I Completed My Draft. What Now?

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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.

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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.

The End: On Novel Writing – The Lone Writer: Shannon Yarbrough

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Post NaNo Contemplations

Road Surrounded by Green Trees

“It’s good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey in the end that matters.”

I crossed the 50k word count for NaNo on the 26th, but it was into the beginning of the 30th that I truly accomplished my goal.

This NaNo, I aimed to complete the rewrite and creation of my final draft for my novel The Closer. At the beginning of this year, I had written and edited my fifth draft and believed that one would be the last. I was pumped to get it professionally edited, polished, and start querying agents – my first foray into the traditional publishing world.

Things took an ugly turn when the first editor I hired ended up being a fraud and scamming me $1000. My entire timeline for the novel disintegrated as what followed was months worth of stress, strife, and conflict. The conflict wasn’t just with the editor in question; a lot of it was internalized.

There was a lot of love lost between me and the novel itself. By the time I picked myself up from the harrowing incident with the editor, I was drained and had little motivation to rework the draft on my own.

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This NaNo changed all that.

After seven months, I returned to my book. Equipped with constructive critique from beta readers, I decided that I’d use NaNo 2020 as an opportunity to work on finalizing the draft, rewriting and changing up some major plot elements and, all in all, perfecting the draft on my own.

What did I learn in the process? Perfection doesn’t exist.

It was halfway through the month that I realized the draft I was working now, the one I so hoped would be the last, is far from finished. As I ruthlessly killed my darlings and rewrote several chapters, I identified other loopholes in this new plot; things that will merit another round of editing after NaNo.

This time, I didn’t stress over the realization. Sure, my timeline for querying agents and potential publication is severely delayed following the editor mishap and other events but…maybe that was for the best.

Through every round of self-editing and rewriting, I haven’t just been refining the novel and honing my craft; I’ve also been learning a lot more about myself. Over the past five years, I’ve grown as a person. The 18-year old that penned the first draft of The Closer had a very different understanding of love, a very different relationship with the novel and its characters than the 23-year old woman I am today.

The story in itself has matured alongside the woman that wrote it. I reflected upon that while working this draft.

Some novels require just three or four edits; others might require hundreds. But what counts is that, no matter what stage it’s at, you pour your love and passion into your work.

I completed the draft yesterday – having managed to successfully reduce the manuscript length from 138k words to 98k. It’s still far from complete but I took a moment to celebrate my success.

While the journey has been a long one and there is still no definite end that I can make out ahead of me, I’ve learned to take things in stride and cherish everything I’ve learned throughout it.

The novel’s vision evolved a great deal, and so has mine. Rather than fret about how much closer I am to The End, I’m going to take a pit-stop and give the manuscript a few days to breathe.

My journey is far from over but now, it’s time I treat myself to a well-deserved break.

Victory Is Mine, 2020!

When I won NaNoWriMo 2020, I didn’t even notice it.

I was banging away at the keyboard, determined to finish the chapter I was in the process of writing. Caught up in the emotional turmoil of my characters and the Winter Wonderland setting of my scene, I lost track of the word count.

Earlier this week, I thought it would be a miracle for me to complete NaNo on time as my daily word count wasn’t as impressive as I’d hoped for it to be. I figured I’d do the bare minimum and just inch my way over the finish line on the 30th.

But somehow, at some point, I got sucked into the world of my novel, The Closer. Abandoning my self-doubt and hesitation in a pursuit to write “the perfect final draft”, I fully invested myself into the mere act of writing and allowed my characters to breathe freely.

What followed was a huge jump in my daily word count and next thing I knew, I was right up at the finish line.

While taking a break to hydrate and stretch out my arms, I glanced over at the clock. The time read 11:57 P.M.

“Welp! Time to update that word count!” I thought and raced to the NaNoWriMo site, quickly inputting my current session’s count. The page refreshed and I was looking at this:

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I stared at the screen, slack-jawed. How…what…when?

The notification popped up at the top right corner of the screen and before I knew it, I was watching the NaNoWriMo 2020 victory video play out, still in a state of shock that I’d actually done it.

This year has been challenging on many counts and this month, especially so. Finding the will to write again, reigniting my passion for a manuscript I’ve been working on over five years and taking more serious steps toward fulfilling my literary goals is what this NaNoWriMo’s been about.

The 50k for me doesn’t just symbolize the sweat and tears I’ve poured into writing this past month, but all my life. To pick myself up from the ground and keep believing in my writing, in my resilience to make a goal and stick to it; that’s what I’m proud of.

I still have a long way to go before I accomplish the goals I’ve set for my writing career. But it’s important to take a moment to recognize and celebrate these milestones along the way.

