How to Start Editing Your NaNoWriMo Draft

editing nanowrimo

It’s almost December 1st,  which means National Novel Writing Month is coming to a close...

For those of you who participated in NaNoWriMo, please take a moment to acknowledge all the hard work you’ve done! No matter how much you wrote last month, you’re doing something that many people talk about, but few begin—and even fewer finish—you’re writing a book!

And if you did “win” NaNoWriMo, CONGRATULATIONS! That’s a HUGE achievement, and you should do something fun to celebrate! 

Now, if you’re anything like me, chances are good that you’re already wondering what the heck you should do next with your messy-NaNo-draft. You might be wondering:

  • Should I dive straight into revising?
  • Should I find beta readers?
  • Should I hire a professional editor?

If you’ve been wondering about any of that, you’re in the right place.

In today’s post, I’m sharing the first five things to do with your draft now that NaNoWriMo’s over. These five steps will help you clear your head and get back on track for whatever the next phase looks like for you. So, let’s dive in.


How to Start Editing Your NaNoWriMo Draft

Step 1: Take a Break.

Your mind needs a little rest and recuperation time, so the first thing I suggest is taking a well-deserved break. 

As Stephen King says, “Your mind and imagination—two things which are related, but not really the same—have to recycle themselves, at least in regard to this one particular work.” King suggests a six-week break from your work, but for a lot of writers, six weeks will feel too long. 

So, give yourself at least three to four weeks to decompress and refill your creative well. Do other things you enjoy like gardening, taking mini-vacations, or spending time with family. 

You could even read some books in your genre and make notes of the parts you like best. Reading the works of a writer who “got it right” will not only teach you how to write better, but it will also inspire you to get back into your own draft and get started on revisions.


Step 2: Read Your Draft.

When you do come back to your NaNo-draft, read the whole thing through without stopping to correct anything, or make any changes. 

The purpose of this initial read through is to familiarize yourself with what you wrote and to see all of the story pieces that you have to work with.

I highly suggest keeping a notebook near you while you read so that you can jot down any initial thoughts and feelings—just don’t go back and edit your actual draft.


Step 3: Read Your Draft (again). 

This time you’ll want to perform a more thorough read-through of your draft with your editor’s hat on. Focus on the six big-picture elements of story and take notes on things you want to fix, add, delete, or change. Don’t actually make the changes in your draft—just take notes. 

Here are the six questions to start with:

  1. What’s your story’s genre? Understanding your story’s genre will make your revising and rewriting a lot easier. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and say that this is the most important thing you need to figure out before you start revising. When you know your story’s genre, the other five questions are much easier to answer. Read more about genre here.

  2. Does your story include the obligatory scenes and conventions of your genre? Once you’ve committed to a main genre for your story, you need to consider whether or not you’ve included the obligatory scenes and conventions of your genre in your story. If you’re writing a love story, do you have a “proof of love” scene? If you’re writing a horror novel, do you have a “villain at the mercy of the monster” scene? If you’re writing a performance novel, do you have a training sequence? If you discover that you’re missing some key scenes and conventions, make notes of the ones you need to add in on your next draft. Read more about obligatory scenes and conventions here.

  3. Did you choose the right POV for your story? Is your POV consistent in each scene? Or do you head-hop from character to character within a single scene? Do you have multiple POV characters? If so, do you need to have all those POV’s? If you’re not sure what POV is best for your story, take a look at other stories in your genre to see whether they use first-person, third-person, or something else. Read more about point of view here.

  4. Have you developed both your protagonist and antagonist? Does your protagonist have an overarching story goal that they pursue from the beginning of the story to the end? Does he or she have a believable motivation for pursuing this goal? Are the stakes of success or failure clear? Does your protagonist change throughout the story? What about your antagonist? The antagonist should be every bit as well-developed as your protagonist. If you flipped things around, and your bad guy was the main character, would his or her goals be strong enough to drive the story forward? Read more about crafting compelling characters here.

  5. Does your story have a clear beginning, middle, and end? In the first quarter of your story, do you introduce your protagonist, their world, their goals, and what’s at stake should he or she fail to achieve their goal? In the middle of your story, does the protagonist face obstacles or challenges that escalate in severity as the story progresses? Does he or she learn lessons and new skills? Does he or she start to transform into the only person who’s capable of facing the antagonist in the climax? In the final quarter of your story, do you resolve the main conflict in a surprising yet inevitable way? Did you tie up all the loose ends? 

