How could creative expression not change the world?

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Interview with Grant Faulkner the Executive Director of NaNoWriMo

Art is Moving is always looking to grow. Lauren had a great networking meeting with Grant about how NaNoWriMo took off like wildfire. She really gained a lot of insights from the conversation on how to expand our signature program Art Break Day and how to grow as a non-profit. We thank Grant for his generosity and we wanted to know a little more. Check out his lyrical e-interview below.

Describe National Novel Writing Month in one sentence?

National Novel Writing Month is a rollicking rollercoaster ride of creativity that happens every November. By nature it’s excessive and extreme, encouraging people to aim higher, to write more, to accomplish bigger and bigger things. It also encourages people to dare to experiment and break all sorts of boundaries. So it can’t possibly be described in one sentence. At its simplest, though, it’s a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month.

How did NaNoWriMo come to be?

NaNoWriMo began in 1999, when Chris Baty accidently founded it. He wanted to write a novel, and he figured the best way to learn how to write a novel was by writing one. That first year, he managed to convince 20 of his friends in the Bay Area to join him, and they wrote together in coffee shops after work, starting a NaNo tradition of writing with others (writing doesn’t have to be a solitary act).

Those 20 people have now grown into approximately 500,000, and we now have more than 800 municipal liaisons who organize live writing events in 600 regions around the world.

Art is Moving wholeheartedly believes that everyone is an artist. Let’s talk about your awesome philosophy that everyone is a writer. Can you expand on this belief?

Humans are naturally wired to tell stories because that’s how we make meaning of the world. So everyone has a story—or many stories, rather—to tell. Unfortunately, though, writers tend to have an especially difficult time calling themselves writers. The life of the imagination can feel trivial or even forbidden in the adult world where life’s practicalities rule. I didn’t call myself a writer for years because I thought it was pretentious to do so until I’d published. I needed a badge of validation from the external world.

But by not calling myself a writer, I was unwittingly diminishing myself. A secret identity weakens one and brings on the urge to hide your story. To write with verve demands asserting yourself as a creator—to yourself and to others.

So at NaNo, we tell everyone to start writing. Now. Write with moxie, with derring-do, with abandon. You’re a writer, simply because you write, just like a knitter knits, a jogger jogs, and a cook cooks.

What are the positive benefits of writing?

Writing is thinking.  We discover our thoughts in all of their nuances and counterpoints through language. We also open up new pathways and new possibilities—we imagine new worlds—when we allow ourselves to channel language and riff through the concepts and images it delivers.

Stories also connect us with others, and help us see life through others’ viewpoints. Writing heightens your sense of the world around you and within yourself. You’ll notice things, you’ll notice yourself, you’ll seek new experiences, just by writing stories.

Have you ever written a novel?

I’ve written several. Because each novel is a different story, I essentially have to learn how to write a novel anew each time. That’s the wonderful challenge of it for me. There’s no formula or template to follow.  Every novel is like a new child, with all of the bliss, the struggle, and the wonder.

Lets talk about the success of NaNoWriMo. How did it get so big so fast?

I can actually answer this one in one sentence: NaNoWriMo grew so big, so fast because everyone has a story to tell. That’s why we exist, and we see explosive proof of that every year.

Beyond that, though, our growth has happened because of the passion of the writers who write novels with us. They spread the word to their friends, families, schools, and libraries. We don’t have a marketing team or a marketing budget. Word spreads through a little poster board called the Internet.

What challenges have you faced?

National Novel Writing Month is the world’s largest writing event, but we’re a small staff of eight operating with a tiny budget. A small, heroic staff I should say. And then we’re buoyed by an army of super hero volunteers who bring NaNo into communities, schools, and libraries.

We work hard to help people at each stage of their writing journey. There’s always a lot more that we could do, and that’s the frustrating part. We’d love to find ways to expand our Young Writers Program, where 100,000 kids and teens write novels each year. We’d love to make libraries into maker spaces through our Come Write In program, which supports 650 libraries to host novel writing events.

Each year, the numbers of novelists grows explosively, so we sit beside our fleet of servers and read The Little Engine That Could.

How are writing a novel and making visual art similar? How are they different?

Telling stories is largely a visual act for most writers, so I think there are more similarities than differences. Writers map stories through the worlds they imagine, and then connect the words to create the affect they want—much like a painter mixing colors and thinking about the effects of different brushwork, or a collagist considering the juxtapositions and layers of the objects that make up a collage.

I suppose writing a novel and the visual arts are different only in the tools and materials. Every piece of visual art is a story, perhaps more of an emotional story than a linear story, but still a story. And then stories and visual arts are intersecting in so many ways, so they’re more and more complementary.

Can creative expression can change the world? How?

I posit that our stories connect us as humans like nothing else. We are all, at the most fundamental level, the stories we tell ourselves. The way we see other people and the world is a story. Every shift in a narrative, whether personal or cultural, changes us and how we interact with others.

I read that one of the things that truly changed our culture’s perception of women was the stories of women on TV shows. Think about the difference between June Cleaver in the 50s and Clare Huxtable in the 80s, and then all of the strong, dynamic, independent women on TV shows now. Those stories weren’t the symptoms, but the agents of cultural change.

Stories existed before societies formed themselves. Stories come soon after our first breath. They’re our first step out of the reptilian brain. I can write a million sentences on this subject, but I guess I’ll just ask how could creative expression not change the world?

What do you do when you aren’t working on NaNoWriMo?

I’m working on a novel, a script, and a nonfiction book on creativity, so I  try to write as much as I can, usually at 5 a.m., before anyone is up in my house (except for my dog, who lays on my lap underneath my laptop).

I also run a lit mag, 100 Word Story, which, as you might guess, publishes 100-word stories. I have a collection of 100-word stories, Fissures, coming out in May.

Beyond that, I sing opera to my kids on the way to school as they yell at me to turn the radio to a top 40 station. I make collages in my journal on Friday nights with a glass or two of red wine. I avoid my taxes, wonder how our house got so messy, ask the universe to send someone over to fix our front gate, and tell my wife about all of the wonderful places we’re going to travel someday. I sometimes put on a tap dancing expedition for my dog, but he usually moves to another room.

Is writing a novel on your bucket list? Here is your opportunity, go to NaNoWriMo’s site HERE and sign up today! And make sure to take an #ArtBreak on 9/4/15 at our 5th annual Art Break Day.

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