NaNoNowWhat? Do you need an editor?

I LOVE Nanowrimo and have competed for 8 of the past 10 years, succeeding in more than I’ve failed.

what I love most is the impetus that it generates to move forward with a story. I’m a planner, not a pantser, and so it can be easy to get bogged down as I write, to go back and check my notes, get stuck thinking about where I need to go next with my outline. During Nano, I plan for about a month in advance, and then I just write as much as I can every day in November, with barely a glance at the outline I created.

Even if you didn’t make it to 50,000 words, if you outlined anything in advance of Nano, you probably noticed that you veered pretty heavily from your plan. The forward momentum is worth it, but when you look back on what you’ve achieved, even if you imagine that this COULD be a novel, it’s probably pretty clear to you right now that it’s nowhere near publish-ready yet.

There is a lot of free advice on the internet about how to plan for Nano, but once you’re through November, there’s not quite so much information about what to do next.

Here are my top tips, and why I’d love to NOT hear from you quite yet, even if you want to have your novel published.

1. Keep writing – or don’t

Did you make it to 50,000 words? Did you finish your novel? Whether you ‘won’ Nano or not, it’s unlikely you reached the end of the story. If you can still feel that momentum, you know where you’re story is going, and you feel that there are just a few more days or weeks to go to finish it, then get it done!

If, on the other hand, you are delighted with the general shape of your novel, but you don’t know the ending and you can’t quite figure it out, STOP WRITING NOW! You know you can keep the momentum going for a month, and that means you know you can be a writer. You know you ARE a writer. But if you don’t know where exactly your story is going, if you just keep plowing on now, you risk having to undo a lot of that work after you’ve thought about the plot. Give yourself some time, set a deadline for planning, if it helps and you’re keen to get back to writing, but at least make a commitment to plotting an ending before you get to writing it.

2.  Reverse Outline

Once you’re ready to commit to looking at your plot, make a list of all the scenes/chapters with a one-line sentence about what happens.

What is a scene?

If you’re not sure where one scene ends and another begins, think about it this way. A scene takes place in one physical location, and a character usually has a goal, which they either succeed in, fail in, or they succeed in part. I love the description K. M. Weiland uses in this blog post about scene structure if you want to dig in more to how to write a scene. If when you’re writing about what happens (the goal and whether the character succeeds or not) and you can’t fit it in one sentence, you’re probably trying to write about more than one scene.

Your one-line sentence

Obviously some scenes are more complicated to explain than others, but generally, your description should be short and you should be able to use this template.

{Character} wants {goal} and they { get it/ fail/get it BUT then X happens}

I love K. M. Weiland’s way of explaining story structure and plotting, and I believe I own all of her books. Her website Helping Writers Become Authors has fantastic resources, and most of what she covers in her books can be found in blog posts. Have a good dig around on this site, and if her way of explaining story structure speaks to you, I would definitely advise you buy her books.

3. Locate the Big Scenes

I’m going to use K. M. Weiland’s definitions of big scenes here. Other well-known story structure guides, like Larry Brooks use these definitions too, you’ll spot them more and more often once you’ve seen them once.

Here’s a fantastic post from K. M. Weiland that sets out the main scenes in more detail, and here is a Google Doc that I set up that allows you to add your scenes into an Outline Template. I’ve left space for additional scenes, and if you are using the document on your computer, feel free to make a copy and add additional rows as you need. While it might be tempting to skip step 2 and jump right into this, I really believe it helps to read your story through once, identifying the scenes, before you then analyze what scenes you actually have.

I’ve added Pinch Points because if you’ve finished, or are most of the way through your story, you should have a good idea of what these are. Here is K. M. Weiland’s post on them if you want to understand their purpose. Feel free to leave these blank if you aren’t sure what they do, or if you can’t identify them in your plot. High fives and kudos to you if you can spot them in your story and fill in these sections – you’re well on the way to finishing this story strong!

