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Revising the #NaNoWriMo Novel (Part 1) #writetip

book flying letter MEDIt’s January.

The holidays are over and you’ve probably made a bunch of writing-related resolutions you’ve already given up on.

If one of those is whipping your NaNo novel into good enough shape to publish, you’re in the right place.

By now, NaNoWriMos fall into a few different categories:

1. You haven’t looked at your story since November 30.

2. You’ve been tearing your hair out since December 1 and you still aren’t happy with the story after multiple rounds of revisions.

3. You started reading it again and gave up after a few pages or chapters because you think it’s awful.

4. You don’t have a clue what to do with it now.

5. You already revised your story and sent it off to at least one publisher or agent.


No matter which category you find yourself, I’ve got some tips and tricks to help you out. (Unless you are in #5 and already have a contract, you can still benefit from what I’m going to share with you).

Before I even get into how to revise, I’m going to let you in on a secret. I love sharing secrets because when I first started writing, I didn’t have a clue that everyone—even multi-published authors—struggle with the exact same problems I had. I’m not a perfect writer, even after years of writing and experience editing other writers’ work. In fact, it’s because I’m not perfect that I have developed a lot of strategies to work with what I’ve written, hoping to turn it into what I hoped it would be when I first started thinking about the story.

Which leads me to today’s true confession: I absolutely hate revising my work. Hate it with a passion I can’t put into words. It makes me get sweaty and dry-mouthed to think about reading the whole novel I just wrote and trying to shape into something good enough to publish. I’d rather vacuum, clean the toilet or run stadiums than tackle the seemingly overwhelming task of fixing everything I know is wrong after the first draft.

But I also love revising, at least the results. It’s so satisfying to finish a revision and realize the book is so much better now that I did clean it up. The fact is that no matter how good the first draft is—and there are many writers who end up with really solid first drafts—the second draft is always better. That means you can improve what you already have with a 100 percent guarantee, just but giving it even one revision pass.

It’s a myth that really good writers or experienced writers get it right the first time around, or even the second time around. Even someone who spent a year on their first draft and not just 30 days, is going to want and need some revision. And if you only spent 30 days on it, you’re going to need a revision.

There’s a bit of magic that happens between draft one and two that doesn’t happen any other time. All the while you’re writing the first draft, especially during NaNo when you’re trying to get your word count down, you don’t know exactly how and where the story is going. You don’t know precisely who your characters and what drives them or what they love and fear and hate. Even if you outlined within an inch of your life, the finished product is going to have some unexpected elements.

It’s only when you go back to the beginning, now with an absolute knowledge of where everything is leading, that you can objectively determine which story and plot elements work, which don’t work, and how to correct or improve both types. And that’s where the magic lies. Once you know how it ends, you can choose better how to get there.

Let’s say you’re taking a road trip from Los Angeles to New York. It’s a long road and you have lots of options to get there. Are you going to take Hwy 10 to 80 on a route through Wyoming and Colorado, or the southern route through New Mexico, Texas, and Missouri? When you write a novel, you literally have this many choices and possibilities to get from page 1 to the end.

Once you’ve driven from LA to NY, the next time you take that journey, you’ve got some experience. You may take the same route, and now you know not to stay at the Motel 6 in Amarillo, but to keep driving until you get into Oklahoma. You may decide to make a detour to a site or restaurant you missed the first time around or didn’t have time for, or arrived when it was closed.

You not only have your original experience, you can judge whether or not you made the best choices the first time around, and you can revise to incorporate things you didn’t even know until it was too late. Maybe your story would be better if the key supporting character wasn’t the MC’s sister, but his college roommate’s sister because that would allow you a little bit of a love triangle. Or your MC really needs to be from a different state, background, etc., to make the story work even better.

That’s the fun part of revising. You get to rewrite history the way you want it. The original story is not set in stone. It’s a living, breathing thing you can nurture and groom and train to do what you want it to do. It’s no longer a wild animal taking you on a runaway ride across the prairie while you hold on for dear life until you type THE END, which is how NaNoWriMo can feel, even for an experienced writer.

Hopefully, that has psyched you up for the revision process. In the next posting, I’ll talk about the difference between rewriting a story and editing a story. We’re going to take a long hard look at your novel, like a rough stone to polish into a glittering gem. It won’t be all fun and games, but I promise you’ll learn a lot about writing as you rewrite this time around.

I’d love for you to answer the poll about your biggest rewrite/revision concerns, so I can focus on the most common issues as we move through this process.


EM Lynley is a multi-published author of 9 novels and two dozen shorter works of fiction as well as How to Be a NaNoWriMo Winner. Her 2013 NaNo Novel Bound for Trouble has been contracted by Dreamspinner Press for a July 2014 publication date. She also runs Smooth Draft Editing, offering a range of services from proofreading to developmental editing and coaching for writers. Visit her Amazon Author page, or contact her at


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  1. Rewriting vs. Editing the #NaNoWriMo Novel #writetip | Smooth Draft - […] How is rewriting different from editing and why should you care? (See also: Revising the NaNo Novel) […]

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