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NaNoWriMo changed my writing life in 2009 when I wrote the first few thousand words of what eventually became Stone of Fire. Writing a speedy first draft without self-censoring is still what I aim for with my books, and in today's show I discuss how it can be done with Grant Faulkner.
In the intro, I discuss the potential impact of the UK Brexit decision on traditional publishing, and on indie authors. Plus, my latest book, The Successful Author Mindset, launches this week and will be available in ebook, print, workbook, and audiobook editions.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Grant Faulkner is a novelist and flash fiction writer, the Executive Director of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, and the co-founder of 100WordStory.org.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- Grant's origins as a writer and how he got involved with NaNoWriMo.
- The origins of NaNoWriMo.
- Why goals and deadlines work for writers.
- Tips for parents and other busy writers including ‘hunting for time'.
- Why tracking your wordcount matters.
- The different reasons writers join NaNoWriMo and the social aspects of the event.
- What to do with your writing once NaNoWriMo has ended.
- Details about the Young Writers Program at NaNoWriMo and the work done in classrooms all year long.
- On Camp NaNoWriMo for those who can't do the original in November.
- Writing 100 word stories
You can find all the details about NaNoWriMo and its programs at www.NaNoWriMo.org and Grant at www.GrantFaulkner.com.
Transcript of Interview with Grant Faulkner
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from the thecreativepenn.com and today I'm here with Grant Faulkner. Hi, Grant.
Grant: Hey, Joanna. Thanks for having me.
Joanna: Oh, it's great to have you on the show.
Just a little introduction, Grant is a novelist and flash fiction writer, the executive director of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, and the co-founder of 100wordstory.org. And today is going to be very cool.
Grant, start by telling us a bit more about you and your writing background.
Grant: I think I was somehow strangely destined to be a writer. I remember going to bookstores with my parents when I was a kid and I would just go over and stare at the journals and the pens. And they'd lose me but just find me there.
When I was 20, I decided to be a writer and there's no looking back. I graduated from college with absolutely no Plan B. I was rolling the dice, putting it on the line and got my MFA in writing here in San Francisco and pursued sort of the traditional course, learning how to write a short story and then graduating to a novel.
It's so strange for me to say this, because nowadays with NaNoWriMo, I meet, like, 18-year-olds who've not only written five or six novels, they've also published them. So, I feel like I was moving at a glacial pace as a writer in the pre-NaNoWriMo days.
I have always been dedicated to fiction writing. Eventually I had to come up with a Plan B and earn a living somewhere there in my late 20s, and so I taught writing at the community college level and the college level. I worked in journalism. I worked in corporate communications, and then fortunately I found my professional home with the National Writing Project several years ago.
National Writing Project is dedicated to helping teachers teach writing better, and that led me to National Novel Writing Month, which is just down the street. I met Chris Baty and asked him if I could get involved and volunteer because I thought it was such an amazing organization, especially after the first time I did it.
I did NaNoWriMo partly because I was stuck in a rut as a writer. I felt I was just repeating all my old habits, and I was like “Who decided on this? Did I decide on my creative writing process or did it decide on me?” And so, NaNoWriMo was a fantastic way to kind of experiment, and by doing it I found all these other creative possibilities that weren't available to me beforehand.
The thing with writing is the one thing just kind of leads into another in this way you can't sometimes explain. So, somewhere in there as a parent, a busy working parent, I started writing shorter and shorter stuff as well, and that's what led me to 100 Word Story. And then, there was no website on the internet that featured 100 word stories – exactly a hundred words – so I figured, “Why not start one?”
Joanna: That's awesome.
For anyone who might not know, what is NaNoWriMo? And let's tell people a bit more about NaNoWriMo, how it got started. What is it? How has it changed over the years?
Grant: It's funny because so many people do NaNoWriMo, I always just expect they know what it is. And then, when you ask me a question like that, I'm like, “No, not everyone in the world knows what NaNoWriMo is.” But, most writers do in some sense now.
