December 2, 2014

NaNo Wrap-Up: How to Move Forward

NaNo Winner badge with text: Now What?

Yay! Whether we won NaNoWriMo or not, we survived November (and we’re almost done with 2014—yikes!), and before doing anything else I want to take a moment to gasp—er, breathe. *smile*

First, I want to thank all of my fantastic guest posters who filled in for me last month. I wouldn’t have won NaNo without their help, but I also hope their post topics brought unique subjects here that we might not have seen otherwise. So a shout out to them for their insights on switching genres, researching stories, researching characters, emotional psychology, and editing before submissions. Thank you all!

I’m not kidding about the fact that I wouldn’t have won NaNo without their help. I started slow because my October projects kept me from completing my research ahead of time, and many hours of the first weekend were spent looking up important I-need-to-know-this-to-write-the-premise details.

Even after that research was completed, most of my word count felt like pulling teeth, and I didn’t find a writing groove until the last week. And my beloved keyboard died. And my computer blue-screen crashed and corrupted my hard drive (requiring a full restore)—twice. *sigh*

Seriously. Winning feels like a miracle after all that.

But I’m a Pollyanna who likes taking away something positive from every experience, so let’s talk about how we can move forward from any draft, NaNo or not.

Step #1: Analyze What Worked and What Didn’t

Whether we’ve just finished a one-hour writing sprint or a month-long NaNo novel, it’s good to take a minute and analyze what worked about our processes and what didn’t:

  • Did writing sprints help us get into a writing groove, or did they stress us out?
  • Did camaraderie help motivate us, or did it add unhelpful pressure?
  • Did we do too much story planning and lost inspiration to write, or did we not do enough and flailed with where the story should go?
  • Did we know enough about our characters to get into their point of view, and if not, what would have been good to know about them from the beginning?
  • Did we have the right amount of conflict and arc planning, and if not, what should we try differently next time?
  • Etc., etc.

For example, my situation was too insane to join writing sprints, and that failure kept me from getting into writing grooves early in the month when I needed to let my subconscious take over and show me who these characters were. So a lesson I’m taking away is that when I feel like I don’t know enough about the characters or story, I need to make sure I use a method (like writing sprints) to force my subconscious to step up.

Another area I flailed was with conflict. I thought my hero and heroine would be more stubborn about getting together, but I kept catching them kissing when I wasn’t expecting it. *grin* So the conflict arc is coming together differently from I thought. I think it will still work, but this is a good reminder to make sure we have lots of conflict in our stories so other conflict elements can pick up the slack if one turns out weaker than we’d planned.

Step #2: Analyze the Story’s Big Picture for Pre-Editing

Some of us might be looking at the chaos of our draft and wondering if the story is salvageable. I’m of the opinion that every story can be saved, and it’s just a question of whether we’re willing to put in the work.

But before starting our revisions or edits, we might want to plan how to attack our story. There are three ways we can gather our thoughts about the big picture of our story and prepare for a revision project:

1) Take Notes of Our Initial Concerns

While the story is still fresh in our mind, we can take notes about any big-picture concerns:

  • Do we know of any plot holes?
  • Where do we suspect the characterization is lacking or “off”?
  • Does our story start in the right place?
  • Are all the scenes necessary?
  • Where do we fear the pacing is slow?

2) Use a Beat Sheet to Check Story Structure

We can fill out a beat sheet and check the story structure to make sure the overall story works:

  • Do we have a definitive plot event or turning point for each beat?
  • Does the story’s arc show change?
  • Are there any missing or misplaced beats?
  • Do the beats follow a cause-and-effect chain?
  • Are there any scenes not acting or reacting to a beat?
  • Do the stakes increase throughout story?

3) Check for a Character Arc

Unless we intend to write a flat-arc story, we want to make sure our character experiences change. In the standard positive-arc story structure, the purpose of the plot is to reveal the character arc—how do plot events force them to change?

We can check for a character arc by comparing the beginning of the story to the end of the story:

  • How is their life different?
  • How have their beliefs changed?
  • What’s their self-revelation?

Step #3: Start the Revision and Editing Process

Once we have a chance to gain distance from our story, we can take those notes from Step #2 and start digging in and making changes. The best approach is usually to start with the big-picture issues and work down. There’s no point getting nitpicky on word choice if the whole scene is going to be cut.

