Finishing a November Novel

Treat it as it is: a first draft.

Are you scrambling to meet your deadlines for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)? Consider again the experience of my friend Chandler Birch, who in 2013 decided to try to write a novel in a month.

The challenge gave Birch his start. “Prior to that,” he says, “I had next to no experience developing a plot bigger than five thousand words.”

By the end of the month, he’d written the required 50,000 words, but not the story’s ending. He shelved the project until February, when he learned of a Simon & Schuster novel contest. He had less than a month to submit an outline plus the first fifty pages.

But when he dug out his instant novel, he saw most of it was “pretty terrible.” He salvaged what he could and reshaped it into “an entirely different project.”

He salvaged what he could and reshaped it into “an entirely different project.”

Two months later, Birch learned he was a finalist. He had until September 1 to submit a complete novel of at least 60,000 words. Finishing the novel meant more writing binges, including a “desperate eighty-page sprint” to meet the deadline. With a few hours to spare, he submitted his full manuscript, now 160,000 words.

He won the contest, but publication depended on him cutting the project in half. Birch calls this the hardest part. “The manuscript … had five different plots, all of which needed more development to be halfway readable. The publisher recommended we … focus on only one or two.” That required a full rewrite.

That revision took a year. But the work paid off. The FaceFaker’s Game was published not just as an e-book, but also in paperback.

Birch says it contains “maybe sixty percent of its original plot, and even less of the NaNoWriMo project.”

But that’s where his novel got its start. “NaNo helped me build up the muscles to tackle huge writing projects,” Birch says, “and it made me more comfortable churning out huge word counts consistently.”

Those were skills he needed in the three years it took to write, rewrite, and polish a one-month novel.

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About Andy Scheer

With more than 30 years in publishing, Andy Scheer has provided freelance editorial services since 2010. He has edited fiction and nonfiction for publishers including Moody, WinePress, and BelieversPress, as well as for clients including Dirk Cussler, McNair Wilson, DiAnn Mills, Heather Day Gilbert, and Sammy Tippit.

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