Guest Blogger Grant Faulkner:
Since it’s National Novel Writing Month, I wanted to share my thoughts on the creative process that is at its core: writing with abandon. This is a reprint of an essay that originally appeared in Poets & Writers.
A few years ago I grappled with a simple question I had never before bothered to ask myself: Did I decide on my writing process, or did it decide on me?
Despite an adult lifetime of reading innumerable author interviews, biographies of artists, and essays on creativity, I realized I’d basically approached writing the same way for years. And I didn’t remember ever consciously choosing my process, let alone experimenting with it in any meaningful way.
My approach formed itself around what I’ll call “ponderous preciousness.” I’d conceive of an idea for a story and then burrow into it deliberately. I’d write methodically, ploddingly, letting thoughts percolate, then marinate—refining and refining—sometimes over the course of years. It was as if I held a very tiny chisel and carefully maneuvered it again and again through the practically microscopic contours of my story world.
I distrusted the idea that anything of quality could be written quickly. A story, a novel, or even one of my pieces of flash fiction had to be as finely aged as a good bottle of wine in order for all of the nuanced tannins and rich aromas to fully develop. My writing moved slowly from one sentence, one paragraph, to the next, and I often looped back again and again with the idea that I needed to achieve a certain perfection before I could move forward.
But as I hit middle age, the golden age of reckoning with all things, I decided I needed to shake things up, just for the sake of shaking them up. If I viewed myself as a creator, I needed to approach my own creative process with a sense of experimentation and outright dare.
And, truth be told, my writing had veered toward being as much of a job as my day job. My publishing goals had stifled any sense of playfulness. My stories hewed to narrative rules as if I was trying to be a good citizen in a suburban neighborhood where I felt like an outsider.
I thought back to the reason I became a writer in the first place: that ineffable impulse to explore matters of the soul, the need to put words to the hidden spaces of life, the desire to probe life’s mysteries. I concluded that my labored approach had smothered my verve. I wanted to cavort through words again, to invite the dervishes of rollicking recklessness back into creation.
Cavorting with words
Around this time a friend invited me to join him in National Novel Writing Month: the annual challenge to write a fifty-thousand-word novel during November. I knew about the event, but had never thought it was for me. The object was to write faster than I was accustomed to—to produce approximately seventeen hundred words per day for thirty days straight, a word count at least double what I was used to.
I feared writing a novel littered with unconsidered words and loose connections. I feared writing something flimsy.
As a boy, I spent my allowance on all sorts of pens and paper, so there was never much question I would become a writer. I received my B.A. from Grinnell College in English and my M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University.
It seems like I should have other degrees, such as an MFA in Novels about People Doing Nothing But Walking Around, a PhD in Collages and Doodles and Stick Drawings of Fruitless Pursuits, or a Knighthood in Insomniac Studies, but I don’t.
I have published in many publications. My stories have been nominated for the Pushcart prize and included in such collections as W.W. Norton’s New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and Best Small Fictions 2016.
By day, I’m the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month, Co-founder of the lit journal 100 Word Story, Co-founder of the Flash Fiction Collective, a member of the National Writing Project Writers Council, a member of Lit Camp’s Advisory Council, and a member of the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Words’ Creative Council. I also co-host the Write-minded podcast.