Thank you NaNoWriMo 2020 for giving me the opportunity to renew my passion in writing again. I will take this victory in stride and pave the way for greater ones.

Reaching the Mid-Way Point

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We are three short days away from the mid-way point to this year’s NaNoWriMo!

To my immense relief, I managed to make up for Week 1’s slow writing and reached the mid-point to my novel yesterday.

At some points, I push through the writing even when I don’t feel like it. Some scenes come out clunky and very “mechanical” in ways. Others flow easy and in an effortless manner. But what matters is to keep writing anyway.

The challenge for me this time around has been suppressing my urge to edit compulsively.

I reread the chapter or scenes I wrote the day before and inevitably end up making a large number of changes – some that are minor fixes and inconsequential to the plot, others that end up impacting other linked scenes and require future rework.

Quite a bit of my word count has been repeated edits and scenes cut out, restructured, rewritten, and recycled all over again. While this is by no means a bad thing, it certainly does make that final destination seem that much farther away.

I expect that even after November 30 comes around, this cycle of self-editing and rewriting won’t end. While I fully intended for this draft to be the final one for my novel, I’ve made my peace with the fact that there is no hard cap on how many drafts to write.

What matters is having fun with it – with every stage, whether it be that first draft fresh out of the creativity press of your mind, or if it’s the repeated editing and rewriting toward the end of your novel’s journey.

With that in mind and spirits high, I’ll sign off this quick blog post with happy vibes and wishes for all the other Wrimos out there. We’re tackling that word count and just days away from grabbing that first 25k!

Stay inspired and keep writing folks!

Gearing Up

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It’s time to pull an Arnold.

As I wrote in my previous post, Week 1 of NaNoWriMo was largely a bust. There should be badges on the NaNoWriMo site for “no-writing-done streaks” because I think I’m running into three-days now.  

Not to say I didn’t get any writing done. I’m at 11k words and only 1.6k behind where I should be at this point but my writing came in spurts, fuelled by intense days of creativity and then unproductive follow-ups. 

But as I sit here on my bed and stare dramatically off into my future (and by that, I mean stupidly fixating on a spot on the wall), I can foretell that the remainder of this month will not pass in a similar fashion.

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I will not allow it to.

I’ve been dragging my feet writing-wise. This isn’t something I can even attribute to just NaNoWriMo but over all. The year’s been rough and my literary motivations have been at an all-time low. I intended to use the 50,000 word writing challenge to my advantage and kick myself back into shape. I had the drive and every intention to do just that, but then work picked up. 

I’ve used this Sunday to rest and recharge, read some books for inspiration and get myself in the zone again. I read my first Danielle Steele novel, a book by the name of “Palomino”, revisited one of my all-time favorites “Pride and Prejudice”, and have now moved onto Nick Hornby’s “How To Be Good Again”. Consuming art gets me all fired up to create more of my own, so it’s a good way to gear up for the rest of November.

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Starting tomorrow, the write-off will begin. As focused as I am on getting to that 50k word count, this is probably the one year where I’m not making that my primary target. I simply want to write every day and find my groove again for creating on a regular basis. 

The last three weeks of November will be a celebration of words, one I hope will never end. 

Turning Down the Pressure

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Is it just me or has this week been passing by at a snail’s pace?

For our friends in the Northern Hemisphere, the impending results of the US election have been stirring up a lot of tension and unrest. Of course, these turbulent emotions aren’t just felt by Americans but people all around the globe.

A few Wrimos I spoke to have been too anxious to write. Others have been using the opportunity to NaNo as a getaway – a temporary reprieve, of sorts – from the nerves.

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For me, this week had a particularly challenging start. Earlier during Preptober, I drew a resolution to avoid late-night writing sessions. And I have been sticking to my decision, as best I can, but this has led to both Day 4 and Day 6 being writing-free.

Regarding word count, I have nothing to worry about. I’ve written almost 11,100 words so far, putting me above the word count required for this stage.

When I do sit down to write, I tend to burn ahead of the daily word count requirement of 1667 words, so I am certainly ‘safe’. Thankfully, all the time I spent outlining and planning ahead during Preptober worked in my favor. Even on the days when I’m feeling completely uninspired, I have something to help guide me write my scenes – a roadmap, if you will.

But this may not be the case for all writers, or for you!

Writing during a time when you’re stressed due to the political climate, work or even personal affairs is tough.

On Day 3, I couldn’t bring myself to write as much as I wanted to and ended my day with just 1000 words, all of which, I ended up scrapping the next day.

Does that make it any less valuable? Any less ‘worthy’ for NaNo? Certainly not!

