Grant Faulkner – How nonfiction authors can benefit from November’s NaNoWriMo creative writing challenge
Nonfiction Authors Association Podcast | November 1, 2023
“The one rule of being an improv actor is to say “yes and” to whatever comes your way from other actors on stage. The same thing with NaNoWriMo is to say yes to your ideas, and to write them, and explore them, and to take a chance on them and experiment with them.”
Grant Faulkner is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the co-founder of 100 Word Story. He has published three books on writing. His latest is The Art of Brevity, Crafting the Very Short Story, and previously he’s published Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo, and Brave the Page: A Young Writers Guide to Telling Epic Stories. He’s published two collections of short stories, writes for dozens of literary magazines, and contributed essays on creativity for publications about writing. Grant serves on the National Writing Project’s Writer’s Council, Lit Camp’s Advisory Council, and Aspen Words’ Creative Council. He’s also the co-host of the podcast Write-minded. Find out more at https://grantfaulkner.com/ and find out about NaNoWriMo at https://nanowrimo.org/.
Nonfiction Authors Podcast: Grant Faulkner
Find the video podcast, show notes, links, quotes, and podcast transcript below.
Got feedback on our podcast? Want us to consider a guest or topic? Please let us know on our feedback form here.
- NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/grantfaulkner
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/grantfaulkner
- Insta: https://www.instagram.com/grantfaulkner/
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/grantfaulkner
- 100 Word Story
- The Art of Brevity, Crafting the Very Short Story by Grant Faulkner
- Pep Talks for Writers, 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo by Grant Faulkner
- Brave the Page, a Teen Writing Guide by Grant Faulkner
- Write-minded podcast
- Writing tools for authors:
In this episode…
- The benefits of short form writing.
- More about NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, and the benefits of the NaNoWriMo challenge.
- Why nonfiction writers would want to join NaNoWriMo.
- Ways writers can share their writing and connect with other writers during the NaNoWriMo challenge.
- More about NaNoWriMo groups local to your region and the benefits of a writing community.
- How to navigate the NaNoWriMo website and online forums specific to nonfiction authors.
- How implicit rewards help writers go further on their writing journey.
- How NaNoWriMo has created a reward system for writers participating in the challenge.
- How NaNoWriMo extends throughout the year.
- Helpful writing tools for authors.
[00:00:00] Carla King: Hello, and welcome to the Nonfiction Authors Podcast. I’m Carla King, your host, and before we start, I’d like to invite you to go to the Freebies tab at nonfictionauthorsassociation.com to check out our free reports. We developed these reports to help you figure out things like ISBNs, distribution, optimizing book sales on Amazon, generating book reviews, growing your email list, and we provide checklists on things like publishing and book launches.
Today we’re talking with Grant Faulkner about how nonfiction authors can benefit from November’s NaNoWriMo Creative Writing Challenge. But first, this podcast is brought to you by the Nonfiction Authors Association, a supportive community where writers connect, exchange ideas, and learn how to write, publish, promote, and profit with nonfiction books.
Subscribe to this podcast on your favorite podcast app and visit our website to find transcripts, show notes, and links to all of our episodes. You can explore our membership options and download free reports, search the archives, and get answers to your writing and publishing questions at nonfictionauthorsassociation.com.
Now I’d like to introduce our guest. Grant Faulkner is the executive director of National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, and is the co-founder of 100 Word Story. He’s published three books on writing. His latest is The Art of Brevity, Crafting the Very Short Story, and previously he’s published Pep Talks for Writers, 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo, and Brave the Page, a Teen Writing Guide. He’s published two collections of short stories, writes for dozens of literary magazines, and contributed essays on creativity for publications about writing. Grant serves on the National Writing Project’s Writers Council, Lit Camp’s Advisory Council, and Aspen Word’s Creative Council. He’s also the co-host of the podcast, Write-minded. Find out more about Grant at grantfalkner.com and find out about NaNoWriMo at NaNoWriMo. com.
