How To Save a Fizzled First Draft

For those of you who do NaNoWriMo, welcome to Preptober.

Skippable Backstory

For those of you who are unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo stands for ‘National Novel Writing Month’ and is a community pledge to write 50,000 words (or 200 pages) during the 30 days of November — or, approximately 1,667 words per day. You win bragging rights and some discounted writing software.

While not a full manuscript, it’s a great way to practice the persistence that novel writing requires and see if you have what it takes.

I’ve ‘won’ NaNoWriMo several times, and have the rough drafts to prove it. Now, to actually edit more of them… that’s a different post.

Last year, I ‘won’ NaNoWriMo, but my story had veered off course. I tried to push through to an ending, but by the end of March, it was so far off from where I wanted it to be, I knew I was fighting a losing battle.

Now, not all stories that go off course are wrong. Sometimes the story takes the lead and brings you to better things than you ever expected.

But, for me? This wasn’t the story I wanted to tell.

So, I set it aside, polished some rough drafted short stories, beta-read for some friends, and read a lot of books. I gave my story breathing room to percolate in my head and I waited til now to pull this technique out of my toolbox.

My Method To Save My Fizzled First Draft

Write your query letter.

I know, trust me, I know your manuscript is a hot mess and there’s no way you’d be sending this thing to your mother, much less a professional agent.

We can skip the salutation, the book stats, and the bio. All you need is the story part of the query. The part where you describe who the character is, the inciting incident, what the main character wants and what stands in their way. You know, the stakes. In under 250 words.

Whether you’re a planner, a pantser of a discovery writer — just writing by the seat of your pants, or somewhere inbetween — a plantser like yours truly, this method can help you find the focus of your story. Sometimes, themes emerge. If you can, you might even look for comp(arison) books now, and see what you can do to both bring out the comparisons and keep from following too closely.

Now, true queries only focus on the first third of your manuscript, so you might need to add another paragraph to get you to the true final conflict of the story. But seeing the change in what your character wants and what they are willing to risk is a great way of watching to see your stakes escalate, your character grow, and maybe even bring the story round, full circle.

I’m gonna try it this year, wish me luck.

Have you ever had a manuscript go off track? Was it for the best or did you wrestle it into submission? Or move onto something new?

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