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Is it your dream to write a novel but you just don’t know where to start? Have you written lots of non-fiction but secretly, you'd love to write fiction? In today's interview, I talk to Grant Faulkner about tips for writing a novel in a month, whether that's part of #nanowrimo, or whenever you decide to start.
In the intro, I talk about my experiences self-publishing in German, and the challenges of writing travel memoir about Australia on Books and Travel Podcast. Plus, I talk to Orna Ross about Author Branding and IP Licensing on the Ask ALLi podcast.
Today's show is sponsored by my own How to Write a Novel course, which I created while writing End of Days, so you get a behind the scenes look at how the book came together.
One course member, Jim C says, “The information is outstanding, and it is laid out in the perfect order. It is a roadmap that takes you from self-doubt and confusion to typing The End. More than anything else, it gave me the knowledge and confidence to not only start my novel but also finish it. And then do it again. I am about to start my third book that is now outlined and ready to go. All of this happened after I purchased and studied your course.” Check it out at www.TheCreativePenn.com/learn
Grant Faulkner is the Executive Director of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. He's also a short story writer, novelist, and author of nonfiction including Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- Why stories matter, even in dark times
- Getting started writing fiction, even if you feel you’re not creative. You can follow the journey of my first novel, including NaNoWriMo 2009 here.
- Tips on finding the time to write
- How NaNoWriMo is an exercise in time management as much as a writing exercise
- The power and accountability of writing together with others
- Whether to prepare for NaNoWriMo or just wing it
- The power of dictating first drafts
- Why revision is so important after the first draft is finished
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 Penn: Grant Faulkner is the Executive Director of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. He's also a short story writer, novelist, and author of nonfiction including Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo. Welcome back to the show Grant.
Grant Faulkner: Hey, Joanna, thanks for having me.
Joanna Penn: It's great to have you back. You've been on the show before so we’re just going to dive straight into it. And this is going to go out for NaNoWriMo, which is November every year.
Is writing fiction an indulgence?
One of the things that keeps coming up in conversations with people is writing fiction is an indulgence. We're living in difficult times, whatever your politics, things are a bit crazy. Climate change, the rise of AI and all this stuff and people feel like maybe they should be doing something more important in inverted commas.
Why is story more important than ever?
Grant Faulkner: I think that's a great question.
And I think even in times that maybe aren't so dark or don't feel so dark, I think every fiction writer asks this question from time to time because stories are sometimes seen as trivial entertainment. I think you used the word indulge and my thing is why it's important is that we are meaning-making creatures and the way we make meaning in the world is through our story.
And we understand who we are through our stories. We understand who others are through our stories. We understand the world through our stories and we understand what the world can be through our stories. It's been interesting to me how important novels are and how they're even more important now than they've ever been after the 2016 election here in the US.
George Orwell's 1984, which was published way back in 1949, was on bestseller lists for I don't know how long it might still be on bestseller lists and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. They became newly relevant. Think about all the attention that Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is getting and her new book The Testaments.
So people look for ways to understand the world and themselves in the world through stories. Beyond that, I think stories give us solace, whether it's a story that's so relevant as The Handmaid's Tale or if it's something that is just for entertainment is also really valuable. I always argue the stories are important and I hate when people say they're not important or less important.
Joanna Penn: As consumers of story everyone talks about this golden age. We’re binging a boxset at the moment, Designated Survivor, which is a political show and it's really good (at least series 1 was great and then it dropped off!) and I like getting into the story, but it's also about empathy, isn't it? About how putting yourself in someone else's shoes can actually help us understand each other instead of ranting or getting upset.
Sometimes putting our deepest feelings into a story can actually help us figure things out.
Grant Faulkner: That's what I mean when I say we understand who others are through our stories. Stories are really the best way to see the world through other people's eyes. And right now more than ever I think that's what we need in the world is to be able to understand other people. We don't have to agree with them, but it's great to see how they see the world and to either put our own opinions or our own sight in question to have a counterpoint to it and also to create a dialogue.
I think the reason that people think of the world as dark currently, it's largely because of the divisiveness of it and the impossibility of having a conversation or any type of dialogue and that's really what we need to have is a dialogue. I think stories open up the door to that dialogue, and no matter what your politics are a good story is going to resonate with you and a good story is going to create a conversation.
Joanna Penn: We could all bond around Stranger Things!
Grant Faulkner: Exactly. It doesn't matter who you are, Stranger Things is going to be good.
