National Novel Writing Month (November) has ended and now there are people all over the world asking, "Now what? I wrote a whole book. What do I do next?"
Well, first, CELEBRATE!!! Finishing a book is a huge accomplishment. The saying goes that everyone has a book in them. That may be true, but not everyone wants to write a book. Of the millions of people who do want to write one, only a fraction actually start. And of those who start, only a small fraction actually finish. So you are basically one in a million! Or, at least, one in a hundred-thousand or so. Either way... Congratulations! Do a happy dance, have a few drinks, take a day or two to relax and say, "I did it."
Then it's time to get back to work. At least, if you have any desire at all of possibly pursuing publication. When I finished my very first draft of my very first book, I wasn't so sure about the publication thing. I didn't even know if I had something anyone but me would actually enjoy. I wrote that book solely for my pleasure, and the thought of sharing it with anyone was absolutely horrifying - worse than going into public naked. That was my very soul in those 180,000 words.
Yes, you read that right. I don't have a typo there. My first draft of my first book was a little over 180,000 words. That's basically the equivalent of two normal-length books. I didn't know that at the time. But I learned. And I revised and edited and revised and edited some more. Eventually, I realized it was two books, so I split and rewrote endings and beginnings and revised and edited some more. I (eventually) shared the new versions along the way. My poor business partner who became my publisher read about twenty versions of Promise and Purpose before they were ever ready for publication.
My point? You finished a book, but that doesn't mean it's time to hit the submit or publish button. I don't care who you are or if this is your first or thirty-first book. A first draft is also known as a rough draft for a reason - it's bumpy and choppy, jostling the reader about with its plot holes, lack of smooth transitions and sharp turns that make no sense. The writing is ugly and coarse, except for maybe a few gems that will probably need to be deleted anyway because they do nothing for the story (we call this killing your darlings).
Your book needs work. Lots of it. This is especially true after NaNo or any other time we shut down our inner editor and write with abandon.
I knew this when I finished my first whopper of a draft, if only because while I'd been writing it, more ideas had come to me that I wanted to go back in and add or change. But before I decided just how much more work I wanted to put into it, I needed to know if it would be worth it. I needed some validation. So when a couple of important people in my life wanted to see what I'd been so obsessed with for the previous six weeks, I sucked in a deep breath and tried not to puke when I handed my soul, er, I mean, manuscript over.
They liked it. They had some ideas. They asked questions that made me think and generate more ideas. I couldn't not work on it. I became a little braver and let more friends read the revised version (still one book, though), and this process continued for 18 months. That's right - I wrote the first draft of 180k in 6 weeks, but it was another year-and-a-half before Promise was ready to be published.
Finishing a first draft with a beginning, a middle and an end is a huge accomplishment, and for some, that's enough. They can cross that goal off their bucket list and move onto something new. But I think for most of us, the writing bug bites hard, and we can't just let it go. And even though there is still much work to do, and even though we may whine and gripe about how much we hate it (especially when we've gone through the book so many times, we'd rather stick needles under our fingernails than do it again), we also love it. This is our passion, and we want to share it with the world.
If this is your new goal - to share your book with the world - stay tuned. Over the next few weeks or so, I'll be sharing my revision and editing process. The good news? It doesn't take two years anymore. In fact, some people can complete the entire process in a couple of months. It takes me about six months from the first word to clicking the publish button now. Not as fast as some authors, but we're all different, and I think six months is about as fast as I'm comfortable with.
Before we dive in, you might be like me and want to know if you should even put more work into this thing you've created. If so, take the plunge and let one or two trusted friends read it. If they finish it in a decent timeframe, you have something worth working on. But even if they don't - even if they don't get back to you in months and skirt the question every time you ask, "So how do you like it?" - don't give up. Either get back to work on it or move onto the next project.
If writing is your passion, you'll keep going. And that's the real answer to the "Now what" question: keep writing.