3563774151_8af764392bFinally, it’s December! If you participated in November’s National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, you probably spent most of November sweaty and caffeinated, hermited and muttering, pushing yourself to write 50,000 words between November 1 and 30.

So, first things first: if you successfully completed NaNoWriMo – congratulations! It’s a huge, huge accomplishment.

Second, don’t you dare think of doing anything with that draft in December. Don’t look at it. Don’t edit it. Don’t even open the file. And certainly do not even THINK about querying agents with it or putting it up on Amazon.

That’s right, it’s NaDoToYoNoMo: National Don’t Touch Your Novel Month.

All over the web you can read lots of opinions about whether or not NaNoWriMo is a good idea. I happen to love it. But whether you’re experienced or new, whether it’s your first NaNoWriMo or your fifteenth, whether you never expected to write a novel or whether it’s been your lifelong dream finally achieved, here’s the cold truth: your novel is in first draft form. It is not ready.

That doesn’t mean your accomplishment is any less amazing. What you’ve got is a work of art. But it’s not the best you can do, not by a long shot, and the only way you’ll be able to see what the difference is between how good it is and how good it could be is to let it sit.

Put the novel down. Step away.

This applies to first drafts of novels however they’re created, frankly. Whether they were written in one month, or three days, or three years, they’re still first drafts. It’s really tempting, as soon as you finish the last page, to open it up to the first and start rewriting.

Resist.

Once you’ve had some distance from your draft, once you can return to it and it almost feels like someone else wrote it, you’ll be in a much better position to edit. You’ll be able to say Does this scene really belong here? And not reflexively defend the status quo with, Ohmigosh I spent so long writing that scene, I don’t want to just throw it away. Because sometimes, throwing things away makes a novel better. Or adding things. Or changing things around. But the chances that your novel came out of the chute 100% the best it could be on the first try, is frankly, quite slim.

Maybe you’re 95% of the way there. Maybe it’s 70%. Maybe it’s 30%. But the best way to find that out is to let go of it for a while. You need perspective. You need distance. You need time. Give yourself permission to do other things—bake cookies! Read! Go outdoors!—and return to your manuscript, a month from now, with fresh eyes. You deserve it. More importantly, your manuscript deserves it, if you want to give it the best possible chance of being the best possible novel it can be.

So, happy NaDoToYoNoMo!

It’s amazing how much you’ll accomplish by doing nothing.

About Jael McHenry

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.