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How to write a novel with your child

3 years ago

Tamsin Oxford writer
Tamsin Oxford Professional writer and editor Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, UK
Words. These magical things create gateways into new dimensions, reveal the hidden recesses of life on Earth and take us all on extraordinary adventures in learning and imagination. They are also one of the most valuable tools we can give our children. A control of words and an understanding of their power allows young people to communicate more clearly and grow emotionally. If they can express themselves well, then they are better equipped to handle life’s little curve balls and, according to Pam Allyn, writing helps children with critical thinking skills, school performance and emotional growth. 
So… how about writing a book WITH your child?

Sound horribly complicated?

Terrified that you are a revolting writer who should not be allowed free rein around words?

That’s your first step – dump the voice that says, 'No.'

This activity is about exploring your creativity together with your kids, not about whether Harper Collins will publish it next week along with a huge signing bonus. Although please do feel free to nurse that dream.
Start off by visiting the Guardian. Throw in some images and themes from The Literacy Shed or download the iOS app Writing Challenge for Kids for only 69p and get penning on the move. Still no idea? Visit The Writer’s Plot Idea Generator which has a rather awesome Plot Twist Generator or visit the Write World tumblr which has so many of these generators you won’t have any problem coming up with an idea. Personally, I am a fan of the How You Got Your Superpowers generator – apparently I am the result of a bad bacon experiment.
Now it is time to write. My daughter is nearly eight and she is better at using the fantastic Scrivener than I. It’s expensive, but you do get a free trial period and the software is perfect for creating your own novel. You can store plot twists, character breakdowns and so much more within its depths and it’s available for Mac and Windows. 
There are quite a few options for storing your words out there. Ommwriter is a very popular choice for writers trying to minimise distractions and it’s actually rather perfect for preventing kids. Of course, Write or Die is our pet app for keeping us going – you set the punishment for not reaching your word target and the app does the rest. 
TheSage is a hugely powerful thesaurus and dictionary all rolled into one free software bundle. Let kids figure out the right spelling of words or hunt down alternatives to the ones they keep using and build their vocabulary beautifully. Or you can just download the Merriam Webster app for your Android or iOS device.
Now that you’ve got the tools and the inspiration, it’s time to get to the HOW of it all. How can I inspire my child to sit with me and create a story?

Start out by writing the first few paragraphs by yourself and tailor them to your child’s preferences. We are creating a Choose Your Own Adventure book that involves a farty wizard that smells of old socks being chased around by Cookie (the chef who never washes her hair) and a princess who thinks that dresses are for pansies. My daughter is hugely invested in the experience. I really do recommend dumping any issues you have with plot and consistency out the window before you start, because what matters here is sparking your kid’s imagination and allowing them to carry the characters wherever they like. 
It’s also a good idea to have a tangible end to the project so put down a word limit or length limit and stick to it as best you can. Of course, no novel is worth its salt if it isn’t published so why not do it yourself? There’s Blurb which will create your book the way you want it or Sigil a multi-platform book editor designed to edit books for ePublishing. Go on, stick it on Amazon’s Kindle Direct publishing site and share it with the world…

Tempted to start on a creative-writing journey with your child? Tell us all about it in the comments below.
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