How I Got My Office to Write a Book for My Kids

This week, I presented my thoughts on what makes a good story to about seventy colleagues and clients. This is the fun kind of presentation, where money isn’t on the line.

Rather than talk about the hero’s journey and other topics covered ad nauseum in countless books about writing, I looked at my five favorite stories to try and figure out what made them great to me.

Picking five favorite stories is like asking me to pick my favorite child. For purpose of presentation, I chose Franny and Zooey, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Toy Story, Breaking Bad and Harry Potter.

My point was that we make stories great. Our experiences help us to enjoy stories. Our point of view helps us tell good stories.

But that means we have to be open to both feeling and sharing.

That’s when I made them put their it out there and field-tested an idea I’ve had for a long time — Once Upon a Wiki, a crowd-sourced story platform.

I had written the first sentence of the story as a prompt. Then asked nine other people from this room of mostly strangers to write successive sentences. Their goal: a story I could read to my kids at bedtime.

When we were done, I spent an hour laying it out so it could be printed and handed out to class. I was hoping to do more than save $12 at Barnes and Nobles.

I wanted to show this group that we can all tell stories. That we’re all creative. And that writer’s block can totally get his ass kicked if he doesn’t watch himself.

It’s not often I have the opportunity — or willingness — to mash every aspect of my life together. It was as close to I’ve come in a while to being what I thought I would be: a college English professor. And, given how often the demands of work mean sacrificing time and attention toward my family, it was nice to have them at work with me. All told, a pretty well-spent three hours of time.

And one I want to recreate with the boys and work on a book with them. Although the way the middle is talking, I’d be afraid most of the plot points would resolve around poop, butts and wee wees.