To give you some history, it started unofficially in 1999. Unofficially, meaning not as a non-profit or a movement. The founder, Chris Baty, basically woke one day and said, “I want to write a novel. How do you go about this?” And instead of buying a lot of How to Write a Novel books or signing up for a writer's workshop or going to an MFA program, he looked at his bookshelf and picked out one of the more slender novels, or several of them – think “Catcher in the Rye”, and he tallied up the words to be 50,000 words, and he thought that was do-able in a month.
And so, he invited – Chris is a very social guy – so he invited 20 people to join him and they met after work in Berkley's cafes, and wrote together. And this started, really, it's interesting to me because that basic framework of writing with other people really defines who we are today, too, even though we had nearly 500,000 people sign up for all of our programs last year.
Those 20 people, they met in cafes, and that helped them be accountable because if somebody didn't show up, Chris or one of his other friends would call 'em up and say “Where were you today?”. They had to be accountable and show up or they would feel like…there's that thing, if you want to create a new habit, the best way to do it is to announce it to your friends because they'll hold you accountable.
And then they did this interesting thing where they would challenge each other. They would competitively say “Okay, we're gonna write for 10 minutes and whoever writes the most words will win a latte.” And so, we do that today. We have word sprints that are on Twitter, going 24 hours a day during NaNoWriMo. And our live write-ins, which municipal liaisons post.
We have a thousand volunteers around the world who host live writing gatherings. They do things like this, too. So, it's a way to motivate people and keep their writing moving forward. And then they did this other thing, too. They would, let me see, they would, do a test. They'd say “You have to write a thousand words, or five hundred words, whatever it is, before you can go to the bathroom.” And this day, especially those people who won the latte in the first exercise, it's one of the most motivating things for any writer to do. If you're having a problem moving your novel forward, give yourself a challenge like that.
Joanna: Yeah, and it's interesting because I do credit NaNoWriMo, 2009. I made, I think, 27,000 words I managed.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. Because the aim is 50,000, right?
Joanna: I did 27,000, and I'd never written fiction since high school. And the kernel of that 27,000 words, that whole 27,000 words didn't make it into the novel, but the story that I came up with is what became Stone of Fire, which was my first novel.
Joanna: Yeah, a couple of years later. And now I've got 11.
Joanna: So it's kind of the start.
I wonder if you could talk about why do you think that putting a deadline and a limit around these things helps people to write? How does that actually work?
Grant: We have a saying that a goal and a deadline are creative midwives. I think so many writers, I for instance, when I first was setting out to write a novel, I'm one of these writers who will write a first chapter, or may be two chapters, and then I will endlessly go back and keep re-writing that and keep thinking that I have to get it perfect before moving on. And so, that beginning part of the novel can get so much attention.
Like I always say, even if I do finish a novel, it's like 60% of my attention's on the beginning, maybe 25% on the middle, and just a scant little bit at the end.
I think NaNoWriMo, by having that deadline it really forces. It gives you an urgency. Otherwise, I think people can kind of dally through their novel for years and think that they're really working hard on it. But if you really tally up the time, it's not moving forward.
NaNoWriMo is all about that moving forward. And as you said earlier, so many of those words you write, they don't end up in your final draft, and they're not really supposed to. Writing a rough draft is largely this imaginative exercise. You're exploring worlds. You're taking risks.
To write 50,000 words in a month, in only 30 days, it puts that pressure on you. You have to keep moving things forward, and that, I think there's a great creative principal there because you're less attached to your words. They are less precious. And so, you just write and get it out. Then you know you're going to re-write later, but you're going to explore the story in interesting ways.
Joanna: Yeah, absolutely. So, is it 1,667 per day?
Grant: If you want to be precise, yes. I was around 1,700.
Joanna: So, 1,700 a day, or you bulk it up at the weekend and kind of see what happens.
Grant: Yeah, that's good. That's perfect.
Joanna: What are your tips for people? Like you mention, you're a busy parent.
What are your tips for writers to actually get that number of words done per day?