Joanna Penn: I want to wind it back to the idea of creativity. I did NaNoWriMo back in 2009 for my first novel and it really helped kickstart my fiction writing. A lot of writers start with nonfiction and they feel like they're not creative and that it would be difficult to find ideas for stories or they might even be suppressed.
I felt I was not creative and that I could never write fiction because I was an IT consultant. I didn't have anything creative in me, but it was more that it was suppressed over years of work.
For somebody listening who feels like they are just not creative, how would you recommend they get started with fiction?
Grant Faulkner: I hear this so often when I talk to people about NaNoWriMo. I hear one of two things when I invite them to do it.
One is I don't have the time and two is I'm not a creative type or I'm not a writer. I think what they're doing when they say that they're not a creative type is they're putting an unnecessary limit or obstacle in front of themselves because I believe that everyone is a creative type. You’re creative by virtue of being human. That's what really defines us.
And one part of being a creative type is being a storyteller. And again, it's what I was saying earlier is that we make meaning of the world through stories and we answer the question “what if?” through our stories.
At NaNoWriMo, our mantra is that everyone has a story to tell and everyone's story matters.
And so I think you create yourself as a creative type by writing your story, by engaging with words. You are a writer because you write, not because you're published. I like to counter that notion that when people say I'm not a creative type. I think they just need to tell themselves that they are creative types and then experience creativity and then prove it to themselves.
Joanna Penn: I actually think that my block personally came from feeling like the only type of story I should write again, should in inverted commas, would be some kind of award-winning literary fiction. And in fact, the books you mentioned before are all award-winning literary fiction. I was really released from the block by seeing that what I like reading is thrillers like Dan Brown. So I'm going to write a thriller like Dan Brown.
What's your feeling around this: we “should” write a certain thing?
Grant Faulkner: I think we should only write what we're passionate about and what interests you and these books border the lines of dystopian fantasy and sci-fi and there are plenty of genre novels that inform our worlds in very deep ways and also entertain us and provide solace and all those ood things about writing and reading.
For writers, it's easy to fall into that trap of the ‘should’. Like ‘I should be writing something commercial’ is another thing that people tell themselves. I should be writing something entirely original or I should be writing something literary, and really those shoulds I think tend to probably shut you down somewhat, shut down your creativity and narrow your view.
I think the best stories to pursue are the stories that are calling us, that really mean something to us. The things that we wake up to when we were really excited to go write them or even if we're not excited, even if it's kind of painful and causes a lot of anguish, you still find meaning in it. You can't imagine your life without being able to write that story.
And so I generally don't like the word ‘should.' And in that context, I think we all have different styles of expression and I think every genre in the world has produced great books and meaningful books.
So the only ‘should' you have is you should write the story you want to.
Joanna Penn: I agree.
Now, you also mentioned that when you talk to people they will often say they don't have the time. What do you answer to that?
Grant Faulkner: I think there are occasions when some people just do not have the time. If you're a single mom working two jobs it's hard to squeeze in writing.
But at the same time, I think most of us can create time if we really think about how we use time in our lives. I always think of the story of Toni Morrison, who actually was a single mom with two kids, working in New York City for a publishing house and the way she wrote her first novel after doing everything she had to do in the day she had about 15 minutes left before going to bed. And that was not like the prime moment for her creativity to sing.
But she sat down and she wrote for 15 minutes a day before going to bed. And that's how she created her first novel. It was in 15-minute increments, doing something small like that every day, they build up to big things eventually.
I think most of us can find 15-minute nooks and crannies in our day to write, whether it's at our lunch break or the first thing when we wake up or at night. That's the advice I give people for NaNoWriMo. I think it's really crucial.
I mean NaNoWriMo is one part a time management exploration, and I think we talked about all the kind of craft things that go into a good story, like how to write good dialogue or how to plot a novel.
One of the most important things to be a successful novelist is time management.
It doesn't get the glory but it's really true. Finding the time in your life to write and so to write essentially 1700 words a day during National Novel Writing Month you really have to excavate your life.
I do it every year because my life changes and I do what I call a time hunt and we advise that our participants do this as well. And it's simply keeping track of how you use time for say a week and really analyze it in 15-minute increments or half-hour increments how you spend time.
How much do you spend on social media? You can actually get software that does this too that helps. But how much time do you spend on social media? How much time do you spend binge-watching Netflix? How much time do you spend cooking dinner? And think about where you can give things up. Where can you open up time?