Not just this week, this entire year has been a roller-coaster ride for everyone. Cut yourself some slack if you’re not able to write as much certain days, or aren’t pleased with your results. I’ve been stressing this throughout Preptober and NaNo so far, but your creative health is fuelled by keeping your mental and physical health top-form.

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I had this one neat little trick I used in a previous NaNo when life had given me a doozy and writing was a particular challenge.

Some days, if I couldn’t find the drive to write my story, I channeled the block from my emotional energy into, what I like to call, creative journaling.

I would write myself into the story and the world I created. My characters became my go-to guidance counselors. They would listen as I vented about my anxieties. Sometimes, we’d go on adventures completely irrelevant to the plot and yet, an exercise that would help me get to know them better while simultaneously getting a load off my chest.

I have at least 10,000 words written from one NaNo with scenes completely revolving around character building and self-therapy.

Did I use these in my the final manuscript? No. But did it help me get back on my feet and write the story later in a stress-free and liberating manner? Did it help me further, not just my novel, but my creative health over all? Yes, it very much did.

You might wonder: “can I count these creative journaling exercises as part of my word count?” I say yes.

There are certainly no ‘hard’ rules as to what qualifies as part of your word count or not in NaNo. But I think if you’re writing anything that’s helping you build the vision you have for your novel, it should be included! Especially at times like these when life seems crazy.

Are we tired or are we triggered?

So if you, like me, are having a rough first week of NaNo and you’re beating yourself up about it: don’t. If you lost your writing streak because you needed time to regain your footing, that’s a commendable decision. Because you’re putting your creative health first and not succumbing to unnecessary pressure to deliver words.

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As much as NaNo is about the word count, it should never translate to pressure.

Write, have fun and make the most of every day of this month, even the ones you choose to spend on yourself.

A Slip in the Momentum

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 “I’m not sick!! I don’t get sick! Getting sick is for weaklings and for pansies!”
Monica from F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

I lie in bed with my head propped up, like a meerkat peeking out of its hole, and the laptop precariously balanced on my thighs as I type out this blog post with tired eyes.

Last night I went to bed after writing 1000 unsatisfactory words, with the resolve to wake up early this morning and aim for an ambitious word count of 3-4k words for the day. Unfortunately, the universe had other plans.

Plagued with a bad stomach ache and a restless night of sleep, I ended up unable to get out of bed until noon following which I spent a majority of the day working from the comfort of my blanketed fortress with the threat of a fever looming over my body.

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Much to my disappointment, this is how I’ve spent all of Day 4 of NaNoWriMo. Even Day 3’s progress wasn’t as I’d hoped it to be, due to work commitments.

In any case, I won’t let the slowdown from my initial momentum dash my hopes of winning NaNo and completing my novel. With 26 days left, I have a whole lot of time to catch up.

Besides, I’ve done NaNo’s before where I started over a week late and still made it! I’m using the memory of those victories to keep myself going for this year’s.

At the end of the day, unless you’re of able body and mind, you won’t be able to write anything even if you have all the passion to do it in the world. So, make your physical and mental health a priority during this month (and always)!

The last thing you want to be is contained to your bed with a stomach bug when you have a beautiful story unfolding in your head, just itching to be written out.

Initial Writing Excitement

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“Write, write, write.”

Thank the heavens that NaNoWriMo 2020 kicked off on a Sunday.

More often than not, I end up working Sundays as well but apart from an hour’s worth of work on a client project, I had nearly all day free yesterday.

It wasn’t a smooth-sailing start, I’ll admit. My original plan had been to wake up early in the morning and get to writing after a relaxing yoga session. But I ended up sleeping over my 7:00 alarm (the one time it ever happened this year!) and bolted out of bed at 10:30, bewildered.

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This was not the kick-off to November 1st I had planned but a part of me was glad to have caught up on some quality sleep. Perhaps, that was a blessing in disguise too, cause when I finally sat down to get some writing done, I absolutely could not stop.

It was like the drive I had been searching for several months poured itself into that one moment. My fingers flew across the keyboard and words, scenes, and my characters materialized on the screen in front of me.

Granted, most of what I wrote was absolute rubbish and won’t be worked into the final draft. A lot of it was more for me to get familiar with my story again than for the end reader. But it felt exhilarating, therapeutic even.

Time passed but my motivation grew. I kept writing till my wrists ached for release. I’d treat myself to a quick 15-minute break then jump back into it. In the middle, when some family commitments popped up that called for time away from my screen, I kept writing on my phone.

