Top 10 Things To Do When You’ve Written A Hot Mess

By Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

What is this fresh mess that you wrote last month?

You now have 50,000+ words of the most hare-brained, rabbit-traily, blathering nonsense the literary world has ever seen. You may have loved it on November 30, but now it’s really a mess.

You’re kind of proud of it, but at the same time, you could be kind of repulsed by it.

This isn’t exactly what you were hoping for when you signed up for Nanowrimo in October. You want to do something with it, but what?

1. Take a deep breath. Deep breathing can calm you down. They don’t tell you this in writing classes but breathing when you write is as important as the kind of mug you use for your hot beverage. If you haven’t celebrated winning Nanowrimo, take time to do it. 

2. Get trusted writer buddies around you. You must have an understanding support system around you if you are going to be an artist of any flavor. Need one? Check out 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook! Lots of their members have won Nanowrimo over the years and they are a great group of people to help you with the next steps. 

3. Get some perspective. This hot mess is not your final book that the public will see.   This accomplishment is just a disciplinary practice, a game, to challenge you and stretch you. Pat yourself on the back and smile at your accomplishment so far. 

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
― Richard Bach

4. Remember why you wanted to do this, to begin with. Somewhere you had a hope that you would write a novel. Every writer in the world has had that hope. Everyone had to start somewhere. Now that I’ve written three novels, I can tell you, that having that finished book, in your hand, and seeing your name on the cover, is an amazing feeling.  But it is not done. The work, really, is just beginning. 

5. Put your story aside for at least a month. I believe great art needs to simmer, or at least get some perspective. In a few weeks, get it out again and you’ll see it with fresh eyes. You’ll be able to make critical changes. You won’t be so attached to those little darlings when you have to slit their throats.

6. Try explaining your story to yourself. Fill in these sentences: “My story is about this character ________, who lives in this setting ____________ doing this __________. He/She much wants to ___________________ so that he/she can ___________________. But, my antagonist ___________________ is preventing him/her from doing it. My hero and the antagonist struggle through ______________, __________________ and ______________. Then my main character has to make a choice, does he/she choose _____________  or ________________?   This exercise may help you envision where you need to go next. And, guess what? You just wrote your elevator pitch! (You’re welcome!) Why do you need to do this at this point in the game? You will need to cut everything out that does not align with that sentence. I know that sounds painful, but anything that is not your story needs to go. 

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”
― Stephen KingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

7. Set a timer. This is my favorite tip of all. When I lack motivation or don’t know what I’m going to say, I give myself 10 minutes, shut the door to the self-editor and write like a crazy person. I’m only committed to 10 minutes so I give myself the freedom to walk away.  I also think by using small increments of time, the bigness of the project feels manageable. I can get everything done if I lower my expectations of myself and my time and just do what I can. 

8. Think like a sculptor. An experienced sculptor takes big moves at the beginning of his creation. He pounds big chunks away at first until he gets a very rough shape of the idea in his head. Then, his moves become finer and more delicate. The finest details must be attended too — textures, eyes, fingernails. No detail must be ignored. The sculpture is not finished until every square centimeter of that creation is buffed by the creator. You want to attack the re-sculpting of this work from the bigger features to the smaller.

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”
― Shannon Hale

9. Understand that while winning Nanowrimo is an achievement, your efforts are supposed to be a mess. To paraphrase Hemingway: “The first draft of everything is ca-ca.” I believe that your true skill as a writer of fiction doesn’t come in the collection of messy words. I mean, anyone with time and a deathwish can do that. But the real skill is in what you do with it. Can you see the diamond in the rough? Do you have the commitment to work at applying the right pressure? Do you have the time to do this? Are you willing to put months or years into making it perfect? If this were easy, everyone would be doing it.

The point of Nanowrimo is quantity, not quality. So instead of loathing or fearing the mess that you’ve made, be proud! Sit back, pour yourself another glass of eggnog and enjoy the holidays.

Then when you’re good and ready, come back to this mess and start the editing process. With a enough hard work, you may make it into the decent novel you’ve always envisioned.


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.