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Alumni & Friends

One Month, 50,000 Words

Photo of Grant Faulkner wearing a viking helmet. Photo by Toby Burditt.


Grant Faulkner(M.A., ’94) has finished three novels since graduating from the creative writing program and is working on his fourth. The secret to his productivity? He’s among the 341,000 people worldwide who participated in the most recent National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as it is known to its devotees.

Participants of the frenzied prose marathon challenge each other to produce 1,667 words a day throughout November. NaNoWriMo is run by the Office of Letters and Light, a non-profit which recently named Faulkner its new executive director.

“I never thought I’d have a job where writing a novel a year would be a requirement,” Faulkner says from the Berkeley office where he also oversees a Young Writers Program (90,000 participants last year) and Camp NaNoWriMo, a summer program for short story writers. This November’s event could easily attract half a million aspiring William Faulkners (no, the great Southern writer is not one of Grant’s relatives). He also probably never thought he would, on occasion, don a Viking helmet at work, but the headgear is part of the NaNoWriMo logo. “It is generally about fighting through the personal demons that hold one back from diving into any grand and sometimes daunting creative project,” Faulkner explains.

Indeed, like most WriMos, Faulkner is used to fighting for his writing time. An Iowa native who nearly opted to pursue economics, Faulkner spent his sophomore year studying abroad in Paris, reading Hemingway and Fitzgerald in the cafes and returned to Grinnell College a committed fiction writer. After stints in Chapel Hill, NC and Mexico, trying to partake in the writing and music scenes, he finally followed friends to San Francisco. “I figured I was reading and writing so much I might as well get a degree for it,” he says.

He got a lot more than that from SF State. Professor Robert Gluck, whom Faulkner calls “one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known,” steeped him in experimental fiction. Molly Giles, Michelle Carter and Myung Mi Kim were also “generous and erudite” influences.

A managing editor position at a teacher-training non-profit, The National Writing Project, led to NaNoWriMo’s top seat. Now Faulkner’s daily life “all boils down to spreading the joy of storytelling.” NaNoWriMo has incubated hits like Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants,” but it is “not about writing a bestseller,” he says.

It’s “a really easy way to test your story ideas,” he says, noting that he resisted doing NaNoWriMo for years. “I was somewhat stubborn about my writing process. I showed up every day to my desk. I thought I was a proven writer. I finally decided it would be good to shake things up.”

In addition to revising the novel he began at SF State, Faulkner also writes “flash fiction” and edits the online literary magazine 100 Word Story.

Will one of his NaNoWriMo manuscripts strike gold? To Faulkner, the question misses the point. “The act of creativity is so rewarding itself,” he says. “It’s the meaning of life, for me.”


IPAD EXTRA: Grant Faulkner, head of a worldwide challenge to create a novel in 30 days, discusses the craft of writing.


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