What to Do With Your Nanowrimo Novel (an 8 step guide to taming that mess)

It’s approaching mid-February and the heady thrill that was November and Nanowrimo seems like a hundred years ago now.

Maybe you’ve still been tinkering away at your novel at a much slower pace.

Maybe you stopped writing on November 30 and never thought of any of it again (and don’t ever want to).

Maybe your project is sitting there, waiting to be turned into a novel. Perhaps that was your New Years’ resolution?

This is a post for the writer who actually wants to do something with their Nanowrimo project, to actually turn it into a novel, and not a tangled pile of words… so, so, so many words.

So, take a breath.

Let’s tame that messy word pile.

editing a first draft

An 8 Step Guide for Taming a

NaNoWriMo Mess

1. Understand It’s Not A Novel. Yet.

(be warned, skipping this step might result in disillusionment, overwhelming disappointment and misery)

Before you go back and look at the wordy mess you made in November, remember this critical fact:

National Novel Writing Month is, in fact, a misnomer. And not just because it is an international event.

No one can write a novel in a month.

At the end of Nanowrimo, you have not written a novel.  No one has.

At the end of Nanowrimo, you have started writing a novel, the most important part of the process, the hardest part of the process.

You have written the first, very likely very messy draft of a novel. Or at least, part of it.

Let your messy pile of words be a messy pile of words. Stop projecting the sense that it is meant to be a “novel” onto it. It is what it is… a messy pile of words you’re about to shape into a novel.

Trust me, keeping this in mind makes the whole process far less daunting and straight away eliminates any doubt that your November project is worth anything.

2. Finish It

Have you written to the end of your idea? If not, it’s time to finish that first draft. If you have finished, skip to step 4.

I’m not looking to put you under more stress, but it might be the best thing to continue writing your novel until the end with the same fast-paced fervour that you used back in November.  It’s not necessary, but it’s more likely to ensure a consistency of style and tone throughout the draft.

3. Do Something Else

This doesn’t apply to anyone who had already written to the end of the idea before now.

If you’ve only just gone through Step 2, it’s time to leave it alone for a bit.

Once you’re at the end of the idea and have something vaguely resembling a start, middle and end, do nothing.

Do something totally unrelated to your novel. Write a different story. Talk to your family and friends (gasp!). Focus on your day job. Let your story rest. Simmer. Ripen.

Writing messy first drafts is a trusted method for novelists the world over. True Story.Click To Tweet

4. Read It.

When you’re sufficiently rested, take your manuscript and read it.

Print it out if you like.

Read it like you would read any other novel, beginning to end.

Don’t edit it.

Here, you’re familiarising yourself with the ideas, the world you created and the good intentions you had for the story that the messy word pile might not have captured yet.

5. Note What Works, What Doesn’t

Somewhere in that pile of words, there are bits of a story that worked. Find them, note them. What do you like? What isn’t working?

When looking at what you don’t like, ignore your general writing style. Voice can be edited in later. Look at the idea, the plot, the characters, the structure.

6. Outline Your Novel

Outline when you’ve already written the first draft?


You’ve remembered your idea, you’ve gone through and highlighted all of the stuff you like. Now it’s time to fit that into a story structure.

There are about eight trillion methods of structuring a story, and you’ll only be able to use the one that fits with the way your brain works and the style of book you’re writing. How to choose one? Read a few books, try a few methods. I’m a particular fan of the Take off Your Pants outline approach which is closely related to the Hero’s Journey. Other writers I know are in love with the snowflake method, but I’ve never been able to get my head around it.

7. Write the Missing Bits

In fitting that mess into a structure, you’ll likely find places where you need to write more stuff. Flesh out the plot, move characters around, introduce new characters, introduce characters in different ways.

I don’t recommend writing these with the furious fast pace of NaNoWriMo, as you’re trying to engineer a story here and that can take a little more time. If you do love the fast paced word splat approach, be prepared to do a little more editing, revisiting the above steps with your new content.

writing the first draft

8. Start Editing

This is the real process of writing a novel, and fair warning, it’s likely going to take you more than a month.

Reshuffle the plot, remove the characters, merge other characters, change settings, enhance description. If in doubt, cut it out.  Keep going until the end. And then do it all again. And again. And again.

So that’s it. Simple, right?

Right? Sigh. You can do this! Writing fun and messy first drafts is a trusted method of writing for novelists the world over.

Take heart, wrimos. Your mess of words will become a novel.

Congratulations again on winning Nanowrimo. Now, go and write a real novel.


Kate Krake
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Kate Krake

Kate Krake writes speculative fiction and non-fiction. She is the author of the urban fantasy series Guessing Tales. Kate blogs about popular culture, health, wellness and creative writing. She lives in Brisbane, Australia with her husband, daughter and two beagles. Find out more on www.katekrake.com.
Kate Krake
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