Derriere in chair

Tequia Burt ’98

Grant Faulkner ’87 says the best way to learn how to write a novel is to just sit down and write it.“Everyone has a story to tell and everyone’s story matters,” he explains.

Encouraging people to put pen to paper and helping them find creative inspiration is his daily mission in his role as executive director for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which challenges participants to write 50,000 words — the length of a short novel — in 30 days.

The 30-day writing challenge, which takes place during the month of November, provides a community of like-minded individuals a variety of ways to collaborate, support, and encourage one another in person and online during the brief, but highly intensive writing period. The program has grown every year since its inception in 2000 when 150 people participated; last year, more than 300,000 writers signed up. Though NaNoWriMo targets neophyte writers, it is also designed to help seasoned pros and has yielded thousands of published novels and multiple bestsellers.

“What makes the program really effective is that we’re very inclusive. We make writing accessible and inviting, and that’s important because it can sometimes be intimidating,” says Faulkner, who has led the nonprofit since 2012. “Many people are blocked when it comes to writing because they hear their inner editor’s judgments, or they don’t believe in the value of their story. We emphasize the imaginative exploration and the creative journey of writing a novel.”

NaNoWriMo provides several other writing programs throughout the year to more than 500,000 people — including 100,000 kids and teens who participate in its Young Writers Program — but Faulkner says the 30-day writing challenge is a particularly galvanizing recipe. “The pressure of a constraint often holds creative benefits. It’s important to bang out that first draft and just get the words on the page, because you can’t edit a blank page.”

Giving writers advice on how to keep that momentum going is the motivation for his recently published book, Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo.

“I’ve talked to so many writers who want to write year-round, who want to finish their novels after National Novel Writing Month, but it can be challenging to keep writing,” he explains. “I want people to prioritize creativity and develop a creative mindset so that they’re not just creative in November, but every day of their lives.”

Studying abroad in France as a Grinnell College student — and spending many hours reading novels in cafes — is what convinced Faulkner to eschew becoming an economics major and to focus instead on English literature.

“My English degree equipped me to think critically about art and aesthetics, so I’ve brought Grinnell’s intellectual intensity to my reading and writing in many ways,” he says.

Though Faulkner has been writing since his mother gave him a journal on his seventh birthday, leading an organization like NaNoWriMo has taught him that no writer’s process is perfect.

“Writing is just so challenging, and every story holds new mysteries and problems to solve, so I’m always learning, always fighting the same inner battles, always experimenting with my approach.”

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