Ask Dayton 55 – The Double Nickel Edition – Post-NaNoWriMo Stress Disorder
If I may, I’d like to divert away from bacon, porn, and ball gags for a moment and ask a strange question – for this audience at least: With NaNoWriMo finally over, some of us are now sitting on a full novel. Now, the question becomes what the heck do we do with it. It’s pretty raw and could use a little work. All right, some chapters will need to be completely rewritten, but hey what do you expect from 107,371 words in 30 days? What are some of your suggestions, recommendations, and best practices for editing our stories? Anything that we should look out for? Mistakes or pitfalls to avoid? That sort of thing.
Charlie Sheen, Winning!
Yep, it’s the annual Post-NaNoWriMo Stress Disorder, manifesting itself now that the calendar has flipped from November to December. “What have I done? What am I supposed to do now?”
You spent 30 days writing a novel, or at least a big chunk of a novel. If you did what you were supposed to be doing, you channeled the bulk of your energy into the actual writing, slinging words into your word processor as fast as your fingers could fly. Maybe you went noir, sitting up all night at a table in your kitchen, banging away at the keys of an old Royal manual typewriter, the strikers pounding the paper with a disjointed rhythm that’s almost musical. Or, hey! Perhaps you opted to go completely old-school, recording your musings with pen and paper, and now your wrist hurts like a 13-year old boy’s the day after he finds his father’s Playboy stash.
I know, I can never just answer the damned question, right?
Okay, okay. The writing’s done, and now it’s time to get on with smoothing all the rough edges off this diamond you’re forming. Get out your red pen, and prepare for the hacking and slashing. Beyond the usual tasks of making sure everything’s correctly spelled, characters don’t change gender or appear alive after you’ve killed them (assuming you didn’t do that sort of thing on purpose, of course) and things like that, you’re going to be carving out stuff you don’t need, and replacing words or whole sentences with something that now seems to work better, at least in your own head. After that? There’s really no one “right” way to edit a manuscript. Yes, we can address various things dealing with the “mechanics” of writing: eliminating unneeded tags or descriptors, making sure you’re using the right word (“affect” or “effect,” “insure” vs. “ensure,” “than” or “then,” “farther instead of “further” or vice versa, and so on). There are plenty of websites out there that can coach you through that stuff. Google “what to look for when editing a manuscript” and you’ll get all sorts of helpful hints, tips, and tricks. We could spend all day talking about that sort of thing, going down an entire checklist of Dos and Don’ts, and after you ran your manuscript through all of that, you’re still not done.
Does the story grab the reader? Does it wrap its hand around your reader’s throat and pull him or her down into the pages? Do scenes start where they need to start, rather than being prefaced by two or three pages of exposition or useless dialogue that sounded cool when you wrote it, but now doesn’t really seem to move the story forward? Do your scenes or chapters end with a hook that compels the reader to turn the page?
Everybody writes differently, so the amount of required rework to bring your story up to snuff is going to vary from writer to writer. Some people—and we call these people “bastards”—are blessed with a seemingly innate ability to write very clean prose the first time through, which only requires the lightest of editing in order to make the manuscript ready for delivery. The rest of us have to work at that sort of thing. On the other hand, I’m also not one of those writers who thinks the first thing I need to do after cobbling together 100,000 words is to go back and rewrite every fucking one of them. After spending three or four months looking at the manuscript-in-process every damned day, I’m reasonably certain that a significant portion of the words are where I want them. With NaNoWriMo the situation’s a bit different, of course, but even when I write something very fast, I tend to think I’m on the right path most of the time.
Which brings me to my next point: When it comes to being judges of our own work, most of us tend to suck at that sort of thing. We’re just not objective when it comes to our own stories. I’m not saying we can’t set aside ego and take constructive criticism or editorial guidance, but the simple fact is that the manuscript is our baby, so we’re naturally going to have at least a bit of bias. This is what beta readers or reading groups are for. Find a few people to read your manuscript, and make sure they know they’re supposed to be honest with their critique. If they’re worried about “hurting your feelings” then they’re useless as reviewers.
They need to tell you what works for them, sure, but they most definitely must also be able and willing to tell you what doesn’t work. They’ll be the ones who can show you the hole in your plot, or whether your twists and turns either make sense or seem to spring out of nowhere. And not for nothing, but it’s usually these folks who end up asking you why the hell Eric the Warrior suddenly becomes Erica the Amazon in Chapter 21, even though you killed him (or her) in Chapter 16. They’ll be the ones who ask why your Depression-era private eye tries to call his client on his cell phone.
You know, the little things.
Editing your manuscript is the second of the two-prongs on the sword you’re wielding when you craft a story of any length, equally if not more important than the actual writing. Don’t short-change this part of the process. You and your manuscript deserve a full, faithful editing effort so that you can properly finish what you started.
But, wait. There’s more.
He is the co-owner of Busy Little Beaver Productions and is the producer and co-host for G & T Show and Gates of Sto’vo’kor. He’s directed voice actors, and produced and edited audio podcasts and dramas because he doesn’t have the face for video. He plays well with others and is always on the look out for the next project, the next thing, the next next. If he wasn’t working on something with a half dozen other projects waiting in the wings, somebody please check to make sure he’s still breathing.
During the day, he’s a mild-mannered computer repair man who dabbles in web design in his small, rural, Central California community. He lives with his lovingly dysfunctional family and loyal canine companion and spends most of his time in the closet concocting some hair-brained scheme or another. He’s got an unhealthy obsession with Lego video games, Klingons, and Star Trek Online that borders on the neurotic.
Despite all this, he still finds the time to write the words. Find out what he's doing here.