I think most people can open up an hour or two a day in their lives by doing that. You're inviting in something that matters a lot to you, which is writing, and I see too many people say I'm going to write that novel someday and there are ways to make that happen, too.
Joanna Penn: I totally agree and we should probably just circle back and say well for people who don't know NaNoWriMo you've told us a few things there.
Explain the concept of NaNoWriMo and how it works and how people get involved.
Grant Faulkner: I have this fault at this point that I assume everyone in the world knows what NaNoWriMo is and so sometimes I just start talking about it without explaining it!
NaNoWriMo is actually many things. At as most basic definition it's a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days during November. We're nonprofit and you can come to our website and sign up. And you can just write 50,000 words on your own or you can join into the NaNoWriMo community, which is a really vibrant wonderful encouraging community and you can do that online.
There are forums. There are two million forum posts every year about every topic under the sun or you can join in our local regions. We have a thousand volunteers around the world and they organize these wonderful writing events, which are one part accountability structures to make sure that you're still writing and then they're largely about encouraging and providing games and activities to keep writing. So they're full of things like word sprints and word wars.
I think of writing and writers as solitary. That is overrated. I think too many people think writers are always solitary writers. Writers writing in a community is a wonderful way to enhance your creativity and collaborate as well.
We’re now in 1,200 libraries around the world as well. And we have a Young Writers program where a hundred thousand kids and teens sign up to write novels and we support 10,000 classrooms with free novel writing resources.
Joanna Penn: I think it's brilliant and it's so funny because I did it that year in 2009. And I did it again in 2012. I just went to my account again today and both times I only did around 20,000 words.
When did you start NaNoWriMo?
Grant Faulkner: This is our 20th anniversary and I didn't start it. Chris Baty is the founder. He started in 1999 with 20 of his friends. It started out as a writing community.
Joanna Penn: And for many people, 50,000 words is a lot, but in the community now, there are people who are writing a lot more than that.
Isn't there someone who does 50,000 in a day, on the first day?
Grant Faulkner: Yes, every year I will hear stories of someone who does it in a day. I honestly cannot imagine how that's possible. I know that I could not do it. There are people who just love indulging in the extremities of writing just for the sake of experiencing that. I also hear of people who set their goal way beyond 50,000 words. I'll talk to people who write 200,000 words in a month.
Joanna Penn: And the other thing I was going to say is I don't feel like I failed by doing ‘only' 20,000 words. What it did is I set it aside that time and it's funny because this year, we're recording this in 2019, I think I'm going to do NaNoWriMo again. The timing is right for the third book in my Mapwalker series.
What if I could get a first draft or a lot of words down? That would be great.
Grant Faulkner: We're going to hold you accountable. We're going to put you on Twitter and call you out!
Joanna Penn: Well, this is the thing. Because you mentioned accountability, you mentioned the encouragement. I have a lot of author friends now, I don't need NaNoWriMo for these things, but it's the energy involved that drives you through.
You can get on Twitter and there's a hashtag #nanowrimo you can go on the communities you can go to.
If you go to a local cafe, there's probably going to be people in there writing.
Grant Faulkner: It’s true. I want to say something on that note. There is something about the feeling that the whole world is writing with you. That is very galvanizing on those mornings that you might feel like giving up. And if you open up Twitter and you see this whole stream of people reporting their word count or encouraging other people.
When I see those stories, because sometimes people will write 20,000 words in the last week or the last few days because they're so dedicated to hitting 50k and I find that really inspiring. That's a crucial part of the community as being inspired by others.
And then also since you said you wrote only 20,000 words we hear this a lot. I can't tell you how many times I've heard had people apologized to me for not hitting 50,000. And “I only wrote 10,000 words.” I just want to applaud that as a huge success.
Going back to the Toni Morrison story about building things through small increments. If you write 10,000 words a month, that's a hundred twenty thousand words a year. That's two good novel drafts. That's something to celebrate.
If you write 20,000 words, like you did, that's 240 thousand words a year. So what is that at least four novels? So that's a tremendous amount of writing. You should never apologize for that. So you signed up and you wrote and so that's great.
Joanna Penn: Yes. So let's assume then some people listening are like, Okay, we're going to do it. What are some of your tips for achieving that? You've mentioned the time hunt idea, which I totally agree with and I am already blocking out chunks of my time for writing in Google Calendar.
