NaNoWriMo: You Did It! Now Sit On It. (With Chapter Critique Giveaway!)

Posted by Blair Thornburgh

First things first: WOW!!!! HOORAY!!!! EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!

You wrote a novel. You typed out 50,000 words into an order they have never been in before. You conjured imaginary people and told their stories. That’s really, really cool.

And now, it’s time for a break. You deserve it, but so does your novel—and here’s why.

Writing good fiction requires two things. (Well, two intangible things. Keyboard, pen, paper, coffee, etc. are all sine qua nons, too.)

A novel is the product of your imagination and your intellect.

Draft One is the Follow-Your-Gut draft: imagination, pure and simple, and that’s what NaNoWriMo is all about. It’s an exhilarating month-long carte blanche to let the little gremlins in your brain cavort around and fling ideas at the page. It’s magical and it’s fun and it’s mysterious. Science is pretty advanced these days, but as far as I know no one has yet pinpointed the wiggle of the synapses that makes ideas spark into life—something about the kinesthetic motion of fingers on keyboard just makes you say things. You can’t have a story without ideas on paper, and NaNoWriMo makes that happen. Look at that! Ideas! On paper! (Or a digital document, but I highly recommend printing your opus into hard copy so you can marvel at its heft).

But now—or in a little while—it’s time for the second part of the equation: intellect. You need to take your draft and size it up with flinty-eyed acumen. In other words, you have to revise.

Enter Draft Two: the Head Draft. Revising literally means seeing again, and that’s what you’re doing: chucking away your rose-tinted imagination specs and zooming in with the microscope of your intellect. You need to hold court and judge your ideas. What works? What doesn’t? What makes you roll your eyes at how god-awful it is? What gets your heart racing all over again? Fine-tune (or bulldoze) for logic, clarity, sense, and dynamism. Knot up the loose ends into a tassel. Question every scene, and be merciless.

It sounds daunting because it is daunting. But it’s also at least half the process. Stories are crafted over time, not dictated in a single sitting, and applying your intellect is non-negotiable. The good news is this: you don’t have to do it now. In fact, you shouldn’t do it now. Giving yourself a little breathing room from your story will allow those initial gut-feelings of imagination to fade, so that by the time you look back at your draft (a month? Two months?), you will be smart, not sentimental. Read some books on self-editing, get a critique partner, re-brainstorm and re-write. And once you’ve smoothed out all your logic and plugged up all your plot holes, go back again and follow your heart.

And so comes the third, secret ingredient: love. Drafts Three and upward are your Heart drafts: the harmony of unconscious ideas and conscious crafting that makes your story sing.

So: this is your official dispensation to Take Some Time Off. Relax. Do not pass GO or collect $200 or start drafting a query letter. Breathe. Sleep. Have more coffee. Then have another look at your book. It’ll still be there in a month, promise.

And, to put my metaphorical money where my mouth is, I’ll critique one winning chapter from a NaNo manuscript—but not yet. Enter now, take a break, and then give it a second look. I’ll critique the revised version of the winning chapter no sooner than January 2014.


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Blair Thornburgh

Blair Thornburgh

BLAIR THORNBURGH is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she earned a B.A. in medieval studies and delivered a pretty good commencement speech. She lives in Philadelphia.