During revisions, we’d want to flesh out our themes, add depth, pump up our scenes, strengthen the character arc and plot arc, and make sure goals, conflicts, and motivations are clear. Once we’ve finished revisions, we’d move on to the editing stage and eliminate information dumpsfix show vs. tell issuesclarify settings and descriptions, and balance and strengthen character emotions. Finally, we’d polish our story.

Usually we wouldn’t start revising until after we’ve learned what we can from Steps #1 and #2. I’ve learned that if I start a revision without a plan (even just a simple checklist of issues to fix), my revisions aren’t as efficient as they could be. I tend to fix one thing and then have to go back later and tweak the fix to address another problem.

Others might be different in how they approach revisions and editing, however. The point is figuring out what works for us. Once we know that, we just have to go through our process, get feedback, and then revise and edit again. Easy-peasy, right? *wink*

What techniques worked for your processes in your latest draft? What techniques didn’t work? Do you take notes and prepare before digging into a revision? If so, do you have any suggestions to add to Step #2? If not, how do you kick off a revision and editing project? How did you do with NaNo? What obstacles did you run into?

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I flunked miserably—but I also was trying to write, work, and move long-distance (with what totaled to a full day of driving) at the selfsame time. >_>

We’re making great progress with the unpacking, so I’m hopeful it’ll be done in the next week or two, and then my friend and I can use at least some of that time for writing (which we both want to do). At least the cats are settling in okay. 🙂

I do have one book sitting in need of editing, right now, but I need to finish writing book #5 in the series and probably start the one after that before I can do that. That “book #5” was my NaNo project. I have 11k words written, and at least 40k to go. More likely 60–65k words.

*sighs and goes back to work* 🙂

Maryanne Fantalis

This was my first real experience with NaNoWriMo (I’ve been a “rebel” before) and it was amazing! I did not think I could do it, and I did! It was exhilarating, stressful, fun, and most importantly, eye-opening. It blew open several myths I had about my writing process, which is incredibly valuable as I move forward. I will definitely do this again, and I can’t wait to edit in January when I have had distance and time to let my subconscious (and conscious) mind work on the novel’s many, many issues.

I wrote TWO blog posts about my experience, it was such a revelation to me. If you or your readers are curious, here’s the links (if that’s ok with you, Jami):

Quinn Fforde
Quinn Fforde

This is where I am right now with my draft. Sigh. I will be using your suggestions.

LG O'Connor

Hi Jami, Great post! Congratulations on winning NaNo! This is the second year in a row that I’ve tried and won NaNo, and like you, I caught my characters kissing sooner than I expected. But, I only have a little over 50% of a novel this time around. I expect it to be ~80K words when complete. I fully intend to use your tips above when I’m at the point of editing. Your blog has definitely been a ‘go to’ resource for me this year. Wishing you the best! LG

Sara Litchfield

Bookmarking this for when I can bear to look at my NaNo draft! It’s going to need a loooooooot of work if it’s going to become a book 🙂

Newburydave (Dave Withe)
Newburydave (Dave Withe)

Hey Jami; Glad you survived the month. I haven’t done Nano since 2012, been too busy with other projects since then. I started that NaNo as a sort of Pantser. Lost most of the first week dithering about whether I should or not (didn’t find out about it till Nov. 1 when a bunch of my corespondents over at the old Anomaly started talking it up. I spent the first day after I signed up I put together a two page outline of the story I wanted to write (a near future space opera/police procedural involving an international court paramilitary rapid reaction anti-terrorist force). No I never pitched it and don’t plan to, for a while yet. Then I averaged close to 2000 words a day for the rest of the month to finish strong at the 65k mark on Nov 30. It was a haul, but you know that. Now to hopefully encourage you Nano Newbies. Two years later I’ve learned a lot about writing from my efforts to hammer that novel into shape to at very least self publish it. After numerous attempts to rewrite the first act and get it to work (my main POV told me I wrote him all wrong up till the first plot point (lingo and structure I only learned this year) and he wouldn’t go a step further until I fixed it. (the joys of pantsing our a character arc.) I banged away at it until I got sick of it. The…  — Read More »

Julie Musil

Oh, I’m so glad you finished despite those techie setbacks. Like you, it felt like I was pulling teeth most of the month. BUT I crossed the 50k line before the 30th and finished draft one today. Whew! I like your list of what to do next. It’s nice to know the foundation is there, and now we can make it pretty. Good luck to you!

