Life After NaNoWriMo: Taking the First Look

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Check out my feature in this month’s issue of Shelf Unbound Magazine, and take a look at all the winners of this year’s best indie book contest! And don’t forget to post a book review of Dark the Night Descending for a chance to win an awesome prize!

Can you believe it’s only been two weeks since the end of November? With Christmas carols ringing in our ears since Halloween, a pile of holiday party invitations slowly creeping over the edges of your inbox, and a bank account dwindling alarmingly as the gifts get stacked underneath the holiday emblem of your choice, it’s not much of a surprise that writing isn’t top priority during this hectic month.

I know it hasn’t been for me. Insomnia has still been hammering at my ability to do anything more than drag myself to the couch and sit there with a stupid look on my face as I try to think about all the things I’d rather be doing. While I’ve seen a specialist and I’m in the process of coordinating all the tests and things I need to solve the problem, nothing much is getting done in the meantime.

This past weekend, however, I forced myself to dig my neglected USB drive out of the bottom of my purse, plug it in, and open up the manuscript of Book 4 for the first time since November 30. I like to give myself a break after the month ends in order to clear my head and reward myself a little, and that means that I have to deal with the ambivalence of coming back to the rough, rough draft I left behind.

It’s always equally thrilling and dreadful to look through unedited words I wrote in a hurry. I like to do a quick read-through just to see how I got to wherever I left off without fiddling with anything. Sometimes I see things I really like, or that I forgot I’d written. Sometimes I see new avenues in older words that I can jot down for later. But it takes a great deal of self-control not to stop every two sentences and fix something, or expand something, or cut out great swathes of horrible purple prose that I had crammed in there just to meet my word count for the day.

Why not start editing at this point? Because for me, editing can’t happen until the whole first draft is finished and settled and has a chance to gel in my brain for a lot longer than a fortnight. It’s like waiting for a cake to cool. You might not want to have the patience, but if you try to put the icing on too soon, you’ll just be left with a gooey, half-melted mess that isn’t very appetizing to look at (although the metaphor goes no further, as half-melted cake still tastes delicious).

The first look at the manuscript is about breaking the ice again, and diving back into something that I wasn’t too certain about when November kicked off. It’s about reassuring myself that not everything I wrote is crap – that there are little gems here and there that made that whole month of hard work worthwhile. It brings me back into the story so I can pick up where I left off, and helps me remember that my inner editor can stay locked in her jail cell for a while longer until I get the rest of the words down on that page. After that? She’s got free reign, and rightfully so.

Is taking that first look hard for you, too? Do you give yourself a rest after the deadline, or have you been working this whole time?

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2 thoughts on “Life After NaNoWriMo: Taking the First Look

  1. First looks are so hard! I did Camp NaNo and the Nov. session this year. I just took out my Camp manuscript (from July). The distance was great in terms of editing, because I was completely fresh on it. But on the other hand, the parts that were bad seem just SO COMPLETELY TERRIBLY BAD. I think the rest was good for me, though. I know my edit will be so much more productive because I gave myself time away from it and worked on other things.

  2. I promised myself to finish editing last year’s NaNo project (my first finished novel that I’ve worked on for years) by this year and I have barely scratched the surface. Thankfully, I found some beta readers and when life is less crazy, I think I will be able to get it done. But it is always terrifying looking back at what you wrote in that crazy NaNo state.

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