Novel Polishing

This year I sat down on November 1st with the intention of writing a novel. I opened up my NaNoWriMo page, thought of a provisional title, then opened Word.


I hadn’t thought about what to write, I’d been too busy, but I love the potential that is laid out before me every year. By the end of the day I knew I would fail miserably… I had decided to look for inspiration in old newspapers, got sidetracked, and ended up floating blissfully around Victorian criminals. I could almost feel them. Especially when I was given a ringside seat at a hanging in a prison courtyard (quite horrible by the way, it gave me the shivers and I’m not easily shocked).This year wouldn’t be my NaNoWriMo novel year; I gained an idea for a non-fiction book that if it ever gets written will owe itself to November 1st.

Every year I do the same thing. Sit down with great intentions, but life gets in the way.

A few years back though, in fact the first year I tried, I “won” NaNo. I wrote my novel and it felt great. It was tough, but the seed of a story had been germinating for years in my grey matter, and it felt so natural to get the story down. I researched, I made mind-maps, I plotted and scribbled, and in the end there it was… my novel.

Only not quite.

Anyone will tell you that the first draft is exactly that. A draft. If you think your first draft will get you published you may be in for a shock. Your first draft is a foundation on which to build something glorious. Some drafts need more work than others, but they all need editing. Every traditionally published novel is edited in some way, and it’s often very easy to see the self-published ones that have bypassed an editor or proofreader.


My novel has languished in computer files for three years. Occasionally I dig it out, start at chapter one and settle down to read and revise. Then work gets in the way and it gets left until the next time… when I open it at chapter one.

You see, when the thousands of us settle down for NaNoWriMo, most of us don’t think beyond the 50,000 word target. Yes, we probably all dream of traditional publication (even if we don’t really admit it beyond the confines of our own head), but know that the reality is slim.

However, it can happen. Your writing dreams can come true. NaNo has a list of published books that started life one November 1st, and among them are one of my favourite books The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and a book that was made into a fabulous film Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. See… dreams can come true.

So how to make those dreams a reality? Well first of all you have to be good – it’s a sad fact of life that not everyone can write. Then you have to write your story, and remember a full-grown novel is usually more than those 50,000 words you slogged out over a month. Then comes the revision and editing. Go through your writing closely –

  • Make character sheets, if you are familiar with D&D a character sheet is a great start (yes, I was a D&D geek at college, and still would be if I got the chance, but theatre has taken its place). Make a note of everything about your character, not just their physical characteristics, but their psychological make-up. This way you will have a more authentic character, and will know if they are acting in a way that they probably normally wouldn’t. Make these people as real as you can. Hell, if you can draw… draw them!
  • Create a timeline. Make more than one, make one for each character. Where were they at any given time? Would they really be able to get from A to B in the time you said. Plots can break down if time frames become unrealistic.
  • Create a plot map. Mind-maps are brilliant for seeing where things fit and if something is just not right.
  • Then go through your novel: cut, slice, glue, rewrite, write, cry, gnash teeth, rewrite, edit, spell-check.

Finally, when you have your manuscript the best it can be, then you can figure out what you are going to do with it. There are loads of self-publishing avenues to wander down these days, but don’t forget that readers can be unforgiving. Put aside a budget for an editor. If your Holy Grail is traditional publishing, then research agents and publishers. Do your homework, put on your best rejection-proof jacket and go for it.

You never know, that story sitting in your neglected computer files may be a load of rubbish, or it may just be a best-seller waiting to be snapped up.

As for me… I may just take my own advice and start again on that novel of mine, dig out my notes and settle down to a re-write. No-one said it was going to be easy!

2 Comments on “Novel Polishing

  1. Hi Sara, I think your site’s got beautiful design and such interesting pieces, so I’m following! 🙂
    I really enjoy your posts and look forward to your next.
    Feel free to check out my writing about publishing:

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