National Novel Writing Month is once again behind us, and what a November it was. 2020 has been a year of pandemic, quarantine, politics, stress, and a host of other complications and catastrophes on top of the usual stuff. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who even attempted NaNo this year deserves to celebrate. And to those who succeeded in making the 50,000-word goal: if you can do it now, this year, of all years, you can do it anytime! I hope you feel heartened and emboldened and proud, even if you’re also emotionally hung over and empty and deflated.
If you’re feeling a little adrift, or full of energy without a sense of how to use it, here are some thoughts on what you can do next. All of them are optional, so please consider what is best for you and what aligns with your own goals and life circumstances.
First, take a moment to acknowledge your own awesomeness. Whether you “won” or not, you made a commitment to a big project, and that’s no small feat. Celebrate officially with your region if you want the company, or celebrate privately by yourself, or with friends and family… Do whatever feels fun to you. Consider giving yourself a treat or reward, whether it be something tangible–a present, a baked good–or something intangible, like time to relax with the books you’ve been waiting to read, or the shows or movies you were avoiding to focus on writing. No matter what you choose, make sure you frame it as a reward for a job well done.
Catch Up On Life
You’ve probably been letting things slide in order to have time to write so many words every day–if not, I salute you! But now that you can take it a little easier, you may want to figure out what you need to catch up on, what you may have missed that needs your time and attention now that you have more to go around. This can also include reconnecting (safely) with people you’ve had to step away from, be they friends and family or professional colleagues or peers in other social circles.
Especially if you have a demanding job or home life, squeezing in the writing of a whole novel in your spare time has probably left you tired, physically and emotionally. So take a breather. Let the fields of your mind go fallow so the soil can recover. Have a spa day at home. Go to bed early or sleep in late. Do whatever activities are calming and peaceful for you, if you’re not one who finds complete stillness relaxing. Take it easy and recharge your batteries for as long as you need.
Refill the Well
If your imagination or creative reservoir feel like they’ve run dry, now’s the time to replenish them. Every person does this differently, and you know yourself best, so do whatever works for you. This might include reading, watching TV or movies, playing video games, painting, going for nature walks, hanging out (safely) with friends, taking classes (writing or other stuff), exploring museums virtually… Do anything that helps you rekindle the spark inside you, and maybe find some new ideas along the way for this project or your next one.
Finish the Novel
If you’re like me, 50,000 words wasn’t enough to actually reach the end of the story. So if you’ve already celebrated and rested, or if resting isn’t something you’d enjoy or find useful, you can keep writing. You don’t have to maintain the same pace, though you can if you’d like. If you have a target word count, you can figure out how much you have left, then come up with daily word goals and see how long it will take to finish at that pace. Or if you have a deadline, you can calculate how much you need to write per day to finish on time and go for it. If you have neither of those things, you can still pick a daily, weekly, or even monthly goal that feels comfortable to you–perhaps focusing on time spent working rather than on output.
Write Something Else
If you don’t want to stop writing, whether it be to maintain the habit you’ve developed or because your creative stream is still flowing smoothly, you could start working on a new project. This can be another novel, or short fiction, or poetry, even essays or fanfic or game writing–whatever you want! Remember, too, that the writing process isn’t just about getting words on the page; it also includes research, brainstorming, daydreaming, plotting, and all the other work of accumulating the odds and ends that will eventually become a coherent story.
I personally don’t recommend diving into this part immediately, if you can help it; getting some distance from what you’ve written can be essential to viewing it with an appropriately critical eye so you can edit it well. That means waiting at least a few weeks, maybe even a few months, before you jump back in. But that’s not always an option, and maybe you’ve been taking notes as you go and want to apply them now while they’re still fresh in your memory. So dive in! Editing can be grueling work, but it can also be deeply satisfying, just like writing itself.
