Prolific Author and 8th Grader Team Up on a Novel

By Liana Loewus — March 18, 2011 1 min read
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Live from the Celebration of Teaching and Learning Conference in New York

In a heartwarming session, which had at least one audience member in tears, popular young adult novelist Walter Dean Myers and his now 17-year-old co-author Ross Workman described the process of writing a book together.

As a bit of background, Workman wrote a fan letter to Myers when he was 13. He received a staggering response: Myers suggested that the two collaborate on a novel. Four years and countless drafts over e-mail later, Kick was completed.

Myers said in the session that he embarked on the project because he wanted to know, “Can a young person really write a longer piece?” It was not a question of intelligence, he said, but rather whether a young adult could divide his time and persevere through the rigorous editing process. “How many young people do you see that can write, but don’t?” Workman, a humble and well-spoken high schooler, proved it could be done.

Myers, who has published over 100 books, described his disciplined pre-writing approach. He said he begins with a six-paragraph outline, then turns each paragraph into 30 scenes. He writes five pages per day, five days a week. Myers pushed Workman to pre-write with focus. He mentored Workman on the structure of a story and encouraged him to visualize his characters by hanging up photographs of real people. In turn, Workman taught Myers about soccer (which he is as devoted to as his writing). And Myers explained that working with a new writer forced him to revisit his processes. “When we made mistakes, it was because I was taking things for granted,” he said.

Kick was Myers’ first collaborative effort.

When asked what advice he has for other young writers, Workman said, “stick with it. The best part of writing for me is the creative part, the drafting. But once the thrill wears off, you have to stick with it.”

Workman (O.K., I can’t help but mention it—isn’t he aptly named?) said he’s hoping to get started on his next book this spring or fall. Pending the soccer schedule, I assume.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.