Advice From Authors: How to write a YA novel


If you’re an aspiring author looking to find out how to write your first YA novel, who better to inspire you than the authors who’ve done it already? Through extensive interviews, we’ve collected the best advice from YA authors on how they put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and created their own successful books.

Be authentic to your own personal story.

“Be authentic; write your experience in all its beauty, ugliness, and glory. Get a sensitivity reader from the same demographic to read your work and consider their comments. Finally, prepare yourself for both love and hate. Since own voices writers are a minority, our own communities often expect us to represent everyone — but that’s just not possible (unless you’re writing PR). But if you’ve got something important to say, bite the bullet and go ahead! Every perspective deserves to be heard.” – Muhammad Khan, author of ‘Kick the Moon’ (Pan Macmillan, 2019)

Do it your own way — nobody else’s.

“One of the quotes I keep by my desk is an offhand thing one of my college friends said to me: ‘You couldn’t ask Mark Twain to write like Jane Austen.’ In other words, there’s no one right way to write a book, and the key is to do it your own way and not try to be the kind of writer you’re not.” – David Levithan, author of ‘The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily’ (Egmont Publishing, 2016)

trying to write with a cat gif
Source: Giphy

Get away from your desk.

“If you’re struggling with your writing, get outside and walk/think/work [out] any difficulties you may have in the open air away from your desk. Without paper, computers and notebooks, you will find that the best ideas and solutions will stay with you when you get home, box-fresh ready to write down.” – Natasha Carthew, author of ‘Only the Ocean’ (Bloomsbury, 2018)

Read, write, and stick to it.

“Don’t give up. Keeping reading lots. Always write. I got a lot of rejections before I got published, so please don’t give up.” – Amelia Mandeville, author of ‘Every Colour of You’ (Little, Brown Book Group, 2018)

Know that the path to success isn’t always a straight line.

“My path to writing is so bizarre as to be of no use to anyone else. … Life is DNA + Environment + Free Will + Random Chance. I live my life the way I write my books: it’s all improvised, made up on the fly, and frequently weird, but in the end, it has the look of something coherent and rewarding and fun.” – Michael Grant, author of over 100 books, including the ‘Animorphs’ series (Scholastic, 1996-2001)

Write fan fiction for practice.

“Fan fiction is the absolute best training you can give yourself for writing voice, character voices, and honing in on that particular skill — which I think you can then transfer over to your original characters later. I found it to be probably the most important thing I’ve ever done for kind of my training for becoming an author.” – Becky Albertalli, co-author of ‘What If It’s Us’ (HarperCollins, 2018)

Understand that what works for one book may not work for another.

“If you’re paying attention to a lot of different techniques and routines that other writers may have, and published authors may have, [you should not] necessarily absorb that to mean, ‘This is the only way you can write a book.’ There are infinite ways to write a book, and you have to figure out what works best for you, and what worked well for you for one book may not work well for the next. … All of my books have been written in significantly different ways to one another. Just remember, in writing there’s trial and error, and it may take a while to figure out how best you write a book, but figure out what feels most true to you.” – Adam Silvera, co-author of ‘What If It’s Us’ (HarperCollins, 2018)

Dedicate yourself to your craft.

“If you want to ‘be’ a writer, you have to write. On a piece of paper, on a laptop, on the back of your hand: it’s that simple. It’s not a state of ‘being’, it’s a state of doing. And doing quite a lot of it, at the expense of quite a lot of other things. If you want to be a writer, you have to read. Read widely, read for love, read for analysis, read to be disgusted, read to be delighted. It is not as romantic a job as you might think, but it is certainly a rewarding one. You have to be determined, bloody-minded yet highly sensitive, willing to take knockback after knockback, cheerful in the face of daily misery, and happy with your own company.” – Jessie Burton, author of ‘The Restless Girls’ (Bloomsbury, 2018)

Be prepared to write when inspiration hits.

“Read all the time, whenever you can, and absorb it. Pay attention to how the authors you like tell their stories, and if you feel inspired to write, plan, plan plan plan so you don’t get lost and lose your confidence.” – Connie Glynn, YouTuber and author of ‘The Rosewood Chronicles’ (Penguin Books, 2017-2018)

pretending to write gif
Source: Giphy

Don’t get hung up on the publication process.

“Write. Just write. Try not to compare your writing to others, or get too discouraged, or worry about publication. That’s for later drafts. For the first draft, the most important thing is to let the story pour out and try not to be miserable in the process.” – Carolyn Mackler, author of ‘The Universe is Expanding and So Am I’ (Bloomsbury, 2018)

Silence your inner critic.

“Just get something down on the page and [don’t] be too judgmental of it. Hitting the mute button on your own inner critic is one of the biggest hurdles to writing. A lot of times, what you first put down on the page may not be very good, and that’s okay. You need that bad first draft to get to the better second draft and then the good third draft. One thing I do that really helps me is I set a goal of a certain word count I want to reach every time I sit down, and I just write towards that, not letting myself worry so much about the quality of the writing. That’s very freeing, and I find the less critical I’m allowing myself to be, the more I get done, and the better the writing actually is.” – Elizabeth Klehfoth, author of ‘All These Beautiful Strangers’ (HarperCollins, 2018)

Write whatever genre you love.

Plenty of people are going to look down their noses at you for writing fantasy (thankfully, I think some of this attitude is now starting to shift!), but don’t ever listen to them. You write what you love, and screw the rest. It’s a long road to publication, but not an impossible one — if you stick with it, if you write what you love and believe in yourself, you will get there one day!” – Sarah J. Maas, author of the ‘Throne of Glass’ series (Bloomsbury, 2012-2018)

Are you a published writer with advice for aspiring writers? Leave a comment below!

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