NaNo Variations

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.

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4 thoughts on “NaNo Variations

  1. Interesting. I finished my first novel in about a year. I revised it three times and then chucked it (about two years later). I’m completely re-writing it now (but it is so different it really is a new novel) and I expect it to take about four months to complete the first draft. I aim to have it edited and polished by November. That’s the plan. We’ll see if I ever actually finish it.

    I think it is different for every writer and every project. I wish I could finish something in three months! That would be awesome.

  2. I’m the same in regards to it taking several years to complete my first novel. I wrote it, read it, thought it was awful and started something else. Then I decided to revisit it at the beginning of this year, had a HUGE edit and rewrote vast amounts and finally published a couple of weeks ago. Inside Evil must have been started back in 2004/5 so it’s been a long time coming!

    Hopefully the next novel won’t take quite that long to complete! 🙂

  3. I really like your idea for making notes while working on a first draft. I have done that informally but I’m going to do it more consciously now.

    I can attest to the value of not getting too far out of touch with the story or characters… something I experienced in writing “Dance of Souls” (which took me about 7 years from start to publication). I set it aside for months on end (even more than a year, at one point) and then had to spend (waste?) a ton of time reminding myself who the characters were and what they were doing.

  4. Audrey, making notes as you go along on the first draft seems like such an obvious thing to do that I feel kind of stupid for never having thought of it before. And too much time away, for me, can mean as little as a couple of weeks. I have a terrible memory, which is both good and bad when you’re revising. On the one hand, it forces me to reread all or most of the story before getting back to work. On the other, it lets me be more objective than a lot of writers are capable of. I can read something I wrote only a few weeks ago and think — I don’t remember writing that.

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