Winning (finishing) National Novel Writing Month. Aah. I remember it well. It was 2009. I was on a train coming back from the National Writing Project conference in Philadelphia and as I wrote the ending to my novel I felt as if I was returning from a long magical journey that had taken me to places I'd never thought I'd go. I also remember the incredible feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. I'd written books before, as well as short stories and novels, over longer periods of time, but this was a story I'd been trying to tell for years and I had finally gotten it down.
According to reports on the NaNoWriMo website, 310,563 of you are experiencing those feelings today, having a written a novel of at least 50,000 words during the month of November 2013. Hopefully, the majority of you are resting on your laurels and enjoying the extra sleep, but for those who are beginning to feel antsy or wonder what's next, I have a few suggestions for when the NaNoWriMo glow wears off.
First, celebrate. As long as you can. Print out that certificate, the one that says you did it, you won, and frame it or post it somewhere where you can always see it. Mine still hangs outside my office door, proclaiming that I have done something many people long to accomplish (write a book) but few actually do. No one can take that away from me and no one can ever take it away from you, either. Yes, there may be a few NaNoWriMo naysayers, but they are the uninitiated, they just don't get it, the marvelous journey you've just returned from. And keep celebrating, in whatever form appeals to you: champagne, a dinner out, a long bath, a new book you've been pining for -- just make it something luxurious, something you wouldn't normally do.
Second, let the book rest, for a good long time. Any big writing project needs time in your subconscious to steep and brew and reveal itself to you while you're thinking about other projects, reading the new books you've been putting off during November or trying to get a handle on the holidays. Resist the urge to self-publish or, worse, rush the book off to agents and editors. If my Twitter feed is correct, publishing professionals loathe the period just after NaNoWriMo when they're flooded with manuscripts that are really embryonic drafts. Because as excited as you may be about your new baby, it is not yet ready for the world, not even close. You have a lot more work to do. The kind of revision your manuscript will need is going to require enormous strength, stamina and patience and you need time to build up those reserves. In the meantime, read or listen to interviews with writers whose November novels were finally published to get an idea of what's ahead of you (interviews with Sara Gruen and Erin Morgenstern are good places to start). Think about who you'd like to call in as a beta reader when the time comes, as well as the kind of feedback that would be most helpful from them.
Stay in touch with fellow NaNoWriMo scribes (maybe you can marshal them into a new writing group); the NaNo blog offers a lot of tips for those cycling through post NaNo withdrawal and the forums don't shut down on December 1 but instead transform into rich resources for those who are wondering what's next. You could even start your own blog, or, if you're like my friend, CC Riley, who seems to have energy to spare and lots of interesting stuff to say, you could take on a fun blogging challenge.
Finally, when you've waited long enough, when, in fact, you're dying to get back to the story you wove all through that bleary-eyed, beautiful month, start thinking about revision goals and plans. Check out what Chris Baty has to say about revision post-NaNo in his terrific book, No Plot, No Problem. Prepare a cup of your favorite beverage, and find somewhere comfortable to sit down and experience the manuscript again, keeping notes about all the changes you want to make. Again, celebrate the fact that you wrote this. You wrote a book. The raw material is all there just waiting for you to take it up again and shape it. The world you created is ready to welcome you back.
Don't forget -- send questions about the writing life to Dearwritinggeek@gmail.com and I'll answer them in a future post.