You Won NaNoWriMo - Now What?

So… NaNoWriMo is drawing to an end and you’ve got your first draft down. You’re not very happy with it – that’s normal! A first draft is the first for a reason…


What do you do next? How do you set that first draft rolling down the road to a successful final draft and, eventually, finished work? Here are our post NaNoWriMo tips to help it on its way.

Finish your First Draft after NaNoWriMo

  1. Leave it alone. Wait. Take a break. For at least a week – preferably two or three after NaNoWriMo – don’t look at your draft and try not to think about it either. Try not to write; or, if you must, write about a totally different subject or in a different genre.
  2. When your brain feels suitably refreshed, re-read your book. Do not change anything. Just read it again.
  3. Then get stuck in. Look at the big picture first. Does the main theme work? Do the sub-themes work? Does the set-up match the resolution?
  4. Look for consistency issues. You might have drawn out charts, graphs, timelines or mind maps during the planning stages – now start again with what’s actually there in your draft, not what’s in your imagination. When you cut that bit of flowery description, did you accidentally cut a vital clue or piece of background information? Does the timeline make sense?
  5. Be ruthless. Cut everything that isn’t necessary. Be careful when it comes to character development – a scene that is thrown in purely to shed some light on a character can seem contrived if it isn’t relevant to the rest of the story too. Cut words, too, where you can – in the first sentence of this paragraph I originally wrote ‘Cut everything that isn’t totally necessary’. Which works better?
  6. Look for areas where you can ‘show’ instead of ‘tell’.
  7. Keep your eyes open for techniques that you’ve used several times and see if you can take different approaches. For instance, if you’ve included two flashbacks to help tell your story, could you use a different technique the second time, like the discovery of an item from the past that reveals a key point?
  8. Fix names. In your first draft you might have used ‘placeholder’ names for characters and places just to keep the process moving. Now that NaNoWriMo is over this is the time to think about any symbolism or meaning you want to include in names – or just to think about the sound they make in your brain and any associations they have.
  9. Reconsider settings. Are they appropriate for your story, both for the plot and the emotional tone you are trying to set?
  10. Pick out any ‘difficult’ scenes or ones that don’t seem to be working well. Sift out the essentials – what needs to be there for the sake of the plot – and completely rewrite them. Try using different settings or involving different minor characters.
  11. If you feel really stuck on something, try doing something unexpected. Make your character behave out of character and see what happens! After all, real people behave ‘out of character’ all the time… and as you try to uncover their reasons and how they feel and respond afterwards, you might learn something new about your character.
  12. Make sure your characters don’t all talk like you. Avoid quirky spellings, but try to make each person’s spoken voice distinctive. Are they abrupt and monosyllabic or garrulous and chatty? Blunt or timid? Does their speaking style change depending on the circumstances or their feelings? Remember that accents can be reflected in things like word order or word choices, which you can capture on the page without resorting to wacky spellings along the lines of ‘Oooh arrr moye luvver’!
  13. Get feedback. By now you should have a second draft. You can either pay for a structural edit, or get some beta readers, or both. Make sure your beta readers have different perspectives. No, you can’t get away with asking five of your cousins to give you feedback! Make use of both real-life and online communities (and make sure you return the favour!).


paper in binOnce you’ve got to the final draft stage, for the love of all that is holy please use a professional copy-editor. I’m not just saying that because it’s a service we provide. I genuinely believe that never yet has an author been born who can successfully copy-edit their own book. It’s like trying to cut your own hair – it might be a little nerve-wracking when someone else does it, but choose the right professional and it’ll look a lot better afterwards! You don’t want your book to have the equivalent of scruffy tufts.


I hope you’ve found this advice useful and had a successful NaNoWriMo. I also recommend Darcy Pattinson’s ‘After the First Draft’ revision notes which go into a lot more detail about some of the points mentioned above.

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