There is so much out there about how to write a novel. It seems like that’s the hardest part of writing: the actual writing.
But is it?
As NaNoWriMo approaches (That’s National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated), there are a million how-to books, webpages, PDFs, ebooks, essays (you get the idea) out there. “How to write a novel in a month,” “How to finish that first novel,” “How to outline your novel,” “How to write a novel in 30 days,” etc, etc.
But my problem with these sources is that most merely encourage a person to finish the first draft.
Don’t get me wrong–without a first draft, you don’t have a second draft or a final draft. For me, however, the first draft doesn’t take me nearly as long as the second or third draft do. (Or fourth or fifth.)
Because so much more time, effort, and thought goes into editing a novel than writing a novel.
Ask almost any writer, and they’ll tell you that more time goes into editing than writing. Yes, you have to write the first draft. But then you set it aside for weeks or months, and return to it with fresh eyes that usually inform you of your glaring plot holes or characters that just don’t work for one reason or another. Worse is when you realize that your plot is too unoriginal and you have to completely rework the novel almost from scratch.
Even working from an outline, I struggle to write a coherent first draft that doesn’t need major revision. In fact, all my first drafts need major revision.
How long does that revision take?
As long as I have. Typically at least a month of extensive editing.
How many times do I revise?
Until I’m happy with it. (Seriously, one WIP I’ve retired because I think I reached draft 20 with it–and I still want to do major rewrites.)
How extensive are these revisions?
Usually very. Deleted scenes, brand new scenes, perhaps a new character, or a dramatically new plot twist, new ending, change of character traits, I’ve done them all.
So where do you start?
If I write a first draft, as I often have, without an outline, my first step is to outline my second draft. Why bother? Well, it helps me to see plot holes, for one, and to piece in any scenes that are needed to stitch the plot together.
Why wait until after the first draft?
I’m a writer who needs time with her characters before she can truly decide their fate. (I also happen to be too nice to my characters most of the time, and edits are my time to change that and add more conflict.)
Is any NaNoWriMo novel ready for the publisher?
I’d wager no. NaNo, while I love it for what it is, is not the place to write a polished novel. (And December is too soon to edit your NaNo novel.)
Can a NaNo novel be publishable?
Sure! I know people who have turned their NaNo novels into published novels, and some NaNo novels have been bestsellers.
Do I discourage NaNoing?
Not at all. Those novels can become diamonds in the publishing world. But at the end of November, they’re still a lump of coal. I’ve been to three writers’ conferences, and at two, NaNo has come up from agents who do not want to see any NaNo novels in December–yet they will. Save yourself the heartache and spends months (perhaps years) editing that NaNo novel before sending it off to an agent or publisher. Please.