Hi, Grant. Welcome to the podcast.
[00:02:34] Grant Faulkner: Thank you so much, Carla. And you know what? I wasn’t doing a strict word count, but I could have sworn that your bio for me–your introduction–was exactly 100 words. Is that true?
[00:02:44] Carla King: I don’t know. I’m going to have to count. My goodness. I guess you would know by now. I don’t know.
[00:02:50] Grant Faulkner: Yeah, I can auditorily detect when something’s exactly 100 words.
[00:02:54] Carla King: Oh, you’ve been doing this for a long time.
[00:02:59] Grant Faulkner: Well, thank you for having me on. I can’t wait to talk about writing in general, and nonfiction writing in particular.
[00:03:05] Carla King: Well, thanks. And I just have to say–while we’re on the 100 word count topic–that I’ve been trying to write short like that, and I can just get to 500 words. And it’s very hard for me to cut it, but I can see how it really makes your long form writing much more succinct. So I appreciate that.
[00:03:25] Grant Faulkner: Yeah, it’s interesting because I think most of our writing instruction and most of our training as writers is to write longer and longer, and we are rarely taught to write short.
And I think, when we learn to write short and learn that to really hone those skills of revision and editing especially, our writing gets a lot better.
[00:03:45] Carla King: I agree. And Mark Twain said something like that, right? “I didn’t have time to write a short letter.”
[00:03:50] Grant Faulkner: “I would have written this shorter if only I’d had more time.” Because the irony is–to write something shorter, it takes more time.
[00:03:57] Carla King: And that goes for fiction and nonfiction. And lots and lots of fiction writers wait for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, all year long. But a lot of nonfiction writers miss it completely because they just think it’s not for them.
So can you tell us first what NaNoWriMo is all about in a nutshell? And then we’ll delve into why nonfiction writers might want to join.
[00:04:21] Grant Faulkner: NaNoWriMo is really about a thousand things. And I’m not going to go into all thousand. I’ll try to do it in two or three things, I guess. First, it’s a simple challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days in November. And that’s an interesting challenge, because that’s 1,675 words a day, which is doable, but it’s a stretch. It’s hard to do. It’s a good stretch though. It’s kind of the perfect kind of stretch, I think, for most people.
With that in mind, NaNoWriMo is one part writing boot camp. You’ve got to show up, you’ve got to develop the discipline, the determination, the diligence to hit your word count every day. But it’s one part rollicking writing party. And I think that’s the magic of it–is these two crucial ingredients of writing.
And the rollicking party part is that–well, one–we like writing to be fun. It doesn’t have to be this anguishing thing. And the way we make it fun is to write with others. And the way we do that is we have a bunch of different ways to involve yourself with the community on our website. And #NaNoWriMo is generally trending on most social media platforms.
And then we have 1000 volunteers around the world. So maybe even where you are in Chiang Mai, Carla, they organize writing gatherings, where people come together to write together. And part of the reason they write together is that when you write together, you build in an accountability system.
You also build in fun and collaboration. And we also work with 1,200 libraries who do something similar. They develop writing communities around NaNoWriMo, and we have a Young Writers Program where nearly 100,000 kids and teens and teachers take part in a different version on a different website, our Young Writers Program site.
So I think that’s it in a nutshell, but there’s much more. And all nonfiction writers should sign up. Don’t let the word novel intimidate you. I think everything is a story in the end. So nonfiction books qualify.
[00:06:20] Carla King: Okay, so everything is a story. And nonfiction–you’re right, is a story. It’s easy to segue that into memoir writing because we’re writing stories about our experience, and that’s similar to a novel. Because with memoir, you use novelistic structure and plot lines.
What about prescriptive writing? Like how to books, and business books, and psychology books, and sports books, and things like that.
