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Write Now with Scrivener, Episode no. 19: Grant Faulkner, Executive Director of NaNoWriMo

Grant Faulkner is executive director of National Novel Writing Month, where hundreds of thousands of people write novels during the month of November.

He tells us about the amazing event that is NaNoWriMo, and how it brings together people around the world to write together.

Show notes:

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Grant Faulkner is executive director of National Novel Writing Month, where hundreds of thousands of people write novels during the month of November.

Grant Faulkner has been the executive director of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, for ten years. This event brings together hundreds of thousands of people during the month of November, as they each write a 50,000-word novel. "It's one part writing bootcamp; that's the showing up to write 50,000 words of your novel in 30 days. And it's one part rollicking writing party. That's the part where the community comes in. We have 1,000 volunteers around the world hosting writing events to encourage people to write, to inspire them to develop a collaborative atmosphere."

One of the important aspects of NaNoWriMo is to help writers not be so alone. "There's a mythology about the solitary writer, sitting around, you know, anguished, drinking too much coffee, maybe drinking too much scotch, smoking cigarettes, wadding up papers and tossing them in the wastebasket. All sorts of unhealthy behavior. Obviously, a lot of writing happens in solitude, but I think most writers underestimate the role their community or their network plays in their creativity and their writing."

I pointed out that many writers have writing buddies, who they turn to for support and help, but this is a different scale. "I talked to so many people after they've done NaNoWriMo, and many of them tell me that what motivated them was this feeling that they were writing with the whole world. It's a really galvanizing force to feel that it's not just you, it's you with a lot of other people."

The goal of 50,000 words leads to a sort of gamification of writing, trying to reach a number, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. "I think the gamification generally helps. Sometimes people just aimlessly start a novel without any idea of what a novel's word count might be. We say that a goal and a deadline is a creative midwife. So I think both of those things are really important."

Why 50,000 words? "Most novels are more like 70 or 80,000 words, but 50,000 words is manageable in a month. It's a stretch, it takes a lot of effort, but we are all about breaking down big tasks into small increments. To reach 50,000 words, you have to write 1,667 words a day. There's a natural kind of gamification built into that. A lot of writers have a reward system; they'll give themselves a massage if they hit a certain goal, or a nice bottle of wine, or something like that. But the more effective reward is actually the implicit reward of your achievement. On the NaNoWriMo website, we have several writing quantification tools. The bar chart of your word count going up day after day is a reward unto itself."

I've spoken to several novelists who wrote or started novels during NaNoWriMo. One writer told me that she was only able to write 20,000 words, which she then edited down to 5,000. But this gave her the affirmation that she could write. She then went on to turn those 5,000 words into her first novel. So it's important that even if you can't get to the target of 50,000, there is something going on here.

"I've had so many people apologize to me for writing only 10,000 words in November. Let's do some math. 10,000 words a month is 120,000 words a year. That's two pretty good sized novels; that's a tremendous achievement. So celebrate your 10,000 words, celebrate your 20,000 words, you know, we just want you to write."

One of the goals of NaNoWriMo is to get people to flex their creativity. "Part of NaNoWriMo's purpose is to make creativity a priority for one month. For most of us, when we become adults, creativity falls lower and lower on our to-do list until it's not there at all anymore. I really want NaNoWriMo to lift creativity up to make it a priority."

I asked Grant to give a few tips for writers embarking on NaNoWriMo. "The number one tip is time management. A lot of people sign up for NaNoWriMo, and they don't take the next step of thinking, 'Okay, I'm going to write 1,700 words a day, how much time does that take? And how am I going to make my life support that.' Most of us have to change our lives in order to write 1,700 words a day. I recommend that people go on a time hunt, and look at how they use time, really track your time for a day or a week, and find those things that you could maybe give up. Maybe it is time on social media, maybe you don't have to watch that Netflix movie every night, maybe you can squeeze in 10 minutes of writing during your lunch break at work, maybe you can wake up earlier, maybe if you don't have much time during the week, you can do power writing on the weekend."

Another tip is to choose your story wisely. "I think story selection is really important. Sometimes people think, here's the story I should write, or this is the story that's the most commercial or marketable. I think novel writing success and NaNoWriMo success is determined by your passion for your story idea. That's going to make it marketable, that's going to help motivate you to write it every day."

Another tip is to use Scrivener's NaNoWriMo template to automatically upload your word count to the NaNoWriMo website. "We've created a nice pathway between Scrivener and the NaNoWriMo site."

Kirk McElhearn is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the podcast Write Now with Scrivener.

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