Over the next few issues, we’ll hear from some YA authors about their writing and revising experiences with their recent works. Since writers are like snowflakes and no two have the same processes, it’s always interesting to learn how other authors work. Jenny Kaczorowski (The Art of Falling) and Jessica Spotswood (The Cahill Witch Chronicles) will join us in the coming weeks. But this week, I had an opportunity to chat via email with Adi Alsaid, author of the upcoming Let’s Get Lost, which has been called “2014’s Most Anticipated YA Debut.”
E.M. Caines: Your upcoming novel, Let’s Get Lost, is coming out this summer, and I’m so excited about it because it sounds like an amazing read. How long did it take you to finish the first draft? What was that process like?
Adi Alsaid: Thanks! I’m just now starting to get comments from people as the publicity gears up, and I’m thrilled every time someone says they’re looking forward to the release. It makes August feel a very long, albeit excitement-filled wait away.
The writing process for this book was maybe a little different than how other books are written.
Altogether, the first draft took about three months to write. However, that time was split up. The way it worked is I wrote the first half of the book in about six weeks. During the first draft, I wrote every day. My goal was usually 1,000 words, but I found myself doing a little more, completing a chapter every two to three days. I sat there and stared off into the distance a lot, or refreshed websites that did not need refreshing, but I’ve always been disciplined, and never left until I’d reached my goal.
I then revised with my editorial team at Alloy Entertainment, and after a couple of months of polishing the first half and getting a proposal for the rest of the book together, I submitted to Harlequin TEEN.
Then it was another eight weeks or so to finish out the first draft. I took a couple weeks to read the manuscript, giving myself notes along the way. Then I went back to make those revisions before sending off to Alloy. They’d send their notes, I’d revise, then send that draft to Harlequin to get notes from Annie. By my count, I have 17 different versions of Let’s Get Lost saved on my computer.
First drafts are always fun and quick. It’s easy to keep track of your productivity. You don’t have to be perfect. You just write every day and it goes by almost quicker than you’d think. If I suffer one of those bouts of insecurity in which I think what I’m writing is awful, I know that it just comes with the territory, that doubt is what helps drive you to improve the story, and I’ve learned to allow it to happen. I trust my editors and the rewrite process to fix what needs to be fixed, and I move on fairly quickly as a result.
E.M. Caines: This is your second novel, right? Aside from the editorial team at Alloy, did you already have a group of beta readers or critique partners in place to help you out with tweaks and revisions for Let’s Get Lost?
Adi Alsaid: While Let’s Get Lost is my traditionally published debut, I’ve written other books and tons of stories, and each process has been a little different. I’ve shown a lot of my work online in the past, including a self-published title, Somewhere Over the Sun, which was available for a while on some online retailers.
For that book, I had two critique partners/editors. One was a new friend/coworker/love prospect with an interest in writing and the publishing world, the other was an old friend from high school whose writing I’ve always admired.
I’ve shown work to randomly thought-of friends, or to strangers I’ve met online. Sometimes I post for the whole world to see on my blog. Usually, though, I show it to no one at all.
I’m a big believer in secrecy on first drafts. I think outside influence can sometimes corrupt an idea if it comes too soon. So what I like to do is get the whole thing down, and fix what I can tell needs fixing. Only then do I show it to others, and that’s when the beauty of editing/critiquing comes in. That magical thing happens where fresh eyes, fresh insight, or simply a mind that is not your own comes across a thought that doesn’t change your idea but improves it.
So, I don’t really have a group of beta readers I consistently go to. I’ve shown early drafts of other works to my family, but that’s mostly for very general feedback, and because we’re close, and they’d probably be upset if I didn’t share. This time, I had the great fortune of having Emilia Rhodes and the rest of the Alloy team giving me notes from the very beginning.
To the great frustration of certain friends and definitely my mom, no one other than Alloy, Harlequin Teen, and myself got to read Let’s Get Lost until that last 17th draft was finished and sent off to copyediting.