  6. Can you identify your story’s theme? You might have had an idea about your story’s theme before you wrote this draft, but more often than not, a theme reveals itself when you read back through your work. If your theme is elusive at this point, that’s okay. Ask—what point I’m trying to make with this story? What do I have to say about the world or the human race? You can also look to your genre for clues—for example, in romance novels, the theme is usually some version of, “love conquers all.” It’s okay if whatever you come up with is generic or sounds cheesy at this point—there’s still PLENTY of time to refine your theme as you work through your revisions. Read more about uncovering your story’s theme here.

In addition to your “things I want to fix list,” I highly recommend keeping a list of things you like about your story, too. It’s inevitable that at some point you’ll feel that your draft is just a hot mess with no hope, and when that happens, you can turn to your list of positives to remind yourself that it’s worth it to keep going!


Step 4: Make a Plan.

Once you’ve compiled your list of things to fix, add, delete, or change, it’s time to make a plan for exactly HOW you’re going to tackle these revisions. 

By what date would you like to be finished with your next draft? Put that date on your calendar. How many hours per day or days per week will you write? Schedule that time on your calendar, too. Where will you write so that you won’t be interrupted? Do you need to enlist an accountability partner? What will you do if your initial plan fails? Do you have a backup plan?

As I mentioned in step 3, start with those big-picture revisions first—those six key questions. Try not to get lost in the weeds of your story until you have those six big-picture elements figured out first. This will help you make the most of your revision time and keep you focused on what really matters for your second draft.


Step 5: Get an Outsider’s Perspective. 

Once you’ve gone through a round or two of revisions—and you’re confident that your manuscript is the best it can be without external input—it’s time to work with some beta readers or a developmental editor.

If you choose to work with beta readers, you’ll want to ask things like:

  • Which moments did you love the best? 
  • Was anything confusing? 
  • Which scenes fall flat? 
  • Which scenes are the most convincing? 
  • Is my protagonist interesting? 
  • Did you root for him or her to succeed? 
  • Is the conflict clear?
  • And more depending on the needs of your manuscript...

Then, evaluate your beta reader’s feedback with an open mind and weigh it carefully. If more than one person says the same thing, it’s worth deeper consideration—even if you initially disagree. The purpose of this round of feedback is to ferret out holes in your draft that only someone with an outsider’s opinion will be able to see. If you go into it with an open mind, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by the feedback.

When’s the Best Time to Get Help with Your Novel?

Something I get asked a lot is—when should I work with a book coach or a developmental editor? How do I know if my story is even ready for a professional editor or if I should spend more time revising it on my own?

Well, first of all,  it depends where you’re at in the process and what you need help with.

If you’d like someone to help you develop your rough ideas or help you strategically write your book from start to finish, consider working with a Book Coach

A book coach can help you work through the five steps above and provide you with a method for building a strong foundation for your story. They’ll also give you support and feedback on your story as you write it. Not only will that help you finish your draft more quickly, but it will save you from potential frustration, and help you become a better writer, too.

If you’ve already self-edited your manuscript to the point of a pretty good second or third draft, it may be time to get a manuscript analysis from a Developmental Editor.

A developmental editor will review your draft and write up a summary of its strengths and weaknesses. Not only that, but they will analyze those six elements mentioned in step 2, and provide their suggested next steps for making your story even better.

If you’re not sure what kind of help you need, most book coaches or editors are willing to jump on a quick call to discuss what you’re working on, what your goals are, and how they can help. (If you’d like to work with me on your story, you can book a call with me here.)

If you decide that you’re not ready to work with a professional editor or book coach, don’t sweat it. Revisit the idea in three to six months and see how you feel about getting help then. Investing in an expert’s advice can be scary, but it’s also what can make the difference between an adequate story and one that truly works.


How to Start Editing Your NaNoWriMo Draft | Savannah Gilbo - You finished NaNowriMo, now what should you do? In this post, I'll show you the first 5 steps to take when it comes to editing your NaNoWriMo draft. Other writing tips included, too! #amwriting #writingtips #writingcommunity #NaNoWriMo

Final Thoughts

Revising a messy first draft takes time, commitment, and hard work -- for sure. If it was easy, you probably wouldn’t be reading this post. But if you break down the process into the five steps I mentioned above, you’ll find it’s much easier to take your messy-NaNo-draft and turn it into something solid that you can feel proud of. 

👉 Let’s discuss in the comments: How did NaNoWriMo go for you this year? What’s your process like for revising your NaNoWriMo draft?

Savannah is a developmental editor and book coach who helps fiction authors write, edit, and publish stories that work. She also hosts the top-rated Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast full of actionable advice that you can put into practice right away. Click here to learn more →