Find Alpha or Beta Readers
Not everyone writes something with the intention of letting others read it, but many of us do. If you haven’t finished writing your novel, or if you’ve lost your drive and need a boost, an alpha reader may be able to help. Alpha readers are people who can read your book and tell you all the good stuff about it, who can cheer you on and encourage you to keep writing or start editing. If you’ve already revised your book to the point that you can’t think of any ways to polish it further, you may be ready for beta readers. They’ll be more critical, in a constructive way, reading with the intent to give you feedback about what they think is or isn’t working and possibly what they think you can do to fix it. (You don’t have to take their suggestions, though!) Keep in mind that both alpha and beta readers are to be cherished, and you should reciprocate if possible; they’re giving you a big gift of their time and energy, and that has enormous value.
If you want to have your work critiqued, you could join a workshop or writing group where your peers can read your story and offer feedback in a more structured way. Some workshops are led by an instructor or facilitator with training or experience in how to guide this process, while some are simply composed of like-minded writers coming together to help each other. These can be in-person or online, free or paid, and their formats and approaches can vary. You may only be able to have a certain number of pages critiqued at a time, or even only a few chapters total depending on the length of the workshop. You will also be expected to critique other people’s work, which is not only an awesome way to help them, it’s a great way to learn how to edit your own writing better. As with beta readers, I think the best way to approach this option is to edit on your own first, and then start working with others when you’re out of ideas for how to improve things yourself.
Depending on your goals, you may want to post your book online somewhere or print copies so other people can enjoy it–after you’ve revised it, hopefully, but that’s up to you. Keep in mind that this option is only if you do NOT intend to pursue traditional publishing (sharing privately with your friends is fine either way). If you aren’t planning to go the querying route, though, you could put chapters up on your own website or blog, or on a site like Wattpad. If it’s fanfic, you could go for Archive of Our Own or Fanfiction.net. You can then share the link on social media and invite others to take a look. You could also print copies to pass around to people who are interested, or even just for yourself, as proof that you wrote it!
If you want to publish your book and have full control over all aspects of the publishing process, and you have the skills to do everything yourself–or the money to hire people to do some things for you–then you can take the indie publishing route. This means you act as both author and publisher, so you not only write the novel, you also edit it, proofread it, lay out the pages, design the cover, produce the e-book, post it to online stores, order your own print copies, market it, and all the other stuff a publisher normally does. You can also pay professionals to do any of those tasks, or find a reputable company that will do all of it for you. (The key word there is “reputable”; there are plenty of scammers out there.) It can be a lot of work, but many indie authors love doing it because it gives them a freedom and creative control they might not have if they go the traditional route.
If you want to be traditionally published, there aren’t many ways to do that without getting an agent. An agent helps you polish your manuscript–after you’ve thoroughly edited it yourself first–then works to sell it to editors at publishing houses. They negotiate the contract, which includes working with someone well-versed in legalese to make sure the terms are reasonable. They help make sure you get paid on time and in full. They’re your ally, your advocate and sometimes even your coach or defender. To find a reputable agent, you can use resources like Query Tracker or Manuscript Wish List, or you can find out who represents authors you enjoy whose work is similar to yours. Make a list of agents, as many as you’d like, and do your research to be sure they’ll be a good fit for your manuscript–and your personality. Search for their names on Writer Beware or do a broader internet search to see whether there are warnings floating around about them. After that, you write a query letter, which typically contains information about you and your book. Each agent tends to have specific requirements for what they want to see, so research those and make sure you’re following instructions. Send the query out to the agents you’d like to work with, and then wait and hope for the best!
It’s okay to write a novel, or part of one, and never want to see it again or show it to anyone else. No writing is ever wasted; if you enjoyed the process, or you learned something from doing it, or you don’t think it’s worth committing more time to this particular project, or if for any of many other reasons you just don’t want to pursue it any further, that’s fine. It’s your life and your story, so you can do whatever you like with it, guilt-free. I’m not trying to persuade you to give up on your dreams, though, or insinuate that you don’t deserve to choose one of the other options I laid out, or that your work doesn’t have value. Even if right now you feel like you don’t ever want to revisit this project, you can always change your mind later, and that’s okay, too! You need to do what’s best for you, whatever that may be.
Once again, to everyone who participated in NaNo this year, hearty congratulations and major kudos. I hope you found joy in the process, and I wish you the very best of luck with whatever it is you decide to do next!