Grant: When I talk about NaNoWriMo to people and tell them about it, the number one thing that people tell me is “Oh, I'm too busy for that.” But the thing is, is that NaNoWriMo is designed for busy people.
Every single person on the planet thinks they're busy. Even people who don't work, who have lavish incomes, they think they're busy no matter what they're doing. And so, we all have to kind of reckon with that. NaNoWriMo teaches us time management, which is one of these crucial skills for writing novels that is vastly underrated and not talked about.
The first thing is that I always tell people to go on a time hunt beforehand, like in October. Literally keep track of how you spend time for an entire week. Every 15 minutes or half an hour, tally how much time you spend on Facebook or Twitter. Tally how much time you spend on Netflix. Tally how much time you spend during lunch at work.
What I find is that people find all these nooks and crannies of time that are sort of like not used for any great creative purpose. And so, for one month you can think about “Maybe I don't go on social media for a month. Maybe I say ‘no' to going out on Friday nights for a month.” You carve out time so that you can make it possible to write a novel.
A lot of things feel urgent and necessary but if we really think about them, a lot of them aren't urgent and necessary. Writing a novel is urgent and necessary. We have a saying, that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it.
Joanna: I think you're right there. I was also thinking that when I did NaNoWriMo, preparing in advance so that you can start writing on day one was a really big deal.
How do you suggest people prepare for NaNoWriMo?
Grant: Well, we're not prescriptive. NaNoWriMo is a wide-open creative experiment, and it's been interesting to watch the variety of ways people approach it every year. I always think, like you said, it's good to be prepared. You have to figure out what the right level of preparation is for you.
We always have this active debate among our participants. There are the planners who really need to have that plot really precisely outlined, and deeply thought through. That works great for some people. It happens not to work great for a lot of people. I have to not know where my story is going from the beginning, because writing a rough draft is an exploration for me. I'm trying to find the story and the words.
The other camp are the panthers. We'll have people, literally hands on the keyboard, midnight on October 31, ready to go. Sometimes they don't even know what they're going to write. Those are the two, the spectrum there. I think generally the people who are successful are somewhere in the middle.
I always say that it's good to let your ideas marinate in October, take some notes, think about who your characters are, start letting things flow through your brain and having ideas percolate. I mean, for me, this is how I do it. Then I'm ready to go on November 1, but I'm not cornered by an outline. I can go in any direction.
Joanna: I think I'm the same. When I did it then, and still my process now, I don't have an outline but I do know who my characters are. I do know what the first scene is going to be, and I think that's a big deal. What you don't want on that first day is the blank page and no idea. If you're someone who this is the first time, the blank page can be quite bad.
But if you know this person is in this place and they're going to do this, that's what you need to know, isn't it? On day one.
Grant: I think just getting started. Our advice is really pretty simple. Part of it is, “Banish your inner editor.” The gusts of inspiration are only going to take you so far. So, that first day of NaNoWriMo, you might be feeling like the wind is just blowing you forward, but that inspiration is going to fade out pretty quickly.
I think one thing, when you're talking about tips, is you have to account for those days that you just don't want to write. But, I think this is how you learn to be a writer. Those days you don't want to write, you still show up. I always say that NaNoWriMo is one-part boot camp, and one-part party. The boot camp part is you're training yourself to be a writer. You're training yourself to show up every day and be creative, even on bad days. But, we also have celebratory aspects and we make writing a novel fun, also.
Joanna: Yeah, absolutely. And one of the things is the sharing aspect of word counts. I must say, because I only made, that first year, 20,667, or whatever it was, in one month. I was feeling like “Oh my goodness, all these people are so far ahead of me.” And that public sharing was quite difficult, too.
Why is the public sharing of word count so emphasized and so important?
Grant: I think it's emphasized it's just so natural. It is almost like a greeting. When I see NaNoWriMo people see each other, their first question, other than, “How are you doing?” and it might even be before, “How are you doing?” it's like, “What's your word count?” It's a point of curiosity.
