You’ve typed THE END.
You’ve finished your book.
First of all, if this is you (and for all the people out there trying NaNoWriMo for the first time, this could be you at the end of the month), then CONGRATULATIONS!
Before you do anything else, give yourself a massive pat on the back.
Celebrate in the way you do it best.
Tell your friends and anyone else who will listen.
So if you’ve managed to get to The End, well done. I admire your tenacity, your perseverance – your belief in yourself (even when you’re faking it).
But, you ask, after the jumping up and down and celebrating, what’s next with your novel?
Some people type THE END and then go back to page one and start fixing things.
Others, like me, wait weeks before they re-read (the first time was hard, because I couldn’t bear the thought of typos or other mistakes wallowing in there, but I resisted).
While I maintain that you have to find the right method for you, here’s why I wait a few weeks before reading through my ms.
You know when you’re tasting wine or cheese or coffee, or smelling perfumes, or eating an amazing degustation feast, and you get to the point where you can’t tell tastes or smells apart? Your senses become overloaded if you don’t take time to cleanse the palate.
The French came up with palate cleansers as a way to remove lingering flavours from the mouth, which allows the next course to be enjoyed with a fresh perspective.
When it comes to your manuscript, it helps to cleanse the palate, so to speak, before you work on it again.
In his book, On Writing, Stephen King advises:
“How long you let your book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneading—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks.”
Think of it as a cooling-off period.
When you’ve given your manuscript the time it needs, you can come back, with fresh eyes, ready to look for glaring plot holes, character motivation issues, timing issues, (not to mention spelling and grammar mistakes).
Here’s what I do once I’m finished:
- Celebrate my achievement – do something nice for myself or treat myself to something.
- Keep writing – start or continue a different project (or try another creative outlet for a while)
When my resting period is up, I print my manuscript and read it twice:
- First, as a reader. This is where I read for the big picture, for the experience, to see if – overall – it works.
- Then, I re-read as a writer. I make notes about what works and what doesn’t. I use track changes to ask questions like “But why?” or make suggestions about timing and motivation. I mark up areas that I think are too wordy or are info-dump zones, and I note where I think layers could be added. I rethink the start (have I started in the right place?).
For me, reading and re-reading is one of the most important parts of my writing process.
And I admit, it’s hard not to make notes all over the manuscript during the first pass, but I tell myself I’m a reader (and I wouldn’t scribble in someone’s book). If I absolutely need to note something, I write in a notebook.
And finally, I work through the manuscript, rewriting line by line, scene by scene, chapter by chapter …
This is what I’m doing now with my first manuscript, Wherever You Go. I’ve already been through the write, rest, read process twice and after that, I set the manuscript aside to work on Wildflower.
But now that Wildflower has been through that same process and I’ve started sending it to agents, it’s time to revisit Wherever You Go.
I believe in this book.
Twelve months ago I didn’t know what to do with it. I’d breathed it for too long. I was sick to death of the thing.
Now I’m excited about it all over again.