[00:06:44] Grant Faulkner: All of which have been written during NaNoWriMo. We’ve had PhD dissertations written during November. And I think that’s because of the premise. It really is a magical premise if you haven’t done it before–the challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. To do that, to write that, I said it took determination and diligence to write nearly 1,700 words a day. But it also takes an attention to moving things forward. Not to get stuck, not to make a paragraph perfect, but to try to get to the end of your story and to progress and to end with something looking close to a full draft, because you can edit later.
And the premise being is that–a lot of people let their perfectionist inner critics take over the writing process, and so they have a hard time moving their story forward. And because there’s this pressure to keep your word count going up, that’s one technique to get rid of your inner critic, or your inner perfectionist, and to write with abandon, as we say. And by writing with abandon, it’s interesting–and this goes for how-to books or fantasy novels–it’s almost like an improv writing technique.
The one rule of being an improv actor is to say yes and. To whatever comes your way from other actors on stage. The same thing with NaNoWriMo is to say yes to your ideas and to write them and explore them and to take a chance on them and experiment with them.
The irony is that writing for quantity instead of quality often leads to both. You don’t have to distrust writing a lot of words because doing a lot of words. There’s this old saying that the team who takes the most shots tends to win the game.
And so writing a lot of words and focusing on the forward momentum of your book helps produce a lot of great ideas.
[00:08:29] Carla King: In my work as an editor, I often coach writers to write unfiltered–in the first draft, especially. It’s hard to go back later and add in the depth and the real core feelings. But when you’re first writing it, it’s fresh and very clear, raw, and you can always edit it out, later.
[00:08:53] Grant Faulkner: Those are crucial words. Raw, unfiltered. You said a couple others that I’ve now forgotten, but I always say the best writing is the writing that’s the most vulnerable, the most open.
And I think there is–when I said that NaNoWriMo is an improvisational writing exercise, I think that’s a way to get to the most vulnerable, the most fresh. You said fresh. And so I think that the reason I say that is because you are, again, getting rid of your inner critic.
You’re not questioning things so much. You’re just getting the words down on the page. And yeah, they might be more raw, but that doesn’t mean they’re worse.
[00:09:29] Carla King: And you don’t have to share your writing if you don’t want to. Is there a venue to share your writing, or generally is it all about word count?
[00:09:37] Grant Faulkner: I think everybody has different needs for what they share and how sharing can motivate them at these write-ins–or these writing gatherings– oftentimes people do share their writing. Sometimes they do it, though, in a kind of very self-deprecating way, where they’re poking fun at their own writing or saying, “Look at this ridiculous sentence I wrote.”
We do have ways to share the writing. We have writing groups, where you can form writing groups with your friends on the website. But generally it’s more about writing the novel than sharing it at this point. We very much encourage revision too.
[00:10:08] Carla King: When I was exploring NaNoWriMo.org this morning, I realized that three years ago, I signed up for it. And I’m in Chiang Mai for a few months to finish my book. So this comes at exactly the right time, Grant. It’s gorgeous here and it’s the time to visit. So, yay. And I have 482 words that I wrote.
[00:10:34] Grant Faulkner: You only have to write 4,512 exactly.
[00:10:38] Carla King: Well, I’ve been working hard. I’m in the middle of my book, which is a third draft. And I think it’s my final draft. And I think I’m actually going to finish it in November.
Grant Faulkner: Congratulations.
Carla King Thank you. Yeah, it feels really good. I am adding in things from my journals. And I’m looking at the site–so I already have an account. So let’s go through what you have to do, and what happens inside the website. And it’s free as well, so it doesn’t cost anything.
[00:11:08] Grant Faulkner: Everything’s free. We believe that everybody’s story matters, and we want to provide access to them to be able to put their story into the world. So yeah, it will always be free.
[00:11:16] Carla King: Great. So you log in, you just sign up, and then you just start writing. What happens then? You’re faced with a blank screen. What’s going on?