I just block out time and in November and it's just like, okay. Well, I just have to maybe cancel a few other things or say no to things to make that time.
What are some other ideas from those who have hit the 50k in a month?
Grant Faulkner: I think it's a rare person who can just show up without any sort of time planning and just trust that the world's going to support them and writing a novel.
So starting with some good time management so that you're structuring things as you mentioned on your calendar. We have an active conversation or debate every year about whether it's best to plot or whether it's best to just show up and wing it, which is what we call pantsing or something in the middle, like plantsing: one part pantsing and one part plotting or planning.
I am in the middle. I love being in the middle. That's just who I am. I think one part of that is knowing who you are. Some people are just pure pantsers and some people are extreme planners. I think of NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to experiment with those different creative processes.
I try to experiment every year. I try to write a novel not quite in the same way. I think that it is important to refresh your notion of writing and to try new things. So if you’re a pantser, try plotting one year, if you’re a plotter, tried pantsing one year. It's great to experience those different types of creative processes.
I do think though that a little bit of plotting or a little bit of thinking about your novel really helps with success. I think when you're just purely pantsing it's very easy for most people to hit a wall after a few days or a week and then quit. For instance, I tried I'm just going to give a perspective from my own process, but I try to make sure I have my novel idea settled by early October and then to spend a few weeks letting it marinate and take notes and write a sketch of an
I don't have an outline per se but I've got a sketch. I know the trajectory of it and I can follow that and pursue the mystery of the novel.
I think the community is really important. We find that the more people are engaged with our community the more likely they are to have 50,000 words.
And again, I think that's the accountability, that friendly peer pressure, and also the coaching and encouragement you get from the community. They say the best way to change your behavior is to announce it to the world. So if you want to quit smoking you should, on Facebook, say that you want to quit smoking because then you will be accountable to that and the same thing goes with novel writing.
And then I think the last thing is we see a lot of people that when they hit that tough spot in their novel, usually it's that muddy middle, if they start to get behind their word count, it's easy for them to get dispirited. I would advise people do not quit, just like what I was saying earlier.
If you can only hit 20,000 words, that's a huge achievement. Keep writing and sometimes as I was also saying some people find this great second wind and they just kind of gush their way to 50,000 words. So trust that the story is there. Trust that in pursuing it and showing up for it every day that you can find it and keep the words going.
Joanna Penn: I agree. I'm a pantser although I prefer the term discovery writer. I do think that at least understanding like if you're writing a series … I'm writing book three in a series. I have my characters. I have my world. It's just the plot, so that to me is something that is easier to do. But if you're listening and you've got nothing, all you need is a character in a setting with a problem.
That's pretty much it's a place to start.
Grant Faulkner: And then just punish your character. Keep having more and more problems.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, more and more bad things. The other thing I would say is it's around 1700 words a day. And I am not someone who's going to do 1700 words a day.
It's more likely I would skip three days and then I might dictate maybe 5,000 or 6,000 words in a couple of hours and then it might again be a couple of days more and then I might do it again.
So this is the other thing; there are some people who love that regular, like you said Tony Morrison, “write at the edges of the day.” That’s a quote from her. But for me, it's more like binge writing. I do other things, do other things, and then binge and do a couple of hours and dictation. I would also say I think is the superpower.
If I make it this year, it's because I've really got into using dictation for first drafts. And boy, is it a good way to get word count done!
Grant Faulkner: Thank you for bringing that up because I do think that NaNoWriMo again is a way of finding the process that works for you and sometimes our life does work best when you binge write for a weekend. Why not write five thousand words on Saturday and 10,000 on Sunday if you need to? That's a great tip.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. We've talked about a few things. You have a chapter in the book Pep Talks for Writers, which is a great book. I found it in a bookstore in America actually in jumped on it. It's great. If I ever meet you in person, I have to get you to sign it.
Grant Faulkner: We will have to get you to sign some of your books too.
Joanna Penn: You have a chapter in the book called Embrace the Mess. And it is really good title and chapter.
Why is this such an important concept during NaNo in particular?
Grant Faulkner: NaNoWriMo is going to be a messy month!
It might be messy on the page and it might be messy off the page too if you make time to write that much. I think a big part of NaNoWriMo is understanding your inner editor, which means that perfectionist side of yourself, that side of yourself that likes to edit more than draft. And when you're writing a first draft at that pace, it's likely to be pretty messy.
