For the past seven years, I have written a novel in November, as part of “National Novel Writing Month,” or “NaNoWriMo.” This is not news anymore. (You can learn more about it at nanowrimo.org.) The news is I am finally editing one of my drafts.
For seven consecutive years, I wrote a 50,000+ word first draft of a fiction novel from start to finish in November. For seven consecutive years, as soon as December came, I closed the file for good, never to look at, read it, or share it with anyone. First drafts are great, in that they give you a sense of accomplishment that your story is “finished.” But they are horrible in that they are excruciating to read, with run-on sentences, abounding cliches, flat characters, and underdeveloped plots.
After last November, I realized something had to change. My sense of accomplishment over a finished draft had dimmed. I was tired of expending so much energy for a project that died almost as soon as it came to life. I’d like to call myself an author someday, but had I ever “authored” anything? A real author’s books get read. No one wants to read a crappy first draft. It was time to try something new. But what to do? There was only one possible answer—dust off and edit one of my novels.
Editing was a scary prospect to me. Simply reading such a long (and terrible!) manuscript seemed like an insurmountable task, and something I had never done. Re-reading and fixing the novel, especially the parts that didn’t make any sense, felt like the ultimate in tedium. Was I a glutton for punishment? Could I bear the torture? The only thing worse than editing one of my novels was the thought of starting a new one in November to add to the pile of rotten first drafts.
The new challenge became set in my head. I couldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo again until I had a decent new draft of one of my novels. I printed out my 2014 novel, “A Squeeze on the Wrist,” and read it all the way through. It wasn’t quite as bad as I had feared it might be. But it also wasn’t good. I took out a pen and marked up every page, angry slashing marks over characters that didn’t make sense, little smiley faces in the rare good bits, and ideas for fleshing out plot points that were weak.
Exhausted, I took two months off.
After a Break
In April, I was ready to try again. I signed up for “Camp NaNoWriMo,” and set a challenge to myself to edit for 1 hour per day, or a total of 30 hours in April. That kicked me into high gear. The more I worked on my novel, the more excited I got about the potential for the story. I changed some major scenes, smoothed out some rough parts, got rid of a few over-the-top events, and completely removed one useless character. After April was over, I took a look at my progress. I’d spent thirty hours, and I wasn’t even halfway through the story. I had changed so much that my ending no longer made any sense at all. But the beginning was finally okay! I estimated another hundred hours or so to a decent second draft.
A Real Novel?
I printed out another version of the novel. A friend came over to my house and saw the printed, spiral-bound pages. “You mean you wrote all that?” he asked. “I knew you were writing, but I didn’t realize you were really writing a book!” He hefted the 208-page manuscript in his hand and flipped through it. He read the first page, turned to the second, and on to the third. “This is going to be good!”
Yes, it is, because I am finally doing what real authors do. Editing.
Interested in taking one of your projects to the next level?
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