STOP! What To Do Before Revising A Nano Novel

NANOThe month of November is a bit of a sugar high, isn’t it? There’s Nanowrimo, and the stream of words fueled by coffee, old Halloween candy, Kraft Dinner and not enough sleep. The Muse is fired up, leading us down the Yellow Brick Road and we follow at full throttle, writing whatever craziness comes to mind. Then there’s the ultimate high: achieving the 50K! Writing The End. There’s fireworks. Tears. Maybe cupcakes and bacon. Huzzah! We are MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.

And then comes that not-so-delightful…December…crash. We have a novel. It is a mess. We feel like we’ve just woken up to a strange noise in the dead of night, sure a Stephen King-esque monster is under the bed.  We play online Scrabble and wish people Happy Birthday on Facebook rather than edge the mouse toward the ‘open file’ button.

For some, writing the novel is enough. For others, like the authors of Forest Of Hands And Teeth; Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, Water For Elephants and Wool, the journey does not end, and the hardest part begins.

Life After Nano: Moving Forward

Because Nanowrimo focuses on the creative process rather than the slow and steady technique, I think writers need to approach rewrites differently than with something written over the course of a few months or half a year. Here’s some food for thought!

 Take Advantage Of The Process

One great thing about Nano is that we’ve written it so fast, the character’s journey is fresh in our mind from first page to last. Take this opportunity to make some notes to yourself and ask these three questions:

1) What plot twists/ideas/story elements did I love best?

 2) What parts of the book am I pretty sure need to change?

 3) What ideas have sprung to mind since finishing that I might want to go back and incorporate?

While the story is fresh, you’ll want to capture these answers. If you don’t get this down, you may forget the good ideas that writing the story generated. Maybe you had a brainwave for an earlier scene but didn’t want to lose the flow, so you promised yourself you’d add it during revisions. Or perhaps over the course of the book, you realized the logic didn’t work somewhere and it would require retooling. Are there plot holes? Events that need foreshadowing? Make copious notes-everything that comes to mind.

 Finally, answer one more question:

 4) What worked and what didn’t with each character?

If you’re anything like me, you get to know your characters as you write. They evolve, too. Make notes on each–things you really like and things you need to develop. Who still needs fleshing out? Who needs motivation for things they do (or don’t) do? Who developed a quirk partway in which needs to be added right from the start?

PSST! Want to create a character strong enough to power your novel and leave readers breathless for more?

Try the Character Builder at One Stop for Writers. It will help you unearth their most intimate secrets, motivations, fears, and desires. There’s even a FREE TRIAL to get you started.

 Let Your Novel Sleep

All writers know the power of time. For some, hearing that they should shelve this book for awhile is music, while others want to rip into it right away to see how bloody the waters will get. Resist the urge to read your Nano right after writing it. Give it time to settle. Let your notes about the book steep. Wait two weeks to a month, whichever feels right to you.

 Pull That Sucker Out Of The Closet

It’s time to find the Beauty in your Supposed Beast. Set aside time to read your novel and try to do it within a short period. You want to be able to view the book as a whole, not as parts.

But before you start, tell yourself two things:

 First drafts are never as bad as writers think they will be.

 I will read this as a reader, not as a writer.

Do not make corrections. Do not fix typos. Read your novel for the story and characters. Appreciate the journey that your creative brain sent you on and don’t let your Internal Editor interfere. If he starts to rant at you, shove him in a room full of virtual clowns. 🙂

After you’ve read your manuscript, bask in ALL THE GOOD THINGS. There are pearls, rubies, diamonds, even! Then, pull out those notes you made. Go through them and challenge your initial thoughts and beliefs. Do you still believe X is a plot hole? That Character Y needs to be cut from the manuscript? Does Z subplot still make sense?

Add To Your Notes

Delete what you no longer agree with, and add new ideas to what you want to develop. Think about bigger problems you noticed, and mull over how you might fix them.

Finally, sit back and reread what you’ve written, because these notes are your pathway to revision. You now have a place to start, the big issues lined out. Choose what you want to focus on first. Maybe like me, you want to fix all the typos before you dig in. Or you want to finalize the bones of the plot, or develop your lead character using WHW Character Tools. Maybe you decide to see how your novel stands up to a Save The Cat Beat Sheet. Whatever you choose, come back to these notes for ideas and inspiration. When you’re ready, the Scene Revision/Critique Tool might be a help to you.

Above all else, believe in the good, and what this book can become if you’re willing to put in the work.

Remember how many published books out there started just like yours…a simple Nano challenge.


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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Tam Francis
4 years ago

Thank you for the awesome advice. I had not thought of reading it as a reader. I always wait a couple months before I dive in to edits. My novels are usually 100k, so I only have half a novel, but all your advice works as I approach the second half.

Thank you!

Lara Gallin
Lara Gallin
6 years ago

I’m pleased to say I rewarded my win with chocolate and mascarpone truffle and it was fabulous 🙂

I’m going to leave mine to simmer until January, provided I can resist the temptation of playing with newly acquired Scrivener!

Robyn LaRue
7 years ago

I usually take heavy notes and let it all rest for December, go over and revise in January, then let it rest again until late spring. It’s a formula that might not work for everyone, but works great for me. 🙂 Timely advice, thanks, and yes, it needs to be repeated every year. 🙂


[…] Ackerman lists what to do before revising a NaNo novel; Jami Gold has beat sheets to help clean up your NaNo novel; and Ben Huberman shares five […]

Lisa Buie-Collard
Lisa Buie-Collard
7 years ago

Thank you so much for posting this! I’ve been feeling a bit lost and unsure of where to go next. It’s nice to have a game plan!

Leslie R.
7 years ago

Such a good post! I’m not quite to “the end” of my NaNo project yet either, even though I hit 50,000, but I’m definitely bookmarking this for later!

7 years ago
Reply to  Leslie R.

Congrats! 50k is a HUGE accomplishment. Good for you 🙂

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7 years ago


Stephanie Scott
7 years ago

This advice is pertinent every year! I’m so glad I have another project to work on, otherwise I would be so antsy to revise my Nano novel. I’ll be itching to get back to it in a few weeks!

Laura Stephenson
7 years ago

Aaaaand bookmarked! I have officially won, but have not yet written “The End,” so I’ll need to come back to this, but it’s great advice. I’ve already forgotten so many things I decided to do already…

7 years ago

It is so easy to just fall into the haze of satisfaction once a person finishes, and then all those ideas sort of funnel away, isn’t it? But there is a unique opportunity to take advantage of after fast drafting, so if we can hold on a bit longer and write down our thoughts, it is so worth it!

Christy Richardson
Christy Richardson
7 years ago

I do the note taking as I go. I make a file called “Notes for Rewrite” and take notice of the very things your questions asked. I like the one about the characters, too. I’ll add that as something to look for.

I reached 50k this year, but the story is not finished. I’m wondering should I continue Nano style into December until it’s complete (because I did discover some interesting twists along the way which I didn’t know about) or simply outline a direction from here until I reach the end. I know how it ends, but there are few large question marks I still have to answer, and things I don’t know where they go.

Crystal Collier
7 years ago

Awesome advice–and all seconded! Good writing take time and distance. =)

7 years ago

So glad this helps! Thanks for stopping in!

7 years ago

My biggest problem has always been reading as a reader. I tell myself I’m going to read for story and characters, then end up in minutiae.