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Yikes about your computer doing that twice! 🙁 But I’m happy that you succeeded despite all that! 😀 ” Did we know enough about our characters to get into their point of view, and if not, what would have been good to know about them from the beginning? ” Oh again, you know that I never know anything about my characters before I write about them, and just get to know them as I write. I especially know my hero very, very well, so well that I managed to read the elaborate personality (Enneagrams) type descriptions and was CERTAIN which sentences fitted my hero and which didn’t, lol! So proud of myself there, since I don’t think I’ve ever known a character that thoroughly before, so this is a breakthrough! This might be because I’ve observed my hero through lots of different social scenarios already, lol. Apart from my hero, I got to meet some new minor characters during Nanowrimo time, and again, I just wrote about them without any knowledge at all, and again there was thankfully no problem. Pure blooded pantser indeed, haha. Instead, I was just very entertained and curious to get know these new minor characters as people. ” Did we have the right amount of conflict and arc planning, and if not, what should we try differently next time? ” For character arcs, I realized that character changes are not very important in my story; they are more like secondary/ side elements. The adventure plot…  — Read More »

Dave Withe (Newburydave)
Dave Withe (Newburydave)

Hey again Jami; Back again to finish my earlier post, the bride’s gone to bed bed and I’m up for a snack and some writng before I Z out. As I said I was a pantser going into Nano. That outline was the first I’d ever done for a book. I’d written one previous novel length project and a bunch of short stories around it while I was learning the basics just winging it. I createed the story world while I wrote with timelines, character sketches and lists. I kind of just did it instintively based on having read Space opera by the ton up till then. When I plunged into Nano it about 10% planning and 90% dogged instinct. My outline was sparse, the major plot points (I called em hinge points at the time) and some major milestones. I’m dislecsic so I think in pictures and that saved me. Since then I’ve reworked my earlier work and manged to get a few old stories published plus some new ones. My struggles made me seek out solid references. I found Larry Brooks’ “Story Engineering” and his Story Fix blog last February just after I picked up my first Ghostrwriting contract. His comprehensive approact to structure is overhauling my approach to writing. I feel like I’m finally understanding what I need to do when and why. Then I picked up on Kristen Lamb’s blog and some of her friends. Then I found you and your friends and lo and behold,…  — Read More »

Lara Gallin
Lara Gallin

This year was my first NaNoWriMo and I still can’t believe I passed the 50k with one day to spare! There’s something about that bar chart and the targets that is very motivating and reading other people’s progress on Twitter really helped. I had actually finished the story a few days earlier and had to do some serious scrabbling about to make up the numbers. Part of the issue was that my story features four alien worlds of which only one was anything close to being fully realised. One of the things I did was to write an epilogue, part of which I spliced into the last chapter so that worked out well. I’m feeling slightly conflicted as I’m happy with the point at which the story ended however, I find myself wanting to keep that epilogue. I’m not sure what to do! There were some interesting things that came up. I was without a backstory for one of the supporting characters but that sorted itself out organically and introduced a new character who it turns out is going to be pivotal to the story. I know that the structure is horrendous. Part of me feels tempted to start revising it now but I’m trying to be strong and resist it until January. It’s difficult when you’ve just bought the half price Scrivener and want to play with it! The characters need a lot of development, there’s little to differentiate between most of them at the moment. I also need…  — Read More »

Clifton Hill

Way to break down the process, Jami. I need to cross-check your list above to my fledgling one and see if I can tweak my own process.

Didn’t do NaNo this year. This year I played all month with book layouts/covers and getting my work onto the presses. Onto the next piece. Huzzah!

Happy Holidays!

Page Pennington

Congrats on your win, Jami. This is my fourth NaNo and everthing was different. I’m a panster and usually know little more than who my characters are and what the general situation is. That worked fine for the first three books.
This year I’m writing something different. I took a great course and finally understood how to plot and outline. That was a total game changer. I wrote slower but better with the outline giving me a road to follow if I needed it. This is one of the cleanest drafts I’ve ever done. I almost hit 35k at the end of November and still need to finish the book. But I consider it a win anyway. What I like about November is the push to put aside all the stuff that gets in the way of writing and just do it. Thanks for the tips on revision, they always come in handy.

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