[00:11:25] Grant Faulkner: You can just start writing, but we advise you to enter your writing project. And so, it’s like a social media platform. You’ll see buttons to click on the site that will guide you to putting in a title, and a genre, and different things about your novel. And then I think the second thing you should do after that is to go to this section called Find a Region. It’s under the Community tab.
And the reason I say that is that–when I mentioned those volunteers who are around the world, that’s where you go in. And you say–like you would sign up for the Chiang Mai region. I will sign up for the Berkeley region, or the East Bay region, rather. Then you start receiving emails from your local groups. And they organize all different types of gatherings. So at least, you know what’s out there.
I do just want to espouse the benefits of a writing community. I mean, I think we could do a whole podcast on that. But NaNoWriMo is very rooted in communities.
But then, after you start writing your novel, you keep coming back to the site. You enter your word count every day. One thing that I find interesting about tracking your word count is it offers an implicit reward.
They’ve actually done psychological studies on this–that watching your word count graph go up every day–people get obsessed with that. And a lot of writers give themselves rewards. Like, I don’t know, chocolate at the end of writing a thousand words, or some sort of incentive. But implicit rewards are more motivating than external rewards.
So something to think about.
[00:12:59] Carla King: It is an endorphin rush, right? They’ve studied this about social media and all kinds of things that you shouldn’t be doing when you’re writing, so why not use the endorphin rush to write, right? Exactly. For the word count.
[00:13:10] Grant Faulkner: Exactly. One thing we recommend–that people tell other people that they’re writing a novel, announce it to the world. Be proud that you’re doing it. And that’s for a couple reasons.
Again, this has been psychologically proven–that the best way to succeed at something like this is to tell other people. Because you don’t want to bump into your friends at the grocery store and have them ask you about your novel, and then say that you quit, or that you only wrote 482 words.
Friendly peer pressure is very motivating.
[00:13:36] Carla King: And then I’m also seeing posts on the site and groups. Badges.
[00:13:43] Grant Faulkner: Oh yeah. So another way of getting rewards, or these implicit rewards, is that we’ve gamified writing. There are all sorts of badges you can get for both writing behavior, like encouraging a friend, or badges like milestone badges.
And so people work really hard for digital online badge. Again, it’s that little digital reward that keeps us going. And writing is about hitting milestones, right? Whether it’s page counts or words count.
[00:14:10] Carla King: Absolutely. I’m going for a chapter a day.
[00:14:13] Grant Faulkner: Yeah. And how long are your chapters?
[00:14:17] Carla King: Oh, you know, I’m not counting words right now. I’m just trying to get the story done. It will be interesting to input my chapters into the site, right? So what if I start off with 20,000 words? That’s okay, right? I’m half done.
[00:14:32] Grant Faulkner: Yeah. Or you can go to 70,000, right? If you want to.
[00:14:35] Carla King: Oh, yeah, you’re absolutely right. So just add on to what you’ve already developed. Yeah.
So there’s a place for newbies that tells you how to get started.
[00:14:45] Grant Faulkner: We have online forums where there are all sorts of different entry points, and different forum threads, and groupings of people. So you can definitely find a home in our forums and online with us.
There’s even a NaNo Rebel forum. And the NaNo Rebel forum is technically for people who are not writing novels. And so if you’re a nonfiction writer, you can join the NaNo Rebels.
[00:15:10] Carla King: I see. Okay. There’s also some good help. There’s prepping and outlining, grammar and style, characters, appellation station. What is that? Is that for wine?
[00:15:22] Grant Faulkner: You’re digging through our forums. Our forums are just a vast kingdom of any writing topic. You can get any topic–any writing topic–under the sun. They’re infinite. I have not explored our entire forum. But the appellation station– they’re really fun because people ask, “What should I call my novel? What should I title my novel? What character names should I use?” Things like that.
[00:15:44] Carla King: So then you’ve got writing buddies, channels, and chats. People use this to chat with each other. They join a group, perhaps, and there’s a group chat. Is that what that’s all about?
