Written by Elaine K. Phillips
Congratulations, NaNoWriMo zombies! You’ve made it to December more—or less—alive.
Alas, you don’t get to decompose just yet. You’ve brought 50,000 words of nonsensical, frenetic beauty into this world and you can’t abandon them to rot on your hard drive. Whether you’re happy with or horrified by what you’ve created, you’ll need all your wits about you to finish it.
At present, however, you’ve a distinct lack of wits. To prevent burnout and facilitate a clear perspective on your work, you need a post-NaNoWriMo break. But don’t just stop writing; you’ve spent the last month building habits you’ll need to finish your novel. With a strategic three-week break, you can both reboot your brain and retain your writing habits.
Week One: Revive
- Sleep. Go. Now.
- Slow down. Keep writing at your most productive time, but only for 30 to 40 minutes—just enough to retain your writing muscle memory.
- Change it up. Write something completely different, whether creative nonfiction, poetry, or a short story.
- Read. Post NaNoWriMo, your wordsmithy is out of fuel. So take this week to devour the best fiction you can find, selecting titles based on your novel’s genre and problem points. If prose, try Margaret Atwood, Raymond Chandler, or Jumpha Lahiri; if plot, John le Carre, Michael Crichton, or Elizabeth Peters; if character development, Hilary Mantel or Evelyn Waugh. Both enjoy and observe, analyzing how the story works and considering what strategies you could repurpose for your own. But don’t let yourself get intimidated. There’s a big difference in time and skill between a first draft and an agent-ready manuscript, and again between a final manuscript and a published novel.
Week Two: Rethink
- Keep up the turtle pace. Write for 30 to 40 minutes a day. No mas.
- Review your novel and its outline. Scary, but necessary. First, read your outline to remind yourself what’s supposed to happen. Second, skim your 50,000 words, focusing on major character and plot developments and ignoring your prose. Where your draft diverges from your outline, discern why. If you lost the plot thread whilst writing, worry about fixing your draft later; if you came up with something better whilst writing, reanalyze your outline. How will the changes you made impact the overall character, thematic, and plot development? Once you’ve teased out these long-term implications, adjust your outline accordingly.
- Build a story bible. If you write fantasy or have a background in film, you might already have a story bible—a document that contains every factual detail about your characters and their world, which saves time and promotes consistency whilst writing. Given the wild extemporizing innate to NaNoWriMo, early December is the perfect time to build, update, or systematize your story bible. Sift through your draft, ignoring things you’ll change later, and fill an Excel file with the keepers: character and place names, key dates, fictional organizations and their acronyms, and so on.
Week Three: Restart
- Swap the tortoise for the hare. Increase your writing time by 15 or 30 minutes—not to NaNoWriMo levels, but to an amount that you could realistically maintain for years: perhaps an hour before work or over your lunch break; whatever works for you.
The Rest of Your Life
- Just. Keep. Writing. If you do nothing else post-NaNoWriMo, do this. And never stop.
Want to read more? Check out “How to Evade Procrastination and Finish Well,” or “Lessons in Perseverance from a Dissertation-Drained Writer.”
Elaine K. Phillips recently completed her M.A. in Publishing at Oxford Brookes University, having penned her dissertation on transmedia storytelling’s impact on fiction publishers. From lowly digital intern to lead magazine editor, Elaine has held diverse positions across the British and American publishing industries, but her greater passion is crafting thought-provoking adventure tales. She finished her first (bad, bad, bad) science-fiction novel at eleven and is currently writing an alternate history sci-fi novel about Henry VI. She’s obsessed with digital media theory, children’s media, and coffee, and would love to discuss any of the above with you on Twitter. Learn more about Elaine through her LinkedIn profile.