Writer's Workbook: Revision Hacks and NaNoWriMo

October 6, 2015

Point that thing somewhere else, Slim.

"The essence of creativity is fucking around."

Tim Kreider 


Once again, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is almost upon us. I can't wait. There's something so madcap and lovely about sitting down with a few thousand other people around the world and promising to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.

When I participated in my first NaNo in 2012, I had no idea that doing so would change the course of my life. The act of writing every day and the reward of watching a story take shape out of ether...I was enthralled. Hooked. I wrote more. I didn't stop. In 2014, I left my day job and took up writing full time. My first book, a novella called Cowboy Valentine, was released this past summer by Samhain Publishing. My first full-length novel, Deep Down, will be released on next month by the Wild Rose Press.  

Deep Down was the novel I began during Camp NaNoWriMo in July 2013. Even before I found a publisher, I revised the story three times, including a major overhaul in which I cut nearly 30,000 words from the 110,000 word manuscript. My editor at Wild Rose put me through my paces with two more rounds of content edits plus multiple go-rounds for line edits. The story that will be printed looks very different from the story I "finished" in September 2013. Handfuls of secondary characters are gone. Whole subplots are missing. Entire cities have been cut.

The more I learn about different authors' writing processes, the more I realize that this isn't unique. As satisfying as it feels to write "The End" at the end of your manuscript, those two words are really just the beginning. Even though it probably didn't feel that way, writing the story is the easy part. Shaping it is the real challenge. Cutting it properly requires deliberation and a discerning eye.

"I've found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it."

Don Roff


On this episode of Tim Ferriss' podcast, author Neil Strauss discusses his stages of revision. Thinking about revisions in this particular framework keeps me focused on the book as a whole and prevents me from playing an endless, aimless game of punctuation hacky sack. Check this out:

First Draft
For the Writer
Strauss sees this draft as a mess of words in which the final book is buried. All of the content for the final book is present here, but at this point it's formless and needs shape. This draft is private, for the author alone. No one else ever sees it. For me, this is the draft I create during NaNoWriMo.

Second Draft
For the Reader
For this draft, Stauss believes the author must empathize with the reader. For example, research that might be really fascinating to the author will probably be boring to the average reader. This is where the real pain begins. Cut out anything extraneous or potentially dull. Think of your reader.

Third Draft
For the Haters
People with opposing views are going to read this book. While it's not necessary to cater to them or to change my argument, I know I have to read the book from the perspective of someone who is not its particular target audience. I need to do my best to make my book immune to criticism. I need to check my facts and details.

There you have it! NaNoWriMo will help a newbie writer knock out that first draft. But it is up to you to take the manuscript through its second and third drafts. That's where the challenge and the real magic lies.

"I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter."

James A. Michener



For my NaNoWriMo newbie toolkit, click here. For the legendary NaNoWriMo character questionaire, click here. For tips on getting ready for NaNoWriMo and some writing advice from the great Kurt Vonnegut, click here.