So You Finished NaNoWriMo: Now What?

Congrats on completing the National Novel Writing Month challenge. Writing 50,000 words in just 30 days is tough stuff. But the fun has just begun—it’s time to turn quantity into quality. If you’ve got the fortitude to write that much so quickly, then you’ve definitely got what it takes to edit the sentences that didn’t quite capture what you were going for, and eventually get your story published.

If this sounds like some far-fetched fever dream, it shouldn’t. Even if your characters are currently lost in a forest, and have been wandering around it for the past 100 pages, or you have a rushed ending that you wrote just to complete the challenge, you’ve proven that your idea has the seeds of a great story. 

Need inspiration? It may surprise you to learn that the following bestsellers started as NaNoWriMo projects:

Water for Elephants

Yes, that irresistible historical fiction novel about joining the circus began as a NaNoWriMo draft. It eventually became a movie starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, directed by Francis Lawrence. Basically, it’s a lasting cultural phenomenon. Your novel could be next.

Also available in audio.

The Night Circus

Circuses are apparently pretty popular settings for NaNoWriMo novels. Erin Morgenstern’s debut won the Locus Award for best first novel and leaves readers everywhere mesmerized and enchanted by her magical atmosphere. It did take Morgenstern three NaNoWriMos to complete this hefty wonder, but who says you can only write a lot in November?


Unlike Morgenstern, Marissa Meyer did not take three NaNoWriMos to flesh out her young adult series—she wrote the initial draft of the first three books in “The Lunar Chronicles” series in just one month. Each book in the series is a cyborg-infused, dystopian spin on classic fairy tales (see, NaNoWriMo books can be about something other than circuses). “The Lunar Chronicles” now garners one of the largest young adult fandoms, and a graphic novel adaptation is set to publish in January 2017.

See our “From NaNoWriMo to Published Author” collection to see what other books started as NaNoWriMo drafts.

But the writers above didn’t just submit their drafts immediately after completing NaNoWriMo—they took the time to meticulously edit their drafts before pitching agents and publishers. If you need some editing tips, look no further than the books below:

On Writing

Stephen King’s oft-cited classic has tips for all parts of the writing process. He details his typical editing process, such as always cutting at least 10 percent from first draft to second. That may sound hard after you’ve spent all that time writing a bunch of words to complete NaNoWriMo, but King assures it will tighten up your story. Considering King’s coveted prolificness and popularity, his advice is well worth heeding.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

If you want advice on exactly what to look for and how to edit, Renni Browne and Dave King’s updated manual is for you. These professional editors provide tons of examples of what to cut, rearrange, or rewrite to get your manuscript closer to publication. Their advice is particularly helpful if you want to go the self-published route.

The First Five Pages

What’s your threshold for deciding that a book isn’t worth your time? Do you put it down permanently after 50 pages if you’re not feeling it? That’s generous compared to the time of day an agent or publisher is likely to give your manuscript. As literary agent Noah Lukeman argues in his book, you have only a handful of pages to leave a lasting impression, or else you’ll be facing rejection. Learn what pitfalls to avoid in your opening and beyond with Lukeman’s advice.

Keep your creative juices flowing with our “Win National Novel Writing Month” collection.

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