How some authors have penned their novels entirely on their mobile devices is beyond me because for me, it was a true test of patience. The number of typos and incorrect AutoCorrect fixes took up more of my time than the actual writing. But it didn’t matter – as long as I was still writing.

I sat back when I got to a scene that left me excited to pick up from on Day 2. Glancing at my word count made my eyes boggle.

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I was way ahead of my daily word count target. I even had a word count buffer in case I chose not to write a day. It definitely comes in handy for when duty calls!

But excess word count is not a safety net I want to rely on. Despite how busy things get over the coming week, be it work projects or family affairs, I’m going to try my best to clock in those 1700 words a day.

Sudden bursts of productivity like yesterday’s are awesome but I’m aiming more for overall consistency than excitement-fuelled blocks of writing.

Here’s to hoping I make it!

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T-minus 4 Hours Till the Big Start!

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From my quaint little house in Madurai, India, I occasionally glance over at the clock and sit lazily in my living room, aimlessly scrolling through my Twitter feed while keeping an eye on the IPL cricket match on the TV screen.

In the back of my mind, a countdown runs: four hours left until the start of NaNoWriMo 2020, and what have I done today to prepare for it?

Absolutely nothing.

Now, normally, I’d view this as a ‘failure to be productive’ but today, I needed the NaNo-free space to prepare myself for the big month ahead.

Tomorrow will mark the first day of a big adventure for me. Every day for the next month is going to be a creative marathon and taking some time off to mentally prepare has been a great decision.

Instead, I worked hard today and got ahead on some work projects in order to free up a block of time tomorrow to write without interruption. On Day 1 of NaNoWriMo, I aspire to start strong (and hopefully, finish strong too!)

A couple Wrimos I know from India are just waiting for midnight to strike to get to writing. And while this used to be my routine in previous years, I plan to have a good night’s rest and rise early in the morning to get a head start.

In the mean time, I’m going to order in some soul food and pop on a horror movie or unsettling documentary; maybe even re-watch a favorite like The Haunting of Hillhouse in celebration of Halloween.

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The last four hours of this month will be a Preptober free zone. Tomorrow, the game begins.

It’s the Final Countdown

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Keep calm. The countdown has begun.

It’s the end of October. Halloween is days away and I’ve seen buzz on the Internet on how people plan to celebrate in style during this pandemic-ridden year. But a lot of us wait with bated breath for what comes the next day: the official start to NaNoWriMo.

Yesterday, I sat down and dedicated four hours of my time to do some writing.

It started off with a couple creative writing exercises, you know, like a warm-up. After forty-five minutes, I decided to take a crack at re-writing the first chapter to my novel (this year’s NaNo being a rewrite + edit project to create the final draft for my manuscript.)

For months, I’d been staring at my printed manuscript with weary eyes. The pages are colored with red, green, and black – critical notes, grammatical edits, and rewrite suggestions take up every corner of the pristine white sheets.

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I’ve spent this Preptober plotting , researching, and mapping out a detailed outline for the final draft. With my goal being to cut down on 40k words from the previous draft and get the manuscript to an ‘acceptable word count,’ I’ve also had to majorly change up the plot and characters.

While excited, a sense of fear had also lodged itself into my heart every time I looked at the manuscript on my desk. It’s five years of my work and my dreams defined by printed ink on loose sheets of paper. And now, I was going to rework it one, last time.

After an editor I hired scammed me, I needed a break from writing that novel. I looked for alternatives, got a group of beta-readers together, and earned valuable feedback and criticism from them. I got all of these notes together months ago but I couldn’t bring myself to actually work on implementing the changes.

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There was a block. Call it stress, call it fear or insecurity, but it was there and it built over the months following the editor incident.

Yesterday, that block lifted.

I found myself reaching for that manuscript, not with shaky hands but determination. I started to flick through the first chapter and get overwhelmed again by all the colors on that page. The moment trepidation set in, I put the manuscript aside. What I needed was a fresh start.

Opening a blank Word doc, I simply started to write. With no prerequisites, no looming thought of “will this be good enough?” on the back of my mind.

3.5 hours later (with hot chocolate and stretch breaks sprinkled in between), I sat back and stared at the twelve pages I had written. Twelve pages that spanned the first chapter and the second for my final draft, and upcoming NaNo project.

I hadn’t even noticed the time go by, completely exhilarated by the experience of reconnecting with the characters I’d created 5 years ago and discovering them in new ways that delighted me.

It felt like coming home.

That is what I aspire to feel this NaNoWriMo. Not a pressure to perform or deliver the perfect final draft (perfect doesn’t exist!) But the unbridled joy and sense of belonging I can create for myself through my words and my stories.

NaNoWriMo 2020?
I am going to conquer you.

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