We coach people to ban their inner editor, to do whatever they can to get rid of their inner editor and just let their words gush on the page.
I think a novel is messy by definition of first draft. I think that if we could look at the first drafts of our favorite authors, they would look very similar to ours actually and that's because no one really writes a pretty first draft.
You just have to get in that mindset that you're going to revel in the mess and that you're going to experiment.
What was the word you used for pantsing?
Joanna Penn: Discovery writing.
Grant Faulkner: The first draft, even if you're an outliner, is still discovery writing. This discovery writing means that you're going to go down a lot of different paths. Some of them might not pan out. Some of them you're going to cut certainly and revise. But you need to have that mindset of experimentation. It's going to make the novel better and I kind of think of it like finger painting sometimes. Why would you finger paint if you're going to try to stay tidy? The joy of finger painting is getting in there and making a mess with your hands in the paint and I think the same thing applies to novels.
Joanna Penn: I agree. And also I like the embrace the mess off the page, as in maybe you don't need to do the house cleaning for November. Yes, have a shower but I can relax with some of it.
Grant Faulkner: Yes, it's important to smell good!
I have people ask me all the time. How do you have time to write? The reason I have time to write is that I don't pay so much attention to the dishes. It's sad sometimes but you do have to let things go in order to honor that creative part of yourself sometimes.
Joanna Penn: And of course what I love about this, this is November.
Of course, if you're listening to this at another point, you can always choose your month, but November comes around pretty quickly every year and it's only a month. Everyone can stop doing something for a month to find more time.
Grant Faulkner: Exactly. Your dishes will still be there.
Joanna Penn: Or pay your kid to do them!
Grant Faulkner: That is one key to NaNoWriMo performance, getting other people to pick up the slack for you.
Joanna Penn: Definitely. Another chapter in the book is called Artistic Thievery or The Art of remixing and I think this is something that you come up against in NaNoWriMo. I certainly did when I was writing my first novel, which eventually became Stone of Fire.
This was the first novel I’ve ever written. I'm feeling really nervous. I sit down and all that's filling my head is Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, and I'm like, oh, I'm just rewriting The DaVinci Code what's going on here? This is not what I want to do. I want to pay homage to Dan Brown, but I don't obviously I wasn't plagiarizing.
But I was coming up with things and asking has that been done before has this been done before? Is this just a thriller trope? This sounds like something that's been done before.
Where is the balance between the established troops of a genre and being entirely original?
Grant Faulkner: It's a good question. And I think it is one that every writer has to grapple with and define for him or herself. And I don't know that there's a strict definition but I do think that I see a lot of writers hinder themselves by saying, I'd like to write this story, but it's like The Hunger Games or like Dan Brown.
I feel that you make it original. You're going to put your imprint on the story through your telling of the story. Even if it shares a lot of characteristics with The Hunger Games for instance. I think if you gave me an outline of Frankenstein and told me to write a novel based on that. I know I wouldn't write anything close to Frankenstein. It would somehow be distinctly my own version and it might not even resemble Frankenstein.
We're always creating in this cauldron of influences and we shouldn't worry too much about it. As you said, if you're not plagiarizing then you're writing a new story. And I think sometimes we give too much value to originality.
Joseph Campbell wrote his whole book, The Hero's Journey, about this. He defined that there was one story essentially and that every story is kind of the same story. A hero leaves his or her home, encounters other worlds, faces down opposing forces, and then returns with power or something to bestow to his people, the people who he left behind. That goes for stories like Buddha or Moses or Harry Potter or Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
I just think that people shouldn't get hung up on originality. They should trust that by writing it they will make it their own. If you have some inclination to plagiarize it will hopefully come out when your editor looks at it.
Joanna Penn: If people don't understand, plagiarism is copying and pasting actual text from other people's work. The definition is not taking someone else's idea. But if I did write a story that exactly followed down Brown’s Da Vinci Code, then that would be crossing a line.
People build on what's been done before and I'm on book 11 of my ARKANE series, which I started that first NaNo I made so I've managed to make my own thriller series out of that feeling. I wanted to acknowledge that feeling because a lot of people have it.
I'm an example of someone who did that first NaNoWriMo and has gone on to write 17 novels at this point, 10 years later, and a whole lot of nonfiction as well.
What are some of the other results of doing NaNoWriMo that you've seen?
Grant Faulkner: Gosh, we've had so many people publish novels and so many best sellers and we have no true way of counting them.