I think at NaNoWriMo we are fundamentally an organization of encouragement and empowerment, and I think that's a big part of it, so however that takes its form. Like when you kept saying, “I only wrote 27,000 words” and you felt envious or you felt shamed by the people who had written more. I think the word count can be motivating on a lot of different levels. I would never say that you only wrote 27,000 words. I'd say, “That's tremendous. You wrote 27,000 words in November. That's something like 300,000 words a year, which is amazing.”
I think it has that place, just like a discussion, and I think you can be really motivated by those people who are ahead of you. Sometimes they will, if somebody writes all day Saturday and catches up and goes beyond their word count target, that's really motivating. Because you're like, “If they can do it, I can do it too.” And we have all of these NaNoWriMo heroic stories, like people who have signed up on November 15, and they…
Joanna: Wasn't there one guy or did it in a day or something?
Grant: There are people who do it in a day. I don't understand how they physically or mentally do it, but they can. So, it's interesting.
And when I say that NaNoWriMo is a creative experiment, I think that's part of it. You're figuring out your own not only when you like to write, or your own writing habits, or what boundaries you can push, but your pace as a writer.
I happen to be a very slow writer, and in some ways that's why NaNoWriMo really helps me. I happen to be a writer who hates writing rough drafts, and again, NaNoWriMo really helps me with that. So, the word count, how can you not talk about your word count in November, essentially. It's on your mind because you've gotta hit 50,000 words.
Joanna: I think it's become, certainly in the genre fiction space, it's very normal to share your word count in general. And I will often, these days, share my word count on Twitter or with my readers when I'm getting closer to a number. So, I think that's become more normal. But I'm interested, with you who's coming from an MFA sort of literary tradition, and one of the biggest criticisms of NaNoWriMo is “Oh, this is just getting all these random people to put out books in a month.”
What do you say to people who criticize NaNoWriMo for that?
Grant: It's really too bad that people criticize it on that level because we are about energizing people to be creative, to realizing their creative potential. That's why we exist. I would never tell people they shouldn't dance on Friday nights because we have too many people dancing in the world already or we already have professional dancers. And I think writing a novel serves that purpose.
A lot of people come to NaNoWriMo and they are not necessarily writing to get published. I think a lot of people make that assumption, that it's all about everyone going for the best seller. But, so many of our people gather just because they like being creative and writing with other people. They like to explore their imagination in that way.
Our mantra is that everyone has a story to tell, and everyone's story matters. There are so many different levels of meaning that happen when you write a story, whether you want to be a best seller or you just want to write. And so, I think everyone in the world should write a novel.
Joanna: Me too
Grant: I don't think we can have enough novels in the world. I don't think we can have enough dancers in the world. I don't think we have enough improv actors in the world. These are things that, being creative is a primary way of being a human being. So when I hear those critiques, I find them really dispiriting and unnecessary.
And I don't think they understand NaNoWriMo either. We're not telling people to try to publish their rough draft. We're trying to ignite their creativity.
Joanna: I totally agree with you. And I'm saying, the people who say this at the moment as well as criticizing self-publishing, taking it a bit further, I say for every person who wants to write a novel and actually starts writing, the number of books they buy goes up.
Joanna: So if every person wrote a novel, everyone would buy more books, and that makes everyone happy.
Grant: Exactly. And I always say that, I won't name the person, but they sometimes say that we're not really furthering literary excellence. My comeback is like, “500,000 people writing novels is like I can't think of a better way to further literary excellence.”
Those people go back and they're better parents as a result. They're better students. They're better managers. They're better employees. Being creative, when you have that in your life, you can change the world in important ways.
Joanna: Yeah, and as I said, for me, when I went from someone who said – and I think the timing of this interview is great because we're quite early for November – but it was on a podcast in July 2009 when someone said to me, “Why don't you do NaNoWriMo?” Because I said, “Oh, I could never write fiction.” And doing it that year basically changed my life.
I had to think about it. I got the idea in July, “Oh, I could do that.” I had never heard of that before, and by the time November came I was raring to go. I want to encourage people listening now.
