Let it soak in; that fulfillment as you take in the completed draft in front of you. You did it! Whether you slayed your draft as part of NaNoWriMo or in your own free time, you have in front of you a fully formed draft of your novel.
No longer is the vision of your novel a fantasy thriving within the corners of your mind. Nor is it compressed into the bones of an outline that you thought you’d just “eventually” get around to fleshing out.
You did it. You wrote it out. And while you should definitely do a celebratory little dance and even treat yourself to your favorite meal, don’t book yourself a one-way ticket on the hype train just yet. While you may be done with your novel, that novel is certainly not done with you.
Two days ago, I caught up with a good friend of mine and we discussed how NaNoWriMo 2020 went for both of us. He told me how he’d struggled to meet the word count requirements because the very nature of his novel flowed a different way and word count, in itself, was not the focal point. We talked about what victory meant to each of us and how several writers we know sometimes believe the completion of the first draft equates to their novel being on publishing-ready.
But here’s the zinger: writing that first draft is the easy part. What comes after is the real challenge.
You have to prepare yourself to put your manuscript under the microscope. Get ready to write a second, third, maybe even a fourth draft if the need arises; because plot holes, character discrepancies and other flaws you didn’t notice while writing the first draft may become more clear to you through the editing process. Battling self-doubt and your demons is also a very real struggle as you immerse yourself in your editing work.
With your adrenaline buzzing from the completion of your first draft, you might be all fired up to get started on the next step and strive hard to close that gap between you and your dream of being a published author.
But here’s my advice: don’t cave. That’s right; put your pen down or get your keyboard out of sight and take a break from your manuscript.
You’ve been so connected to your story throughout the process of creating that draft that rushing into self-editing would be unwise. Why? To put it plainly, you’d be biased. Putting aside that draft can help you eliminate that.
When you start editing, you don’t want to be viewing your manuscript through a rose-filtered lens. Chances are, you’ll miss out on the areas that need improvement because you’re still caught up in the excited flow of having written and finished your first draft.
Instead, come back to your manuscript after at least a week’s break with a fresh perspective and renewed energy to tackle the editing round. In the time you set your draft aside, it will breathe.
Don’t imagine: your characters frozen in place, aching for the spotlight to come back on them so they can be revived. Instead, picture them all chilling at the beach with the whole shebang; shades, coolers and towel spreads on the sand. “Finally!” your villain would go, patting your protagonist on the back.”I can take a break from wanting to end you.”
Let them have their space. Trust me, they’ve earned it too.
How long should you let this draft-cation last? That’s totally up to you but you’d want to balance the time it takes to refresh your mind while still maintaining that fiery energy and passion to come back to it. For me, this is usually a week to two weeks for a 50k word novel. Others take a month, or even more, but to each their own.
Remember that taking a break from your novel does not equate to you taking a break from being creative.
There are other ways you can keep your creative juices flowing on the side. For example, you could indulge in reading more genre-fiction so that when you come back to your novel, you have a wider angle and perspective to tackle editing from. Maybe there’s another project you could work on, a short story or novella; another world and characters to get captivated by.
All the while, your draft will breathe and so will you. It’s like that age old phrase.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
So, take a break from that draft you just completed. Trust me, when you choose to return to it, your characters will welcome you with open arms and you will be that much more prepared to do ’em justice.