After NaNoWriMo – Editing Part 2

Part 2 of the guest post by Bridget Whelan which I’ll be making much use of this month 😉

After NaNoWriMo
Three bite-size guides to editing and revising your NaNoWriMo novel.


Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it – Collette

Five ways of editing that first rough draft

1) Cut and cut again. Be brutal. You thought you’d written 50,000 words of your NaNoWriMo novel? The harsh truth is that you probably need to ditch 20,000 of those words. You’ve got a copy of the original so you can chuck everything away knowing you have the freedom to change your mind. In fact, keep a copy of every major revision. It gives you confidence knowing that nothing is lost, and that every major change can be undone. The reality is that once paragraphs, pages and chapters have been deleted you’ll wonder how they ever had a home in your manuscript.

2) Remember that adjectives don’t get lonely: they do not have to travel around in pairs – the kind and pleasant man; the warm, dry day. Every time you see two together ask yourself which one you really, really need. Or if you need any.

3) Take a long, hard look at any descriptive passages, especially the ones you like the best. Samuel Johnson said that if he you ever come across a sentence he had written that struck him as being particularly elegant and finely crafted then he knew he had to cut it. It was probably written for his own enjoyment rather than because it helped the reader to understand what was going on.

4) Have you started in the right place? Classic advice is to start a story in MEDIAS RES – in the middle – in other words dive in. Have you chosen to start your NaNoWriMo novel a long time before the big event occurs? Why? If the answer is because it’s a good introduction or it sets the stage, then cut. Sometimes we write a beginning more for ourselves than the reader. We are working our way into the story, getting a feel for the characters and their take on the world. You might need that introduction to get you started, the reader doesn’t. So, write it if it helps you to launch a story and cut it out at the editing stage – which is now.

4) Show don’t tell is the command burnt into the heart of every creative writing student, but sometimes it’s ok to tell. The reader can’t live through every moment. Use dialogue to dramatise the big scenes, or the moments where important elements of character are revealed. It is not for the ordinary do-you-want-a-cup-of-tea exchanges (or boring small talk at parties unless it propels the narrative in some way.)
5) Don’t introduce all the characters at once. Do it one at a time with a little physical description or back story so we can remember them. (For example: Cara tucked a strand of her sand coloured behind her ear and swore softly, her previous career as an advertising writer meant she knew how to make words work for her.) Ask yourself if you have to give a name to all the minor characters. Remember that a name may be the least interesting thing about them. They could appear as their job or the function they carry out in the story. For example: the teacher said…. the neighbour smiled…

Courtesy of Carlos Porto freedigitalphotos

Coming up in PART THREE six tips that will help you get your NaNoWriMo novel ready for a reader. But if you want to read that post, you’ll have to pop over to Bridget’s blog tomorrow 😉

Please leave a comment for Bridget with your thoughts and opinions, or pop over to Bridget’s Blog to say Hi

40 thoughts on “After NaNoWriMo – Editing Part 2

  1. Man, these are good tips. I do hope I remember these later. I need a good reader/editor to help me. Doing this editing is going to be tedious and makes me want to scrap the story all together. *sigh*


    • No! No! No! Don’t give up and never ever delete that file. At the very worst your NaNoWriMo novel is good writing practice. When you ever read news stories about a writer having fantastic success with their debut novel you can bet that they have two or three novels under their belt which weren’t ready for publication but the writing of them DID help towards getting published.
      I know editing seems like a lot of work but trust me it is easier than the hard work of creation. (Never forget that you started with a blank sheet and you made something from nothing!)


      • I just find cutting things difficult. If I could get over my hard feelings toward the piece, things wouldn’t be so bad.


      • Bridget

        That the universal law of ruining things to make them better….. : (

        Let me see, good life or good story?

        Okay, good story wins.

        For some reason, this advice hit home when you said it. Likely just luck or the number of times I’d already heard it. More likely though the way you showed it, not told it.

        So, it hit hard.
        Life would have been better had it hit harder sooner.

        Hope that tells you how amazing you are.

        You are so appreciated. : )



    • I’m editing my second novel at the moment and have just cut out whole scenes – pages and pages that I struggled over and I think are pretty good – but when I came to read it as a whole didn’t really add anything to the story. Red pens all round….


  2. Pingback: NaNoWriMo withdrawal | ozonenut

  3. Such a helpful and informative post! 😉
    Sigh. My adjectives travel in groups, not just pairs, like whole litters of puppies …
    Fortunately, I don’t seem to have trouble picking the best one, and sending the rest to a good home. 🙂


    • Know exactly what you mean..some fiction writers are skilled at self editing as they write – it’s what journalists do all the time – but for most of us we have to get the story down and then go back and prune.


  4. Pingback: NaNoWriMo Continued | The Claire Violet Thorpe Express

    • I think it was Horace 2000 + years ago that put it down in writing that the only way to start is in the middle….and if you want a contemporary example just think of the way a James Bond movie starts with some incredible action sequence without a preamble. We don’t know what’s happening or why but with such verve and tension we are wiling to wait to find out…by which time we are hooked.


  5. Great advice! I’m especially prone to pairing of adjectives, so this made me smile. I have only recently become aware of this tendency and am trying to control it. I’ve been doing a lot of editing the past few weeks and it has highlighted all sorts of bad writing habits I seem to have acquired over the years…


  6. Pingback: Novel Wishes and NaNoWriMo Dreams « Sonia G Medeiros

  7. Pingback: The Post-NaNoWriMo Blues « A Writer Inspired

  8. Pingback: IWSG: NaNo Down, 50K to Go. | Writing, Reading, and Life

  9. Pingback: Notes of the Craft Vol. 2 « Excursions Into Imagination

  10. Pingback: First Draft Edit. Five Things to Ponder. | magdalena vandenberg

  11. Pingback: Rite of Passage is “complete” | Pioneers of the Shattered Waters

  12. Pingback: What If It All Means Something – Chapter 5 « What If It All Means Something

  13. Pingback: Revising Your Novel and the Problem of the Back Story « narrativeblog

Lets chat!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s