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How to edit your NaNoWriMo novel without getting bogged down

^^^Hello. M Harold Page here again! Swordsman. Author. Edinburgh literary type (as long as by literary you mean "pertaining to books in which time travelling communist tanks battle magic-using knights...")

And it's December, so let's assume you've finished your NaNoWriMo novel with the help of that previous post of mine.

Now what are you going to do with it?

Please don't just bin it!

There's a lot of macho advice out there, and you have to write your "gazillion words" of crap and all. And you may feel you've spewed worse than crap onto your word-processor screen. Flaunting your angst may also seem like less hard work than fixing your book.

But, you were buzzed enough about the idea to spend a month on it, so calm down a little and consider doing the following...

1. Take a break



You've probably worn out your brain. You've most certainly lost all perspective. Unless you're writing to contract, take time out from writing to do other stuff. (OK, logically, this post should halt here and I should pop back in a week or so once you've had your break. Let's pretend you didn't think of that...)

The order of the remaining steps cuts down on waste and reduces the chaos. If you try to do everything at once, you'll end up spending the next few months wandering around in circles like the Doctor in last weekend's episode...

2. Story edit

Output your novel in uneditable form - e-book is good - and read it.

Just read it. In fact put on good music, get into in a positive frame of mind, have a drink to hand... Once you get to the end, try to work out what the actual story is, or more importantly, should be. Then write it down as a reference. Oh and pause to celebrate your achievement. 

Now print the novel if you haven't already and settle down to scribble on it. Note the following:

  • Missing scenes needing written. This includes decision/transition scenes, which help to control the pacing and fill out the story world.
  • Scenes requiring a rewrite to fit the story as it finally evolved. This includes changes of points of view.
  • Events and props that need inserting or highlighting - go back and put in Chekhov's Plasma PistolsGun(s).
  • Changes to the order of chapters and scenes.
  • Any obvious continuity issues.

Note that there's quite a lot of rewriting involved! What a good job you haven't spent weeks polishing your now-doomed-darlings.

Finally, save a new copy of your file and make the changes, crossing them off as you complete them.

3. Reading edit

Now it's time to make the novel read right.

Start off on-screen, working through the text fixing all the clumsy language, confusing sentences, and choreography/continuity issues (character changes height, room plans seem to shift, number of wounded fluctuates.)  

Once you've made one or two passes onscreen, print the thing and reread it armed with your red pen. Don't rewrite in the margin - this stage is meant to trigger your editor self, not your inner creative arm flapper - just circle the issues and scrawl words like "Clumsy!" and "WTF? 5 Zeppelins!?!" Don't be afraid to skip back to stage 2 if you realise the story doesn't quite work.

Take the now-tatty and coffee-soiled manuscript and make the edits.

4. Word edit

The posh word for this is "line and copy edit", but really it's the same task. Do a spell check on screen, then print the thing (or output to e-reader) . Read it one last time and snag as many typos and bloopers as you can. Now you have something that's not distractingly higgledy-piggledy, hand it off to a trusted a friend who enjoys their eye for detail. With any luck they'll catch the errors and you can fix the thing. Be appreciative.

Your friend may also give you feedback that propels you back one or more stages! If so, thank them and do the work. Better a friend should see your manuscript's failings, than an outsider - Kindle user or publisher - should subsequently make your manuscript fail. (I'd rather an ego bruising now than literary disaster later!)

5. Set your novel free!

When it's done, it's done. Now do something with it.

Go hunting agents or editors, or investigate publishing to Kindle. (I've done both, and each is addictive in its own way.)

You wrote it, now get it out the door and write the next one right now!

And, right now - my marketting buddies tell me - is the right time to remind you about my book Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic.

  • Ken MacLeod: "...very useful in getting from ideas etc to plot and story")
  • Hannu Rajaniemi "...find myself to coming back to [this] book in the early stages. Just convinced an aspiring writer friend to buy it.")

Why not join their prestigious literary company (as long as by literary you mean "pertaining to exploring complex themes through the medium of Adventures in Space")?



Very good advice. I would add another stage between 3 and 4 (or maybe it's a sub-step of 3). It's where I am in with my technothriller: I'm polishing up the writing style. I need the action scenes esp. to be less wordy, and focus more on what the character is feeling, rather than descriptions of what they are doing. Various forms of the verb "To Be" are my enemy- I must hunt them down and extrminate them like vermin.


Yes it's part of my Reading Edit - but really all that matters is that you layer your editing so that you don't polish things you are going to cut or rewrite.

For my take on fight scenes:


Or you can use my daughter's solution, which was to join me at two of the last four cons I've been to, and she chowed down on the writing track.




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This page contains a single entry by M Harold Page published on December 1, 2015 8:39 PM.

Bombing Syria Considered Stupid was the previous entry in this blog.

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