70 pages or so and she found it incredibly confusing. That was a clear sign that I needed to redo it, be more concise and clear. However, I would not have noticed it unless I gave the book to someone who had no idea about what I was writing.

But there's hope!

One of the best things about editing your book is seeing the story. It's already out there, you've gotten it down. It's amazing to see the "draft" and realize that your work now is not to write down the story but to polish it!

Good luck every one!