Forget “Someday” — These Kids Are Writing Novels Right Now

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Write a whole novel in 30 days? Sounds like a lofty challenge for anyone — much less for a teenager on summer break. Kristen House, who created the Nashville-based writing program A Novel Idea, says reaching for a crazy-big goal is exactly the kind of challenge today’s young people need. “We believe a healthy dose of passion and a seemingly ludicrous task are just the remedy for our multiple-choice society,” she says, “and that a few well-placed dreams can alter the trajectory of a young person’s life.”

Passion, storytelling, and absurdly huge goals? We’re intrigued.

Kristen House (left) and Tama Tappan (right), with House's baby daughter.
Kristen House (left) and Tama Tappan (right), with House’s baby daughter, who will probably write a novel soon.

House, a writer and teacher who graduated with an English degree from Belmont University and went on to get her Masters from University College in Cork, Ireland, now serves as the primary advisor (or “chief executive muse”) of A Novel Idea alongside her mother, the program’s director, Tama Tappan. They share a conviction that children and teenagers are brimming over with stories and that writing those stories down empowers young people to reach future success in all areas of life.

“We believe in the transformative power of language,” says House. “We believe that words can change minds, change hearts, change our lives, and change the world.”

Together with a staff of fellow writers and educators, House and Tappan offer classes in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry writing, some of which are held after school at select metro and independent schools. Through the summer novel writing course, students get intensive, daily practice in writing and revising one major piece (or a collection or smaller pieces if they prefer). At the end of the program, they receive a copy of their own paperback book, printed by Ingram.

Eleven-year-old Sammi Garland, a 6th grader at West End Middle School, takes part in the “Pen & Paper Club,” a writing program that meets during the school year. She says the vibe is different from what she anticipated when her mom insisted she sign up. “The strict writing class I was expecting to find was really just a great place to let my creative juices — which I didn’t even know I had — flow freely,” she says. “I learned that no idea is a bad idea. Every thought can be modified to be better than the original.”

Sammi Garland getting thoughts down on paper.
Sammi Garland getting thoughts down on paper.

The classes teach more than writing mechanics, House adds, and they’re not just for kids who already excel in creative writing. In fact, she says, “We want kids who love words, but who may be shy, scared of being in a group, or who are unsure of themselves as writers. Above everything else, ANI is a self-confidence machine. Kids leave us feeling 10 feet tall.”

“It has helped me with my shyness,” Garland says. “When I first started, I was scared to read my work aloud, because everyone else’s work seemed better than mine, but I soon began to love sharing my work. I found a love and skill for writing poetry and have also been able to think of many different ideas for stories that take place in dystopian societies.”

With so many other activities available and competing for kids’ time, why invest in a writing camp?

Consider this, skeptics: Storytelling is more than an art; it’s a life skill. (Note: We’re not saying art for art’s sake isn’t entirely worthwhile. We’re a bookstore owned by a novelist and a lifelong story-lover — obviously we’d be on board with the idea of raising future novelists.) The psychological power of narrative is well documented for its ability help people heal from trauma and build resilience. It’s also a valued business competency. Storytelling has always been a key component in advertising and sales (see Don Draper) and a vital skill in the boardroom, classroom, and courtroom. In this digital age, it even plays a key role in product development. As one Wall Street Journal article put it, “Almost anything you can imagine you can now build… so the battleground in business has shifted from engineering, which everybody can do, to storytelling, for which many fewer people have real talent.”

“I tell parents that writing skills are essential in today’s world,” Tappan says. “Whether it’s writing a report or a research paper, or simply being able to communicate with other human beings. It all starts with believing that your own words are important, dispelling the fear that they’re not, and then owning them. We believe writing creatively sets the stage for that.”

More than anything, A Novel Idea aims to give kids a sense of accomplishment and drive to find out what they can do next. After all, as House says, graduates of the program never have to worry about becoming just another “adult with an unrealized dream of being a novelist.” Before they even become adults, they’ll be novelists already.

aniA Novel Idea summer programs have rolling admissions — there’s no deadline — but they do fill up. ​​Novel Writing, Session 1: June 2 – June 27. Session 2: July 7 – August 1. Classes meet Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., at Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art. Classes are open to all ages (and will be divided into age-appropriate sections). Both boys and girls are welcome and encouraged to attend. Click here for enrollment information. For more information on A Novel Idea’s classes for all ages, including upcoming writing sessions for adults, visit their website.

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(Coincidence: As we were writing up this story, an article came out on about “How to Tell Your Company’s Story” through social media, and Parnassus was one of the featured businesses. So yes, we do agree that storytelling has a practical purpose. We also just love stories, though.)

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Speaking of young people and books… Parnassus Books is celebrating Children’s Book Week with a series of fun events for various ages. Check out the schedule of events. 

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Ready to write your story? (Or just read a good one?) 

Especially for younger writers:

ISBN-13: 9780062203892
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: HarperTeen, 4/2012

ISBN-13: 9781596436282
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Square Fish, 3/2010

About real young writers:

ISBN-13: 9780385494229
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Broadway Books, 10/1999

Fiction and drama written by high school students:

ISBN-13: 9781934750308
Availability: Special Order – Subject to Availability
Published: 826 Books, 7/2012

A kid-writer in a great piece of kid-fiction:

Harriet the Spy (Paperback)

ISBN-13: 9780440416791
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Yearling, 5/2001

For adult or teen writers — but with lots of useful passages that parents and teachers can pull out and share with young writers:

ISBN-13: 9780385480017
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Anchor, 9/1995

(The essay “The Getaway Car” in this book includes a good bit of writing advice.)
ISBN-13: 9780062236678
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper, 11/2013

ISBN-13: 9781439156810
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Scribner, 7/2010