This is just about creativity and you don't know what's going to come out of it. You don't know what's going to happen with what you come up with.
Grant: That's the key thing – what you said, is that “I can do it.” That's what we try to foster. You don't have to be one of these wizened writers with an MFA. You don't have to do that.
Actually, an MFA, I don't think it really furthers learning how to write a novel that much. Because I think the best way to learn how to write a novel is just like what Chris thought in 1999 – is by doing it. And every novel you write is different than the previous novel.
Every novel has its own learning curve and the only way to do that, there's that popular concept that to gain mastery in anything, you have to do it for 10,000 hours. Well, what better way to start that than in NaNoWriMo, which is basically a training ground to show up every day and write, and to reach those 10,000 hours. So, if you've got a story, you can do it. It doesn't matter who you are.
Joanna: I love that. It is a very encouraging organization. Just coming back on the social thing, because that's the other thing. I remember back in 2009, I'd only been running my website for six months. I didn't know any authors. I'd started to interview people on my very early podcast in order to actually meet some people. But NaNoWriMo has a very big social aspect.
If people listening don't have any author friends, how is NaNoWriMo so social? What are the things that go on?
Grant: I think people have a notion of authors as these solitary, angst-filled creatures, and there's some truth to that, obviously. But when I said that time management skills are an underrated part of being a successful novelist, or writing, so are the communities.
If you look at every writer that you've read, I bet if you really look at their lives, they have a community of authors or creators who have helped them along on their way. And so, having a community is really important to what we do. And so many people find their writing community, their writing home, with us.
Our forums, for instance, online, on the net, our NaNoWriMo.org website, we get a million comments during the month of November. They're very active. And literally, you can talk about every subject under the sun with creativity in writing. If you ask a question, you will get answers right away.
But then social media explodes, so Twitter #NaNoWriMo is trending throughout the month of November. As I said earlier, these word sprints, where there's a words sprint account. So these sprints, these challenges, happen around the clock during November.
It's very social, like you said earlier. People will write to the prompt. They'll share their word count. They'll share a sentence. So, it's all about bringing people together creatively. But beyond online, we do have these thousand municipal liaisons I mentioned, who are around the world, literally. They're in the US, of course, but we have Pakistan and countries in Africa, and we've had people write in Antarctica before.
When was saying about Chris, when he met with his friends in coffee shops, that's what the municipal liaisons do. They bring people together. People feel encouraged and empowered to write when they meet other writers who are at the same level as they are. It's motivating to show up and to write with other people.
They've even done these studies, that people feel more creative when they're sitting next to strangers in cafes. We feel that the community…it takes a village to write a novel.
Joanna: Yeah, and I should say, from my experience of doing that, because I still write in cafes a lot. And I dictate as well, but when I tried this social writing, I think it's important for people to understand that when you go to a NaNoWriMo writing session, you go to a cafe, but you actually sit there and write. It's not like a writers group or a book group where mostly people just chat.
You go and everyone is quiet and they're writing, and then after, say, the hour is up, then you can chat. Right? It is quite a controlled thing.
Grant: They're all different. Most of them, you are sitting there writing and you can almost feel like you're in a library. Some of them are more active.
These writing groups in November, a lot of them continue on and they meet year-round. So it's a great way, as you said when you started this podcast, to meet other writers. I think it's so valuable to know and interact with other writers, whether you're sharing your stories with them, or just understanding each other.
When you say, “I am a writer” to a lot of people, often times, strangely, you don't get a lot of support for that. They say, “How are you making a living?”, or “Have you published yet?”, or they say “Oh”, which is the worst response. But, I think having other writers that understand what you're going through is really important and can creatively support you in a variety of ways.
And I forgot to mention, we have a library program called “Come Write In”, and so 1,000 libraries also host these writing gatherings. So, there are a variety of ways to connect with other writers.
Joanna: That's awesome. I might have to start something in Bath, or I might see if there's already something in Bath.