[00:15:53] Grant Faulkner: Yep, exactly. It’s like a social media site. So you can friend people–which we call them buddies. You can form writing groups with people, do your own online writing groups. And that’s throughout the year. Everything we do actually is throughout the year.
That’s one thing I should say. It’s not just during the month of November. We believe that a goal and a deadline is a creative midwife. And so you can set up different parameters for your goals and deadlines to fit your life at any point of year.
With a 12-month goal of writing 100,000 words–you can do that. If you want to write just 10,000 words in the month of January, you can do that.
[00:16:27] Carla King: I love that–the creative midwife. So you birthed the book right here, and then you raise it for a year and tell it out into the world. And you’ve got a lot of sponsors and people that make it easier to write by offering discounts or freebies.
[00:16:47] Grant Faulkner: We have sponsors. And sponsors offer different entry points to use their products or services, and special discounts just for NaNoWriMo writers. Every year we have a really healthy number of companies in the writing ecosystem.
It’s amazing to me in my life as a writer–where there didn’t used to be all of these different tools. And now there’s just so many tools, and I discover new tools every year. And so they’re really fun to offer our writers.
[00:17:13] Carla King: Yeah. Everybody’s got their favorite tool. Some people like the plain page. Some people like the prompts and the plot development tool.
[00:17:21] Grant Faulkner: What’s your favorite writing tool?
[00:17:24] Carla King: My favorite writing tool… Wow. I love Scrivener for outlining, but then I don’t like it for sharing because it loses a lot of formatting when you port it over to Google Docs.
But I like Google Docs for sharing. I’ve liked BetaBooks in the past for sharing beta. There’s a new product, ButterDocs, which seems really promising. I’ve used Fictionary for testing plot, and Grammarly, and I love ProWritingAid, especially for editing. I don’t know. How about you? Do those sound familiar to you?
[00:18:05] Grant Faulkner: All of those companies are NaNoWriMo sponsors, or have been. Scrivener–interesting story about Scrivener. It was developed by a NaNoWriMo writer. A lot of NaNoWriMo writers have gone on to develop a lot of the writing tools and services. He was dissatisfied with the writing software that was available to him. So he made his own, and it turned into Scrivener.
My favorite writing tool is probably still my Dr. Grip pilot pen and a journal. Yeah. I really–despite all the pressures of writing fast during NaNoWriMo, I like to take more and more breaks from my computer and screens, and to explore ideas on the page.
[00:18:45] Carla King: Do you feel like writing with a pen is different? It creates a different kind of story than typing?
[00:18:54] Grant Faulkner: I like to do both, of course. But I like to take breaks and write with a pen because it’s so tactile, and it slows down your thoughts. And so I find my thoughts are better, or more nuanced and rounder with the pen. So yeah, I like to go back and forth. I like to juggle my environments and my tools.
[00:19:15] Carla King: I love that. I have maybe have three journals with me. I have one for business. I have one for ideas for my book and creative writing, and then I have one for journaling. And sometimes I get them mixed up.
Oftentimes I can’t read my own writing later, especially if I think something up at night. So I’m speaking it into my smartphone as well, which has helped a lot.
[00:19:39] Grant Faulkner: Yeah. It’s very cool, the amount of tools we have– especially just on the phone. I know one NaNoWriMo writer once who wrote his entire novel on his phone. It’s quite an achievement.
[00:19:51] Carla King: Well, especially nonfiction writers. Some of them say, “I’m not really a writer, I’m an author.” And maybe we can talk about the difference between the two things.
I think most novelists are writers. And most memoirists, I think, probably really enjoy the writing process. And many nonfiction authors, or writers, or bloggers are speakers– they’re businesspeople. And they think they don’t have the time to write, but they can dictate a blog post, or a story, or a chapter in the car, or during a walk or something.
[00:20:27] Grant Faulkner: Yeah, I don’t get that distinction between writers and authors. I’m not sure if I know the meaning. I always thought people called themselves authors once they’re published, perhaps, and that was the distinct distinguishing degree. But I think everybody should write. Embrace the term writer.
