Writing Tips from a Bestselling Novelist
As aspiring novelists, we’re always looking for advice from people who have actually written and published books. So we were really excited when we found out we’d get to interview Alyson Noël. She’s a #1 New York Times bestselling writer of teen fiction, which means she’s kinda got the whole publishing thing figured out. Click through for her advice on finding an agent, sticking with your ideas, and staying off Facebook!
SparkLife: You've said that it took you fifteen years to write your first book. Was part of you scared of finishing it?
Definitely. Finishing it meant I would have to take it out into the world and try to make good on my dream of being a published author. If it failed, I didn’t have a back-up dream to replace it with. So it felt like I had an awful lot riding on it. From the time I got serious about pursuing publication, it took me about 2.5 years to learn the ropes, and secure my first book deal, but the lessons learned during that time were invaluable and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
How long did it take you to find an agent? How did you know your agent was right for you?
I was sort of lead to my first agent by a fellow writer in an online writing course I once took. And while I’m forever grateful that he was able to secure my first book deal, it wasn’t until I signed with my third and current agent that I found the right fit. We share a similar vision for my career, he always keeps me in the loop, and he’s sharp, smart, savvy, experienced, tenacious, funny, and an overall wonderful person. It can take a while to determine what works and what doesn’t, and it’s definitely not one size fits all!
You're now a #1 New York Times Bestselling author who's about to embark on an international book tour. Is that just as glamorous and fulfilling as it sounds?
Honestly—yes! Sometimes I can hardly believe the extraordinary experiences this career has afforded me. In the last two years I’ve toured extensively throughout Scandinavia, Europe, and Brazil—and I’m about to head out to Singapore and Australia! When I first started writing, it never even occurred to me that this sort of thing was possible. Getting to meet with readers all over the world has been truly amazing!
Several Sparklers have remarked that they have great ideas for stories or novels, but as they start working, they get sidetracked by new, seemingly better, ideas. Is there a magical way to keep yourself focused?
Well they can rest assured that they are truly writers in the making as every author I know struggles with this! I’m currently working on my 20th novel, MYSTIC, and I’m pretty sure that like the 19 books that came before, a shiny, new idea will appear the instant I reach the middle section. Though I’ve come to realize that the reason for this is because the act of writing is so much harder than it looks. The initial spark of an idea is where the fun lives—while the attempt to translate that glorious picture in your head into words on the page is where the struggle comes in. The moment the writing gets difficult is when the next idea beckons. But, while you can count on this to occur over and over again, somewhere along the way you have to decide if you’re going to be a chaser of shiny ideas, or actually finish the story you started. The only way to get through it is persistence, determination, and B. I. C. (Butt In Chair!). There is no magic bullet.
What are your five favorite books at the moment?
I love that you said “at the moment” because the list is always in transition! I recently read and loved Andrew Fukuda’s THE HUNT, I just re-read Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE (amazing!), I loved Mary Pearson’s THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, and A.S. King’s EVERYONE SEES THE ANTS was incredible, and I can’t wait to dig into Lisa McMann’s DEAD TO YOU.
Where do you write? Do you keep to a writing schedule?
I have a home office where I write all of my books, and I keep to a very strict schedule of seven days a week, including holidays and weekends. Tight deadlines have made this a necessity, but I love what I do, so that’s not a complaint. I aim for 2000 words a day—sometimes I go over, sometimes I don’t even come close. But I always make the effort to put in the time, and writing everyday helps me stay in the voice of the character.
Do you have any anti-procrastination tips? (Please tell us how to stay away from Facebook!)
I found it’s impossible to stay away, so instead I compromise by limiting the amount of time I allow myself to spend there. I indulge in one to two hours of social networking in the morning, then I reward myself with little breaks to check in throughout the day. But when the evening rolls around, I officially sign off so I can spend time with my husband.
Why do you think paranormal fiction is so popular right now?
With its mystical worlds, gutsy heroines, and smokin’ hot heroes, paranormal fiction provides the perfect escape from the rigors of daily life!
If you could go back in time and meet your 15-year-old self, what advice would you give her?
I would tell her to live a little more fearlessly. To not take everything so seriously. To pay no mind to negative people, naysayers, dream bashers, balloon poppers, and people with limited vision. To embrace each day more fully, and not worry so much about things she can’t change. To study harder in French class, it’ll come in handy later. To wear a hat and sunscreen when she goes to the beach. And most importantly, that thoughts create—and the way she feels about herself and her life, will shape the course of her life—so stay positive!
Are you working on a novel or short story right now? How’s it going? What advice would you give other aspiring writers?