“Distance is a gift.” Kasim Ali on Perseverance & Courage as a Writer.

Takeaways from London Writers Salon’s Interview with debut novelist, Kasim Ali.

This week, Parul and Matt from London Writers Salon interviewed Kasim Ali on his debut novel, Good Intentions. Good Intentions is a young adult story about the romance between a young British Pakistani man named Nur and a young Sudanese woman named Yasmina. As their love story unfolds, Ali explores the complexities of the immigrant experience and addresses the difficult subject of racism within the Southeast Asian communities.

Although this is his first published novel, Ali has written over twenty novels beforehand, and he has learned a lot along the way. In addition to being a seasoned writer, he also works as an assistant editor and has gained a lot of experience on the editorial side. In this engaging interview, Ali dives into what he’s learned about the editorial process, receiving feedback, pitching and, of course, writing!

Here are my favorite takeaways!

Secondary characters live on.

From being an editor, Ali has learned a lot about being a writer. What’s the best advice he has for other fiction writers? Your characters live on.

“One of the things I learned through editing that helped me become a better writer was this idea — your secondary characters continue to live even if they’re not on the page. It’s such a simple thing, but it blew my mind because it made me think about the fact that, in my head, secondary characters froze if they’re not on the page. That’s not true!”

Distance is a gift.

Another great pieces of advice from Ali — take space away from your work before you begin the editorial process. And trust the book will be as publishable a year form now as it is now.

“Finish your book. Then take a month. Don’t look at it. Try not to think about it. Read other stuff. Writer other stuff. Give yourself distance from it. Then when you go back, hopefully you’ve given yourself enough time that you’re able to see it — not as a book you’ve just finished writing — but just as a book. Then you might be able to see the flaws in it… I always think distance is the greatest give we can give ourselves as writers. I don’t think we ever want to give ourselves that gift because writing a book is so hard. When you’re done, you’re like ‘Okay, now let’s edit it. Let’s send it out.’ The hard thing is to give yourself the space to breath. Have faith your book is going to be as publishable in a year’s time.”

What’s the hook of your book?

Ali had lots of great advice for what makes a good pitch. He gave us an idea of what happens on the other side of that email and the ways we can make our pitches more effective. One of the most important things a writer should do is know the hook.

“What is the hook of your book? How can you condense that into as little words as possible to put right at the top of your email….Also, be specific. I know agents who get 500 submissions every week. You have to make agents feel — not necessarily like you want them. You have to make them feel like you know what they want.”

Editors make your book the best it can be.

As an assistant editor, Ali understands the robust editorial process that a writer undergoes. The numerous rounds of edits can be daunting and discouraging. When asked if he had any advice for writers receiving feedback during this process, Ali reminded us that editors are on our side.

“The number one thing that helped me when I was being edited was to remember the passion and the enthusiasm the editor has for your book….Remember that this person bought your book, and they gave you money. More than that, they are putting their time and their effort and their hard work into crafting this book into the best possible book it can be. I’m not saying roll over and take every edit, but you have to know yourself and know the book you want to make. When an edit does come in, you have to trust the fact that this editor loves your book just as much as they did when they read it on submission, and they are just interested in making the best possible book they can.”

Have the courage to say what you wanted to say.

It is extremely difficult to speak honestly and openly about one’s own community. In his book, Ali specifically speaks about racism in the Southeast Asian communities towards the Black community. It takes bravery to open this conversation. As Ali puts it,

“I remember having a conversation with a friend where I was like, ‘Am I doing the right thing here? Or am I vilifying my own people by writing this kind of story?’ The burden of representation fell heavily on my shoulders, and I didn’t know how to answer it. [My friend] is an incredibly astute person, and she said, ‘You wrote this book because you felt the need to. Remember that need when you’re editing it because you wanted to say something. Have the courage to say it.’ So I did.”

And remember the reason you’re doing it.

When asked what advice do you have to writers who want to hold a mirror to their own communities, Ali said -

“I think you just have to be kind to yourself. Remind yourself of the reason that you’re doing it. It’s not like you’re saying all kind of people that you’re writing about are terrible. It’s just that you’re opening a conversation. Surely that’s what art is for. Surely that’s what writing and books are for. You have to remind yourself of that.”

These only snippets of this fun and informative interview. To hear more about Kasim’s experiences writing Good Intentions, check out the full interview here or follow him on Twitter to keep up with his journey!

✍️ Each week London Writers’ Salon interviews a writer on the craft of writing and the art of building a writing career. Join the next one.

PS: LWS Members get free access to all past and future London Writers’ Salon interviews.

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