Stop worrying about grammar and spelling and finding the perfect synonym. That’s what editing is for. Allow yourself to write badly the first time around. Nobody writes a best-selling, awarding-winning novel on the first try.
Contemporary YA author Ali Novak began early. She wrote her debut novel at the age of 15, publishing it on the Wattpad platform. She shares with us her tips for silencing your inner editor, her morning writing routine and why she doesn’t read book reviews.
Please give us a brief overview of yourself and your work.
I’m a bookworm turned author who writes contemporary YA. I started writing my debut novel, My Life with the Walter Boys, when I was only fifteen. When I finished, I wanted to share my story with the world, but the thought of publishing my book never crossed my mind. Because let's be real—what publishing house would pick up a kid's rough draft manuscript? So I did what any millennial would do and googled how to share my story. That’s how I discovered Wattpad, an online reading and writing community. After working up the courage, I started posting my book to the website in 2010. That decision changed my life. My story became an instant hit, and since then, my collective work has been read more than 150 million times.
What made you want to be a writer?
My love of writing stemmed from my obsession with reading. I think it’s absolutely magical how a book can transport readers into an entirely new world or universe. I also love when a character elicits emotion from me, whether it’s grief or joy or anger. There’s something cathartic about crying over the death of a favorite character or jumping for joy when your ship FINALLY gets together. I started writing because I wanted to recreate the emotions I felt while reading for others and build a world for readers to escape to just like my favorite authors had done for me.
Do you have a writing routine?
I write best in the morning, so typically I get up every day at six, put on a pot of coffee, and work until noon. I do a quick edit of what I wrote for the day in the evening after dinner. It is hard to stay motivated when you’re not feeling creative, but having a regular schedule helps me stay on task.
Are you a plotter or pantser?
Can I call myself a plantser? When I first started writing as a kid, I didn’t know anything about outlines or character arcs. I would sit down and write whatever came to mind because it was fun. I never knew what would come next, and figuring it out as I went was the enjoyable part. Now I’m a full-time author, so I can’t just look at writing as a hobby. I find that when I write a book by the seat of my pants, I tend to do more work in revisions and editing, so I’ve settled for a happy medium between the two. I don’t plot out every little detail of my books, but I do create rough outlines to guide me.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
I know this has been said a million times before, but read and write every day. Practice is the only way to improve your skills. Also, never give up. Sometimes it takes years and multiple manuscripts before you land a publishing deal. I started writing my debut novel when I was fifteen. It wasn’t published until I was twenty-three.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for new authors?
Finishing the first draft. I think there are a lot of aspiring authors out there who want to write a book, but lack the confidence to actually do it. Stop worrying about grammar and spelling and finding the perfect synonym. That’s what editing is for. Allow yourself to write badly the first time around. Nobody writes a best-selling, awarding-winning novel on the first try.
What methods of book marketing do you find the most effective?
I don’t enjoy the marketing side of being an author, so I’ve found what works best for me are finding methods I can have fun with. For example, I love being involved with the bookstagram community on Instagram, chatting with my readers on Twitter, or posting free content on Wattpad. If I don’t enjoy what I’m doing, I much less likely to follow through.
What struggles did you face in the writing process?
Silencing my inner editor. When she can’t seem to shut up, I like to turn off my computer, pull out a notebook, and write by hand.
How do you handle rejection as a writer?
I ignore it, and the best way to do that is by not reading reviews of my books. There is no such thing as a perfect novel that appeals universally. Even if your story is the next Harry Potter, there will always be someone who doesn’t like it. Don’t believe me? Look up your all-time favorite author on Goodreads and read some of their one-star reviews.
What is the best writing advice you have received?
“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” — Terry Pratchett
Obviously this isn’t advice I received personally, but it’s what I fall back on when I’m struggling to write.