Make Your Own Job: Kristen House & “A Novel Idea”

By the time she’s finished with them, her teen and tween students have written their first 50,000-word novel. Here’s the backstory:

The first time I met her, Kristen House knocked my socks off. She’s a busy mom, a freelance writer full of ideas and energy, and she recently started her own business—one of those concepts that, when you hear about it, you think, Of course! That should have existed long ago!

courtesy of HER

But it didn’t, until House launched it.

For years, Kristen House had tried to get university students excited about writing. At colleges in Ireland and the U.S., she challenged kids to stretch themselves and their imaginations. She kept demanding more—more words, less time to get them on paper. “Just to see what would happen,” she says.

Mostly, her students panicked—throwing lousy essays together last minute, begging for extensions. She started to realize that by college, it was almost too late to save students from their deeply-ingrained anxiety about writing.

She needed to reach kids before that happened.

Thus was born A Novel Idea, House’s ambitious summer writing class for junior- and senior-high schoolers.

“Teachers told me it was a dumb idea,” she says. “They said, ‘The kids can’t do it.'”

But House knew they could, because she had done just that as an eighth-grader. An insightful teacher recognized that House wasn’t being challenged, so she challenged her: write a novel by semester’s end. House didn’t believe she could do it. She was indignant, she rebelled. And then she calmed down and wrote a novel.

Not much intimidated her after that. “Because I did something that adults do,” she explains. “And that gave me true, intrinsic pride in myself.” She wanted that same feeling of accomplishment for her students; and she realized that being a great teacher means expecting the impossible.

House is into her second year as founder, CEO, and Everything-Woman at A Novel Idea. Last summer, most of her students finished a 50,000-plus-word novel, and she’s added seminars for kids who want to learn more about the road to publication. This summer she’s looking to sign up sixty burgeoning novelists.

But she doesn’t own a red pen. “I don’t want them to turn in work,” she says. “I don’t want them to enter a competition. I don’t want them to be judged! I want them to feel a sense of non-comparative achievement. And that’s something that we don’t do as Americans.”

Publication will come, she tells them. For now, the writing’s the thing.

To read the full HER Nashville story about House (and to meet her students), click here.

To visit the A Novel Idea site, click here

This is part of an ongoing series called Make Your Own Job, about entrepreneurs and innovators who find ways to employ themselves.


Related post: Make Your Own Job—And Some Delicious Marshmallows

21 thoughts on “Make Your Own Job: Kristen House & “A Novel Idea”

  1. What a brilliant idea! I wish I had known a teacher like her when I was in school… I would have loved to have spent my summers in such a positive and inspiring envirionment and been able to work with such a talented writer in order to hon my own skills…What an inpiring woman!

  2. I went through something similar in school, though it involved poetry. Lately, I’ve been giving myself 45 minutes to write a two-page story, also known as a “Shitty First Draft”. But as she says, “writing’s the thing.”

  3. It is a great concept.
    I was really worried about the quality of my writing for ages and produced very little. Last year I took part in NaNoWriMo and just wrote. I still did my day job and looked after the family. In every spare minute I just wrote. I achieved the 50k words. It is not a novel it is barely legible, there is no punctuation. I was elated, I had achieved volume.

  4. I love this and can totally identify with that fear of writing as you hit college. There is a similar initiative in Australia where you are challenged to write a novel in a month. It’s not as hands on as this seminar, but the same principle, no judging – just get the words on paper.

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