Grant: Yeah, do it.
Joanna: Because that would be fun. So, NaNo is really about first draft writing, as you said. It's about getting the words down. It's about not editing it. It's just about doing it. It's not about zero-to-published novel. I know that some people do talk about zero-to-published novel in 30 days. And it can be done, but when I think you are more developed as an author.
What do you recommend people do at the end of November? Say they have 30,000 words or 50,000 words, what do they do then after November?
Grant: Well, it depends on where they are in terms of their novel. We always say “Write to the end.” It's good to finish it, even if you have to be sketchy in some of the scenes leading up to that.
And it depends on what their ambitions are for their novel, but we offer a program called “I Wrote a Novel, Now What?” It's in January and February, and it's basically a large conversation about that “Now what?”. We provide resources on our blog. We have tweet chats with authors, editors, agents. We host webcasts sometimes with self-publishing companies. We try to cover the spectrum, essentially, on what the next steps are. We talk about revision. We talk about finding your writing community or forming a writing group. We talk about how to find an agent. We talk about all those different publishing pathways that are available to people. So it's largely just educating people and trying to help them with those next steps.
Joanna: As you're talking, I realize we haven't actually said that NaNoWriMo is free.
Grant: It is free, yes. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone's story matters. We're not going to charge them $10.
Joanna: We've been talking about it for ages, and I'm like, “Actually, everyone knows this is a free program and you just register and join in, right?”
Grant: Everyone can do it, and we're non-profit so we do have to ask for donations to make it all happen. A lot of people think we're just a website, but being just a website for 500,000 people actually takes a lot of work and money. And were not just a website.
Like I said, we've got these thousand volunteers, and libraries, and we also have this young writers program where we have 100,000 teens sign up on the YWP – that's what we call it – website to write novels just like they do at NaNoWriMo.
And we send free classroom materials to 2,000 classrooms every year. And when I say free, they're free, and we pay shipping and handling to do that. We're all about access to creativity and we that to best keep costs down as much as we can.
Joanna: And we're not going to talk about merchandise or anything, but as someone who participates, when you are participating, you do feel like buying the t-shirt and donating to the program because you're part of it. But I just wanted to make sure people understood that they can join in just like that.
You mentioned the young writers program there, which I often refer people to. Just tell us a bit more about that in case people have kids, or friends.
Grant: It operates largely like NaNoWriMo, except that because we're dealing with younger kids they don't have to write 50,000 words in a month. They can set their own word count goal.
My daughter, who's in the 5th grade, wrote 10,000 words last year. You can do it independently. Any teen can just sign up on the website and do it. We're actually building a fantastic new website that we hope to launch this year.
Some of our biggest successes happen in the classroom. Teachers have access to free workbooks, we have this fantastic curriculum designed specifically for teaching novel writing. And it's not just in the month of November, it covers the whole school year, so it helps teachers teach kids how to prepare to write a novel. Write a novel in November, revise it, work with other people.
And then, in the end, we usually work with a self-publishing company so that all kids get a free copy of their novel. Which is fantastic because they're writing for an audience and they have to have a novel in your hand. No matter what age you are, it's always exciting.
Often times, those schools host readings. I'm actually going to a reading this Friday. What we find in the Young Writers Program, we hear so many stories about kids who are the most reluctant writers, the kids who hate writing, or special needs kids, and they will do NaNoWriMo and have this huge breakthrough. They will suddenly love writing. And it's always like “How do you explain that?”
I think it's because we learn through our passions. That's the best way to learn anything. Instead of kids sitting in a classroom and feeling that that red pen that's going to correct their grammar – that's important, but it's also important to learn that writing is a fun, joyous, amazing experience. I think we give kids agency. They get to choose their topic. They get to dive in.
Kids love that word count goal. They love tracking that and tracking it with their classmates. Once they do this, they write a novel at such a young age, I think they're just so empowered and confident about writing in a way that other projects can't really achieve that, writing a 10-page research paper is easy.