A lot of people have a hesitancy to call themselves writers. And I think we’ve made writing perhaps a little too precious and a little too much–like people feel like they have to go get training or a certificate or an MFA to be a writer. And really, our definition is–if you write, you are a writer. And I think the more that people claim that, and embrace that, and call themselves writers, then they’ll be more confident, and they’ll be better writers, and they’ll write more, actually, by calling themselves that . It’s about the joy and the meaning of your story, and finding your story and putting your voice in the world.
[00:21:15] Carla King: Well, any last tips, Grant? For joining NaNoWriMo–especially for nonfiction authors–before we sign off?
[00:21:23] Grant Faulkner: Yeah. I think, for nonfiction authors–again, don’t be intimidated by the fact that it’s National Novel Writing Month. There is a place for you. And I think that everything about NaNoWriMo–whether it’s the goal and the deadline, being a creative midwife, whether it’s putting in your word count every day, whether it’s joining the community–all these things work for nonfiction writers as well.
Even leaping into your nonfiction. We didn’t talk about outlining or planning versus pantsing as we call it. Some novelists like to just pants their novel–write it by the seat of their pants. And some novelists like to do a meticulous outline.
And I’m guessing a lot of nonfiction writers probably lean more into the outline. But what’s interesting about an outline is it gives you direction and you can write chapter by chapter. I would invite nonfiction authors to give it a whirl. It’s a very different style of writing.
It’s experimental by nature. And so you might think it’s not for you, but I think every writer should do it once just to experience it. Just like everybody should dance the salsa once–or the tango. Or go to Chiang Mai. These are all wonderful experiences. And so we need to round ourselves out and always experiment with our creative process. Our creative process should not be a static, set thing. It’s something to play with.
[00:22:38] Carla King: Well, thanks so much, Grant. I know you work really hard on this to make it a success all year round. And it’s grown and grown and grown so much over the years. I’m really happy to spread the word about it to nonfiction authors.
[00:22:51] Grant Faulkner: Cool. Thank you for doing that. We welcome them all. And I hope to see them and you in NaNoWriMo land.
[00:22:57] Carla King: I’ll be there. And yes, nonfiction authors–thank you for listening. And thank you to the professionals who help us succeed. And remember, keep writing and publishing. The world needs your experience and expertise.
Quotes from our guest
“NaNoWriMo is one part writing boot camp. You’ve got to show up, you’ve got to develop the discipline, the determination, the diligence to hit your word count every day. But it’s one part rollicking writing party. And I think that’s the magic of it is–these two crucial ingredients of writing.”
“[NaNoWriMo] really is a magical premise if you haven’t done it before–the challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. To do that, to write that, I said it took determination and diligence to write nearly 1,700 words a day. But it also takes an attention to moving things forward. Not to get stuck, not to make a paragraph perfect, but to try to get to the end of your story and to progress and to end with something looking close to a full draft, because you can edit later.”
“The one rule of being an improv actor is to say yes and. To whatever comes your way from other actors on stage. The same thing with NaNoWriMo is to say yes to your ideas and to write them and explore them and to take a chance on them and experiment with them.”
“A lot of people have a hesitancy to call themselves writers. And I think we’ve made writing perhaps a little too precious and a little too much–like people feel like they have to go get training or a certificate or an MFA to be a writer. And really, our definition is–if you write, you are a writer. And I think the more that people claim that, and embrace that, and call themselves writers, then they’ll be more confident, and they’ll be better writers, and they’ll write more, actually, by calling themselves that . It’s about the joy and the meaning of your story, and finding your story and putting your voice in the world.”
“We need to round ourselves out and always experiment with our creative process. Our creative process should not be a static, set thing. It’s something to play with.”
We want to hear from you!
Who do you want us to interview? What topics would you like to explore? Take this short survey to let us know!