It's all self-reported or will read about somebody mentioning NaNoWriMo and in an interview. There's Marissa Meyer who wrote Cinder and she writes all of her novels either during November or if her publishing schedule doesn't allow that she’ll write the first draft in 30 days.
She keeps to that technique. So does Hugh Howey with his. He wrote Wool during NaNoWriMo in 2009 a fascinating story. He credits NaNoWriMo with making him a writer. Erin Morgenstern's coming out with her second novel. She wrote Night Circus during NaNoWriMo.
It's fantastic and I haven't read the new book yet, but I hear it's just as fantastic. Gosh, there's just so many
Rainbow Rowell wrote Fangirl during NaNoWriMo. Elizabeth Acevedo won the National Book award for The Poet X. She wrote her second novel during NaNoWriMo 2013 and that just came out six years later.
They're just so many stories. I can talk all day about NaNoWriMo success stories. So I think in self-publishing, especially people who are writing a lot each month and publishing a lot each year, NaNoWriMo is part of that revolution of writing where people are doing it differently than they used to.
This is the whole serialization of publication has come back since the 1900s or was very trendy in the 1900s and it came back recently and a lot of people are doing that and I think NaNoWriMo contributes to that trend as well.
Joanna Penn: Absolutely. Let's talk about the inevitable criticism. Many in the traditional industry consider NaNoWriMo to be churning out unreadable books, they can't even call them novels. Certainly the word churning is used, unreadable is used.
What do you say to any people who have a concern about quality, and also, what do people do after November to make it better?
Grant Faulkner: I would say first, we've never made the claim that you're writing 50,000 words in one month you should publish a book right away.
We've heard these stories, that I think are actually exaggerated, that those editors receive loads and loads of manuscripts from NaNoWriMo writers on December 1. I don't think that's true because I've actually never talked to a NaNoWriMo writer who has submitted their novel so early.
We always advise people to revise their novels. We think the revision is very, very important and we have a whole program built around it. In January and February, we have a program called I Wrote a Novel, Now What? and we try to guide people through those next steps of revision and editing and publishing choices too. There are so many publishing choices.
There's so much to learn about how to publish your book.
I don't think of it as churning. I think of NaNoWriMo as the first draft, the exploratory draft, the discovery draft and then there is so much more discovery to be done during revision. I was mentioning the serialization trend that obviously exists. I don't think those books are unreadable. There many of them are being purchased and read.
And so I think there are a lot of different styles of reading and writing and the world needs to not look at them with a snobby lens. They're fulfilling people on some level both on the writing and the reading end.
So, yes, I guess I just disagree that NaNoWriMo is producing bad books.
Joanna Penn: I'm sorry you always have to answer that question! I know it's come up a lot.
Grant Faulkner: I like answering it, to tell you the truth, because I think it's a big misunderstanding and I think it's because we say allow yourself to write a crappy rough draft and we're not emphasizing the crap.
We don't write want people to be crappy writers. We just want them to be able to accept that the rough draft is crappy by definition and they shouldn't get hung up on it. They've got to go through that crappy rough draft to get to the more beautiful second or third draft.
Joanna Penn: I agree.
Now I didn't prep you for this question. I'm going to go for it anyway. I'm obsessed with AI at the moment and I've heard of NaNoGenMo, which is essentially in November software programmers are trying to write a program that will generate a novel of 50,000 words in a month. And this year we've had the release of GPT2, which is a text narrative generator, which is really interesting.
I wondered if you have any thoughts on NaNoGenMo or the AI GPT2 stuff.
Grant Faulkner: This is an entirely original question. I've never been asked this before so super fun, especially because I don't know a whole lot about AI but I have read about this. I think it's fascinating. I'm like why not?
Let's see where we can go with this. I have my doubts. I think there's just such an emotional component that goes into writing a novel and what we were saying earlier that you're seeing the world through somebody else's eyes. I don't know if we're there with AI or not, but I don't know that much about it.
I'm sure people in AI could offer me great counter-arguments. I just think it's another exciting part of the way the world of writing is going.
Joanna Penn: Exactly. And I would say if people listening they're like, what is that? What are you talking about? I think that it can be used as good writing prompts.
If your brain is completely empty, plug in your last sentence into a tool like TalkToTransformer.com, which is based on the GPT2 algorithms. It will generate some stuff for you and that might actually help you get over that.