Joanna: Yeah, that's true. And I do think that that initial reticence, that's what I think I had as well. Which is because school teaches you that you have to write something literary. You have to write something like Thomas Hardy or John Steinbeck or whatever. But actually, what if you want to write about aliens and spaceships? Or, like I do, like blowing stuff up and killing people? And all that stuff's just not acceptable when you do English literature at school.
Something like NaNoWriMo for kids, and for adults, you're allowed to write whatever you want. It doesn't have to be literature. In fact, it probably isn't.
Grant: Yeah. We don't work within those boundaries. We would never set up boundaries like that. We want people to be creative. You can be creative in so many different ways. We don't judge quality. Quality happens when you do it, when you practice. That happens across genres.
Joanna: Absolutely. One more thing on NaNo before I ask you just one more question about your own writing.
Camp NaNo is coming up, too. So, what is that? How can people get involved?
Grant: I wanted to work that in, because when you were saying that there's still time to think about doing NaNoWriMo this November, well there is this fantastic way to warm up to NaNoWriMo, and that's Camp NaNoWriMo.
Camp NaNoWriMo isn't like a physical camp. We don't have cabins somewhere in Northern California where people are gathering. It's an online event – CampNaNoWriMo.org. And we designed it initially for people who couldn't do NaNowWriMo in November. There's a session in April, and there's a session in July.
It's basically just like NaNoWriMo, except it's a more open-ended and casual version. You don't have to write a novel, for instance. You can write a memoir. You can write a script. You can write a play. You can write an epic poem. You can revise your novel. You can set your own word count goal, so it could be 500 words, or 50,000 words, or 100,000 words. So, it's much more open in that sense.
I do think it's a great warm-up for NaNoWriMo. We have this session in July, and about 30,000 people will participate in July. We don't have the municipal liaisons hosting live writing events in the summer, but you can form a cabin with your peers. So, for instance, I will be in a cabin with 10 fellow writers, and that swapping word count and writing tips happens within that cabin. It's a more intimate conversation. It's a great way to warm up and get ready, and just dip your toe into NaNoWriMo if you're thinking about it and haven't done it before.
Joanna: Fantastic. I also wanted to ask you, we've been talking about 50,000 words, but you have 100WordStory.org.
How can you write a story in 100 words?
Grant: I always say I'm a very schizophrenic writer. I like to write long, and I like to write short. I really don't like there to be any boundaries. Sometimes, writers put too many boundaries around themselves, like “I only write sci-fi”, or “I only write literary fiction.” I think breaking down those boundaries makes you a better writer.
100 words is a really interesting challenge. When I first started doing it, it was really random. I read a friend of mine's stories. He'd written a hundred 100-word stories as a memoir, which I thought was really interesting. Because when I think about my life, it's not like this grand trajectory of a plot, it's more of these little snapshots, these little moments that are important. It's like a collage.
I think 100 word stories are perfect for capturing those little moments that are very telling in our lives, but maybe don't warrant a novel or even a conventional short story.
But that said, when I first started doing it, I would write maybe 150 or 170 words, and I was thinking “This is as short as I can go.” And I told this friend of mine, I was like “Oh, more or less. It's close enough.” And he was like “No, you've gotta get it down to 100 words. There's no fibbing. There's no wriggle room there. It's exactly 100.” And so, I did it. I kept working, and it's really interesting what happens when you write for concision like that. You can develop a story arc in 100 words. You can have character change.
It takes a lot of practice to do it, but it's a really interesting exercise and I think writing short like that, it's improved my writing in a way that no other form has because it teaches you that you can write a story through hints. You can leave things out. That's the thing – if you write a story in 100 words, it's not about what you include in those 100 words, it's largely about what you leave out, what the reader senses and fills in themselves. It's informed my novel writing. It helps me write with suspense. I leave more things out of the story and see if I can carry it off.
Joanna: That's a good point, actually. I've written short stories. I'm just writing a short story right now, and I've just written a screenplay and I'm like “100 words?”
It only has one character, in one scene?
