The original intent of this blog, and its title, was to follow my writing round the year, from one National Novel Writing Month to the next. Of course, most of what I post isn’t NaNo-specific, but the thirty days of madness are always here in spirit, humming along in the background. For no apparent reason, “NaNo Variations” popped into my head and I started thinking about how much variation there has been between the November race to get a novel written, and the time it takes to finish, polish, and publish. Or maybe the reason is that I’m about to make another stab at finishing my 2010 novel.
There is no one correct time frame for starting the first edits after NaNo is over. Newcomers ask how long they should wait, and the answers vary with the experience of the people giving those answers. My guess is that the more aware you are, as you write, of the weaknesses and problems, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to march right back in in December and start the second draft. Also, seeing the solutions, as you write, means that the second draft will be that much easier.
And that brings up an interesting idea that I’ve never seen anyone mention — making notes for the second draft. There’s plenty of pro and con, back and forth, about editing during NaNo, with warnings not to do it because it will slow you down, will discourage you by raising doubts about the value of what you’re writing, will deprive you of gobs of words that should be adding to your word count. The other side of the argument is that editing can be done after the day’s creative burnout, and that it can add significantly to word count, especially if you’re a bare bones kind of writer.
What’s of most value about editing while in the throes of NaNo is that you’ll come out of it that much ahead when you start a second draft. Notes can serve the same function, especially if you can’t or choose not to edit while writing the first draft. “Why is protag #1 saying that? It doesn’t fit his personality?” “Oops, there’s a big plot hole here. How do I fix it?” “Check to see if there’s a continuity problem in this scene.” “How the heck do I get my hero out of this mess?” You think you’re going to remember all that later, but the chances are you won’t. Instead, you’ll be looking at a confusing mess that seems impossible to get through.
I wrote, completed, and published Privileged Lives (2011) in just over three months. I was able to do this because I had 1. gone back almost every day of NaNo and done some light editing. 2. Because I had been actively working on it for almost an entire year before that, working out the plot, getting to know the characters, etc. No, I didn’t make any notes as I wrote the novel, because it hadn’t occurred to me then. But if I was a pantser instead of a planner, ongoing notes would have been invaluable.
What’s the timeline been for the two previous novels? Gift of Blood (2009), now renamed, has been read and reread, edited, rearranged, added to, and still isn’t finished. It was my first novel, and it’s been the beneficiary, over the last two years, of everything I’ve learned about writing since then. The Warden (2010) has also been the beneficiary of what I’ve learned. It’s also been reworked a great deal, but not finished. Part of the delay has been the main protagonist’s fault. He has to discover what he really wants out of life, and when he finds out, he has to choose between several alternatives. Who am I to force him to make a choice?
How long does it take to finish and publish a novel? For me, so far, anywhere from three months to going on two and a half years. Your results will vary.