I think that's a really interesting way that it might be used as a creative tool and that's how I think of it. We're using tools all the time. You and I are talking across Skype on computers, on the internet so we use tools.
Grant Faulkner: I think so too. Just this morning during my writing session it's really interesting how often I will Google something in a two-hour block of writing and part of it has that sort of prompt nature.
Even if I'm not using those Google searches as a prompt and some of it is just information for my novel and so it's interesting to me how my writing style and technology how they have blended together in a lot of very good ways. I think like all of these tools at our fingertips they're worth looking at with scrutiny, of course, but it's also worth looking at them in terms of how they can enhance our writing and our human experience.
Joanna Penn: Definitely and I'll be keeping an eye out on NaNoGenMo. I know that in the past no one has managed this but this could be the year when it happens because of this expansion of GPT2 so very interesting times.
Grant Faulkner: We talked about self-driving cars and writing a novel and a self-driving car. This is a this could revolutionize novel writing and solve some of the time management issues.
Joanna Penn: I agree with you. I do think the writing is going to take off hugely even more than it has.
I do want to ask you about this book you've recently co-written. It's called Brave the Page: A Young Writers Guide to Telling Epic Stories. I am very happily child-free but I have lots and lots of nieces, no nephews. And one of the most common questions I get asked is, how do we encourage young people to write?
What often happens, that happened to me, is they love stories, and then the English literature teacher says you can't write that. I remember the day my love of story got squashed was I wrote about a very dark nightmare. I told a story that was very dark and they just said this isn't appropriate, write something else. And clearly, I was just a horror-loving teenager.
How do we encourage young people to write?
Grant Faulkner: I think you basically just told the story. I think we have taught writing in a way that inhibits a lot of kids from taking joy or finding meaning in their writing.
One thing about our NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, and the reason I always say it's successful, is that we allow writing to be fun and meaningful and part of that is just giving kids a choice about what they want to write.
So in your case, we would have celebrated you for writing that dark story that would have been wonderful. That would have been celebrated like that and telling you that it was relevant and meaningful and fun and interesting all those kinds of things that makes you want to do it more.
I think the reason that we have a big impact on kids writing is because they learn the best way to learn anything is through your passions. To take joy in it. And so these kids get to write a novel which is a huge thing and they get to find a lot of meaning and have fun doing it and have fun doing it with other people in the classroom and that makes them more interested in language.
It even makes them more interested in grammar and punctuation and some of the more boring sides of writing. I think that that is everything. It's flipping your experience. That's what we do. We take everything that you described as a negative and we try to focus on those positive aspects and I think that's the way to get kids to write and writing is more important than ever because our world is created through our writing whether it's on social media or email.
Joanna Penn: And also just coming back on the AI and technology, I don't think we can even imagine what say let's say a nine-year-old right now in 2019. We don't know what that nine-year-old is going to do for a job because we can't even imagine what that 10 years 20 years' future is going to be. But what we do know is that creativity and being able to self-direct your time and direct things like AIs or robots or whatever that's always going to be useful.
Whereas learning some of the things some of the rule-based stuff might not be so useful. So I agree. I think this is so important.
If people do have children, where is the Young Writers program, in particular?
Grant Faulkner: You can find a logo on our main website, or you can go to YWP.nanowrimo.org or just search for the Young Writers program.
I entirely agree with you. I think there are also lessons beyond the lessons of writing a novel when you write a novel. They learn grit and they learn determination and they learn how to achieve big things and we hear that they apply that to other aspects of their schooling.
So it has an importance beyond the novel itself.
Joanna Penn: Brilliant.
Where can people find you and your books and also NaNoWriMo online?
Grant Faulkner: I feel like just Google NaNoWriMo. Google me. Google NaNoWriMo books. They're in Amazon and they're in all the usual places. So if you Google any of those things, It'll be one of the top results or the top result actually
Joanna Penn: Thanks so much for your time. Grant. That was great.
Grant Faulkner: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Joanna.
Jay Long says
I know #NaNoWriMo is geared more towards fiction writing but I have had a non-fiction project in the planning stage for 2 years. I am taking this NaNo month to kickstart it. I’m hoping to get it all out – the first draft anyway. If not, I am certainly going to have a great kickstart for its completion.
Thanks for the episode.
Joanna Penn says
There are others doing non-fiction projects as well 🙂 https://writenonfictionnow.com/about-write-nonfiction-in-november/wnfinnanonfiwrimo/