Also, remember that the percentages listed on the left-hand column are approximate only. Especially if you are still on your first, possibly unfinished draft, don’t worry about how many pages in you are when any Big Scene appears. You should, however, have a sense that it is in the approximate right position in the story as a whole. Once you have finished your first draft and analyzed your structure and any scenes you need to remove or add, you might find these percentages change, so don’t waste a lot of energy on exact placement now. If your first Plot Point doesn’t happen until the middle of the story, however, you’re going to have problems keeping readers engaged, and you will want to look at ways to move it up your scene list.

4. Find your Theme

I know I have a problem with my plotting when I’m really excited about my theme, but then can’t explain it to anybody. While you may think theme is superfluous, a strong story will interlink to the theme throughout, often in subtle ways that you don’t notice, but which really help give a satisfying ending. If you’re struggling with the ending of your story, or how to plot out some of the Big Scenes, checking your theme is solid and tight in your mind will help get ideas flowing.

So, what is your theme? What is your story about? Often theme is tied to character, and so think about what your characters, particularly the main character, is struggling with. What goal are they striving for and why? What is the real, secret, they’d-never-tell-a-soul reason they’re striving for it? In among all of that is likely your theme.

5. Do you need external help?

I strongly believe that if you put a lot of work in finding your structure and your theme, most of you can self-edit your story/outline and get started again. Build that nano momentum up; you’ve done it once, you can do it as many more times as you want. Remember that writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint, and that first month, with friends and family asking how you’re doing, making your meals and giving you a pass on chores, that was just you leaving the gate. You’ve just turned the corner, the crowds are waning, and there are still another 26 miles to go. Sometimes you need to take a break, let the holidays take over as they are bound to do, and crank this machine back up again in January.

For some of you, however, this just isn’t going to be enough. That’s where I can come in, by providing a developmental edit of your story if it’s complete, or help you find the outline you need to get started again. This kind of process is not cheap, and so before you contact me, you should think about why you’re writing this book. Do you want to prove to yourself and your family you can do it? If so, a self-edit might be enough to help you push through the terror of not showing them who you are. Do you think this is a nugget that needs to be published, the next Big Thing? If so, you might be willing to spend money on a coach or developmental editor, and if that is the case, I’d love for you to get in touch. My rates can be found here for coaching and here for developmental editing. I follow the Editorial Freelancer’s Association guide to rates, which you can find here. Even if you don’t want to hire me (or want to obtain a variety of quotes from coaches/editors, which I recommend), then please use these as a guideline when considering quotes from others.

NanoNowWhat Coaching Special – $97

For those of you who have worked through the steps above, think you’re nearly there, but need some help pushing through some plotting issues to get you kick-started again, I’m offering a NanoNowWhat special.  If you feel as if you need more help, but are concerned about spending a lot of money on a coach or a developmental edition, this might be the stepping stone you need to push you to do more alone, and if you still feel that you need a coach, it will allow you to see how I work and decide if you’d like to hire me as your plot coach.

For just $97 the NNNW Coaching Special gives you:

  • a first draft outline form plus a character development form I will email you once you pay, to complete and send to me so I understand your story
  • a 30-minute phone/skype call to discuss your plot and any stumbling blocks
  • a one-page written report setting out actionable steps to allow you to continue writing

My goal is to help as many Nano-ers as I can move through their problems and continue writing without further coaching services. While this may sound counter-productive for me, I believe that the process of Nano often ties writers in knots, as they plow forward with writing every day instead of taking a bit of time to work on their plot. They finish not knowing quite what to do next, but their actual coaching needs are not that much, and if they were to hire me as a coach they would quickly realize that and become dissatisfied with the service. That helps neither their pocket nor my referral business! I like happy clients, not just because it means they’ve found their potential and unlocked their book, but also because a happy client is a client who will rave about my services. And if, as a result, anyone still feels stuck at the end, we can discuss moving on to a higher level of coaching if it’s necessary.

Contact Me today if you’re interested. This is a great deal, priced significantly below my normal hourly rates, and so there are only TEN spaces available at these great rates. If you contact me after those ten spots have gone, I can discuss my regular coaching rates with you and we can decide if there’s a way to proceed that works for us both.


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