When we move from writing a draft to the various stages of polishing it and getting it ready for publication, we also move from isolation to interaction. Without the immediate contrast between those two states of writerly being, I don’t think I would realize how isolating the early stages of writing a novel actually are.
Part of the appeal of NaNoWriMo is the group experience, including some public suffering if you’re into that sort of thing. You can attend write-ins, join sprints (where you write as fast as you can for a few minutes, take a break and then sprint again). Going through the process of writing a first draft novel with millions of people worldwide, and potentially thousands of people in your metropolitan area can give you a sense of companionship even if you never reach out and take advantage of it.
As the novel writing month progresses, I become immersed in my private creative process, hauling my story out of my mind hand over fist, word by word as the deadline approaches, but I never lose sight that there are millions of writers in their own private bubbles going through the same experience. Even when we come up for air and post a quick “how I’m doing” update online somewhere, it doesn’t break the bubble. There is no place but inside our own heads to find the next scene, next line of dialog, or next description of a setting.
When the month ends, we have a stringy mess of a first draft, and the illusion of shared group suffering and triumph is broken. We’re each on our own, with this mewling infant that might grow up to be a novel.
I’ve been through NaNoWriMo a few times, and until this year, I found it difficult to get my head back into story-space after November was over. This year is different. Setting the goal of getting it ready to publish this year, starting this blog, and weaving research time into everything related to the novel has made it much easier to stay focused.
For me, the next round or two of editing are also private struggles with grammar, plot holes, and awkward sentences. After that, if I’m feeling lucky, the story is in a shape I’d be willing for another human being to see.
I put out a call to friends, “let me know if you’d like to be a bet a reader”. It’s the moment of truth. The handful or two of volunteer beta readers will be the first to see the manuscript. I’ve chosen for my first-ever beta reading process to send the story out one chapter at a time. It gives me a chance to give each chapter a final once-over, and to incorporate some of the feedback from earlier chapters.
I’m nearly half way through the beta reading process now. Five of eleven chapters are out. For four of them, I’ve received feedback to decide how to incorporate. I’ve tried out a couple online editing tools to help with grammar and spelling, and to help identify some of the awkward sentences and overused words. I’ve discovered the interface issues between these tools and Scrivener, the application where my novel currently lives. It’s not quite as simple as cut-and-paste to go from one environment to another.
Once the beta reads are completed, I’ll have to invent my next steps. Will I hire an editor? Will I find that the beta readers are so thorough I can fly onward without an editor? Will I find that my own repetitions with different editing tools are good enough? And If I think they are, will I be right?
With luck, I’ll have some answers to these questions by Midsummer. By then I should at least know if a late 2016 publishing date is realistic.
There is a wealth of information about writing and publishing novels. Somehow, even with all the information available and with all the research I do about the process, I feel like I’m charting a course across a stormy sea to an unknown continent.
But, perhaps the most significant aspect of the process is that it’s become a process. It’s incorporated into my days and weeks and months. It adds definition and structure to my life this year. And, I believe that the process will be sufficiently ingrained that it won’t take a NaNoWriMo event to kickstart new story ideas and give me the incentive to start writing them.