Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Next Generation: Writing a book with my nephew

Over the last year and a half, my nephew Jayson and I have discussed writing a novel together. Jayson is my sister’s eldest boy, will turn 16 in a few months, and let me just say, he has an incredibly active imagination.

Jayson is the nephew who, when I had started writing fiction, moved back to Fitchburg with his mom and lived with his grandmother and I when my brother-in-law received orders to head overseas for a year and a half. During that time, my nephew learned that I was a fledgling writer in the midst of starting this incredible journey; even to this day, the echoes of, “Uncle Sean, you wanna play a board game?” ring in my mind, along with my stiff reply of, “I’m working,” and his beleaguered reply of, “You’re always working!” Now, some eleven years later, Jayson wants to join me on this journey, which his uncle thinks is pretty cool.

In this past year and a half, Jayson and I have exchanged text messages—Him: “I’ve got an idea.” Me: “Fire away.”—about this potential novel; I’ve tried to keep up with his ideas by setting up a brainstorming file. I’m not going to give too much away, but Jayson wants to write about a dystopian United States some 40-50 years from now (I’m going to lean on him to push that timeline back a generation or two for reasons he and I will have to text about), with the country involved in a fictional war on a grand scale. I’ve gone over a few standards he needs to follow, i.e. avoiding passive voice, as well as when to show and when to tell in his narrative.

The fact Jayson and I have had a flurry of text messages about this project in the last few weeks excites me; he’s bounced ideas off me, and I’ve countered with other ideas which should help the project move along on the straight and narrow. I think he’s on the verge of getting ready to do a serious brainstorm, i.e. sketching out the reasoning of why certain events happen, before he settles in to start writing the first draft. When he’s done the first draft, I’m going to help him edit it, polish it, and whip his manuscript into reasonable, publishable shape.

In somewhat unrelated news, I’m prepared to buy a year’s supply of Samuel Adams for when that happens. But I digress.

I have a few thoughts about this:

1. I have to be patient with Jayson. He’s a teenager, obviously. There are going to be periods where he finds himself suffering from “writer’s block” (and I know he’ll text me about this; Uncle Sean will tell him, quite succinctly, “Put your fingertips on the keys and break through it, or step away from it for a while.”) or periods where he does nothing on this draft: he’s in Junior ROTC in school, has great friends in his neighborhood, and is starting to experience life. He may even do a tour of duty, which will keep him away from a computer of his own. It took me two years or so to write my first novel, and I suspect it will take him that long or thereabouts, maybe even longer, to get this initial draft out. My hope is he’ll be able to crank out a page of prose a day in order to get the story moving in an orderly fashion, but there really is no pressure on him to create in his world; if he does two sentences, I'll be happy. When he’s done, he’s done. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here, churning out novels and growing my mailing list, readying myself for the day when he texts me and tells me he’s done with the draft.

2. I have to remind him—and this goes along with the lines of me being patient—and remind myself that his first draft will be utter crap. In theory, all first drafts are supposed to be crap. This is his first novel, and we’re planning a couple, at the very least; maybe even three. Remembering my first novel, and remembering first novels I’ve edited of other authors, the first draft is SUPPOSED to be shitty. And I’ll be here to remind my nephew that we can fix crappy, broken sentences. We can fix a shit draft—but we can’t fix an empty page. When we’re done, it will be golden (this goes along with the year’s supply of Samuel Adams, which if I were smart, I’d charge it to my sister).

3. My hope is that when I’m ready to edit this book, as well as eventually send it back to Jayson so he can publish it, and knowing that it will take some time to get into publishable shape, my mailing list will be chock-full of readers who, as I update them about this book, will be ready for it—salivating over it—and will download it when it’s available. He will write it, I will edit and polish, he will read it to make sure it’s perfect, sending it back and forth on the Information Superhighway until it is absolutely PERFECT, and then we’ll publish it under his name, and I’ll promote it for him with my built-in fan base.

I don’t care how long this takes him. If he decides he needs five years to write this book, fine. Ten years? Fine. As long as he doesn’t give up on this book, I won’t give up on him. As long as I’m alive, I will help my nephew achieve this dream of his—and I’d be lying if this wasn’t a dream of mine, to work with him on this—which started over a simple text message.


I’ll keep you all updated.