Grant: No, not necessarily.
Joanna: Does it have dialogue?
Grant: It can. It can have dialogue. They have been written in so many different ways. Every month, we get like 300 submissions, so I've read thousands of them. Sometimes it can be only dialogue. They can almost be like slices of life. They can be like prose poems, but they can also be more narrative and more like stories.
Joanna: People can find those at 100WordStory.org.
Grant: Exactly. Think of them like if a haiku is the shortest style of poem, think of the 100-word story as being the haiku of storytelling.
Joanna: And what about your novels?
Grant: I just sent a novel to my agent. I have high hopes that it will be published. You never know. Every year I write a novel in NaNoWriMo. I always say I get, at most, two goods ideas a year. This is my slow writing, I think. But I always get one, and so it's a good pace for me because I'd be very frustrated I was just sitting around with ten novels that hadn't been written. So now, I have four or five that I've written during NaNoWriMo that are in a drawer. And so now that I've sent off this one novel that I wrote in NaNoWriMo just two years ago, I'll open the drawer and get the next one out and start revising it soon.
Joanna: Fantastic. That's so good. You obviously love your job-job, as well as what your job is about, which is really lovely.
Tell us, where can people find you and NaNoWriMo and all this stuff online?
Grant: NaNoWriMo is NaNoWriMo.org. You can find everything through NaNoWriMo.org. We have links, too. I'm going to pull it up, just because I always forget URLs. NaNoWriMo.org, and the Young Writers Program is YWP.NaNoWriMo.org and you can also just search for these things, obviously. And Camp NaNoWriMo is CampNaNoWriMo.org.
And then me, I'm at GrantFaulkner.com. You can just search Grant Faulkner on Google. You'll stumble across me somewhere on there. I'm on Twitter @GrantFaulkner. Facebook, there are only about five Grant Faulkners in the world.
Joanna: Who are writing.
Joanna: Oh, fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Grant. That was great.
Grant: Absolutely. Thank you. This was so fun.
Daniel Fellows says
This came at the right time. Can’t wait to listen to this one. Please keep the great content coming
Janet Hartman says
Thank you for sharing that you “only” wrote 27,000 words the first time you did Nano. I felt like such a failure the only time I tried it because I did not reach 50,000, and I’ve never tried it again.
I did continue writing though, and you’ve given me inspiration to try again!
Joanna Penn says
excellent 🙂 any writing is a win!
This was so timely and so encouraging. I signed up for NaNoWriMo because I want to try writing fiction, too, and I really enjoyed hearing that this was the way you started your fiction writing. This is enough time for me to think about characters, setting, plot, etc. and actually have a good outline (yes, I need that outline before I get started) by October 31st. I also signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo for July because I had already set myself a goal to write 31 blog posts during the month. Since the Camp is free-form that fits into my goal.
P.D. Workman says
I love Nano!
I’m just getting set for Camp Nano. I have brainstormed my idea, done up a concept cover and title, and have private cabin going. Just need to work through an outline, and I’ll be ready to go! I’m a little late getting it done this time, I am usually ready a couple of weeks ahead of time.
Buddy Cushman says
Thanks for this interesting article. I believe I will sign up for November.
nichola wellings says
I have been following you since around 2009. I think you’re fantastic. I look forward to your newsletter which I read a couple of times, usually. I really find all the tips and information very helpful. Although I’m sure it must be a lot of work to keep this site going, you’re making a huge difference to so many writers and even though you may never get to talk to them… we’re out here.
So I just wanted to say – good job!
Peter Blyth says
I’ve been working on the 2000 words per day thing ever since I read SKs ‘On writing’ I’m currently doing about 1500 every day I write but not writing every day (still I’m 25k into my second novel – the first (105k) is in editing phase with the target of being out by christmas )
That said I’m not feeling the whole Nanowrimo/camp nano thing . For me writing is a solitary pursuit and the idea of an artificial deadline and/or joining a virtual cabin turns me right off.
Still different strokes and all that