E.M. Caines: I tend to freak out the second I send my writing to trusted readers. How do you feel when you attach your manuscript to an email and hit “send?”
Adi Alsaid: I’m generally a laid-back person, so it isn’t ever a nerve-wracking experience to hit “send.” There’s a tiny part in the back of my mind that makes me take a couple of deep breaths before I send it out, sure. But usually completing a draft feels like an accomplishment. I get excited about what I’ve already done, and I get excited about how much I’ll be able to improve the story once the notes return.
In this profession/art/hobby/whatever, rejection and failure are rampant, so I believe in celebrating any time you can. Feel proud that you have something to send out, something that others can read. Don’t worry about how good it is until you receive the notes and it’s time to fix. And even then, be proud that you wrote something that can be fixed. That you have enough raw material to build. You did that, you put that together. Sure, it doesn’t quite look like what you were going for yet. But it’s still malleable. Not only is it still in your hands, but other people are going to help you, people whose opinions you respect, probably, people who very likely want you to succeed at this thing you’re building. You have nothing to fear.
E.M. Caines: Let’s Get Lost was picked up by Harlequin Teen, and you had the opportunity to work with Annie Stone. What would you say is the biggest difference between the feedback you received from your editorial team at Alloy and the edit notes Annie sent?
Adi Alsaid: All the notes I got from Annie, as well as the notes from Emilia Rhodes and the rest of the team at Alloy, bear the distinct mark of a professional. Everyone who is at least a somewhat enthusiastic reader can provide you with good feedback. At the very least, an honest emotional reaction to the writing is useful.
But Annie knows how to help the story. She knows when a character is not developed enough, when a line is over the top, when a scene is too thin. She knows when darlings need to be killed. And since she, too, is first and foremost an enthusiastic reader, she knows when to recognize darlings. Those nice remarks—the occasional smiley face, the added comment that says simply, “I love this!”—it makes the rewriting process so much easier. It keeps me going through those deletions that hurt, through the difficult task of re-introducing an element in the twelfth pass that we had gotten rid of on the third.
Basically, she knows what she’s doing. Let’s Get Lost would not be the book it is without her (and Emilia’s) help.
E.M. Caines: What do you think the most important thing to remember about accepting criticism or edit notes and the revision process itself?
Adi Alsaid: We get it wrong. Like almost no other profession out there, we are expected to get it wrong. First drafts are impossible to get right, and that should be liberating. We’re not building anything out of cement, not performing surgery. We are going to mess up the first time around, and we should be thankful that it’s perfectly acceptable. All those rewrites we get to do are wonderful. They are time machines.
Remember that time you asked someone out and made such a mess of things that you’re still embarrassed by the memory? That perfect comeback that came to you hours later? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to go back and make it right?
As writers, we get to. How great is that? Those flubs and stumbles, the imperfections that are expected from all of us as human beings, we get to go back and correct them. So don’t fret if a whole chapter has to disappear with one press of the ‘delete’ key. Or if you have to insert a whole new character and track them through the entirety of your manuscript.
You have a time machine, and the people sending you notes are simply co-pilots, their presence necessary to make the time machine function, their input necessary for you to know exactly when to go back to and what to fix.
An editor’s note in the margins might cause that same uncomfortable flush of embarrassment as a bad memory, but it’s best to see editors as a different part of yourself, someone whose goal is the exact same: get that person to go out on a date with you, get that story where it needs to go.
As writers, we bring stories to life. Editors nurse them to health.
E.M. Caines: Thanks so much for your time, Adi. I’m looking forward to enjoying Let’s Get Lost.
Adi Alsaid: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on YA Interrobang! I hope your readers enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Do you have a writerly crush on Adi yet? Because I totally do. Check out his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter. He’s super personable and, as you can surmise by some of his responses, truly passionate about writing.