Writing with teens in the house

Guest post by: Rob Brunet

Writing teaches humility. The crushing self doubt splayed against seemingly interminable rejection is a gift few occupations can rival. But if you really want to amp it up, try writing with teenagers in the house.

When I committed myself a couple of years ago (to becoming a novelist, that is, although the act itself may qualify me as insane), my children were twelve and fifteen years old. The first few months, they pretended not to notice. Sure, Daddy no longer left the house in the morning. Instead I shuffled a twenty-foot commute to the freshly painted cubby hole across the hall from the bathroom. I was there when the kids came home for lunch. Or after school. Or pretty much any time, unless I was busy driving one of them somewhere. But I still made a point of shaving on occasion, and my cooking skills improved a bit, so there wasn’t a lot to complain about.

Still, they peppered me with innocent queries over dinner. Questions like, “So, when are you going to move back into a real office?” and “Explain again how you’re going to make money now?” Or the rather more pointed, “Daddy, can we still afford to go to university?” Once that was answered, they’d lose interest pretty quick.

The message was clear: keep the fridge full, allowance doled, and lifts available 24/7. After that, by all means, write. Whatever turns your crank.

It’s not like they were completely disinterested. It’s just that time moves at a different pace for teenagers. The whole concept of spending a year or two writing then rewriting and rewriting again, then revising and editing, and changing and polishing a novel, in hopes that one day you’ll land an agent and start the whole process over again—well, it’s just not as exciting as today’s drama surrounding whose boyfriend kissed who else’s girlfriend. Or which Hollywood sequel comes out next week.

In an attempt to overcome their incredibly short and pointedly selective attention spans, I took to describing each major event in my journey. I ticked off accomplishments like completing a draft, selling a short story, or performing a reading with musical accompaniment at the bar down the street. Ever supportive, my kids humored me. They’d listen, nod, acknowledge my success, then ask whether my book would be in print any time soon.

When I signed with my agent, they were convinced things would finally take off. Feeding the beast, I announced a plan to purchase a car that was less than a dozen years old…just as soon as I sold the movie rights to one of my books. My son started showing me his latest issues of Motor Trends, especially the ones featuring Ferraris.

From a teen’s perspective, parents can be embarrassing, or insane, or at best utterly irrelevant. So imagine my daughter’s delight when I insisted she friend me on Facebook. “Creepy” was her adjective; “safe” was mine. She was afraid I’d put the hammer down every time anyone posted a four-letter word to her wall. In an effort to help her understand that I wasn’t quite the prude she made me out to be, I handed her my unfinished manuscript. I write about small town petty criminals in voices that I hope are authentic. They curse. Sometimes, a lot. I figured four or five pages would make my point.

I felt my cool factor escalate as she went on to read a couple hundred pages about grow ops and bikers and bad shit going down in the bush. That got my son reading STINKING RICH, and soon I was hearing that neighbourhood kids in grade seven wanted to read my book when it came out. Somehow, I didn’t think it qualified as a middle grade boy story. Still, I basked in that brief bit of swag.

Sometime later, Thuglit published a story I wrote that sees two strangers hook up in a cheap motel room. It wasn’t one I felt like discussing with my kids. I left the anthology kicking around the family room for a week or two so I couldn’t be accused of hiding it. Then I hid it in my office. The cubby hole.

Typically, though, I do run my stories by my children. I figure tales of criminal misadventure can’t inflict any more damage than COD or the latest vampire soap opera. Of course, there’s more to it than that.

Part of it is pride, and my kids indulge that part. But that’s not it. You see, the raw honest emotional reaction I can expect from both my daughter and son is invaluable. It’s unfiltered. Often it’s more pure than feedback I get from peers in the craft.

Because, let’s face it, if anyone can look you in the face and tell you that your work is either good or absolute dreck—and mean it—it is your own teenage child.

 Who is Rob Brunet?

Rob Brunet writes crime fiction – tales from just barely off the grid. His award-winning short stories have been featured in Voices, Earthkeeper, and Thuglit. Find his writing at www.robbrunet.com or on Twitter @RRBrunet.


Soundbites is an ongoing conversation about creative life and work, moderated by Deryn Collier.

For the next few months we’ll be talking about writing and parenting with weekly guest posts from writer/parents who are really way too busy to bother with guest blog posts. And yet, here they are.

Your comments are always welcome! Are you brave enough to show your work-in-progress to your teenagers?


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One Response to Writing with teens in the house

  1. Pam Blance says:

    Good article Rob. And so true of how teenagers percieve us. I knew I was in trouble when i asked my seventeen year old grandson to edit part of my manuscript.( english is his best subject). “Not enough contractions and who speaks like that? were his main objections. I was told to ‘lighten up’ and speak normally. Throw in a few swear words. Thats how most people talk. He was right. Maybe I’ll hire him as my editor. Oh and yes, I embarrass him all the time.

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