The raw truth, the literal truth, and the truth of a “lie”

Confessional booth
Confessional booth
“William Unger, etching after Ludwig Passini’s ‘The Confession’” by blacque_jacques

I’ve been wondering why humans have such a deep need to confess, to bare their souls in search of relief. Whether a confession happens in a church confessional, on a therapist’s couch, or at an AA meeting, the goal is similar: to find reconciliation, grace. To unshed burdens. To gain back yourself. Absolution comes through expression, acknowledgment. By giving your story to another, you find a new story.

I’m thinking of confession because I’m thinking about confessional writing. …

Photo by Chase Alias.

“Nothing is as obnoxious as other people’s luck,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Or their success.

By human nature we compare ourselves to others. We’re social creatures, and social creatures create a pecking order, so we tend to rank ourselves against others’ achievements because our brain is wired to figure out where we fit into the scheme of things. Unfortunately, we usually find someone who is doing better than us, which isn’t hard to do because there is always someone doing better than us. Another’s good fortune can quickly become one of the most powerful and dangerous forces in the universe.

“Surrender” by Bhumika.B. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Surrender is a word soaked with negative connotations. To surrender is to be weak. You surrender when you have no more will to fight, when you lack strength, when you lack belief. Surrendering can seem like a character flaw, especially in victory-at-any-cost America. Never surrender, never give up. Persist, resist, insist.

But surrendering isn’t necessarily about giving up, or weakness, or passivity. The act of resignation, of ceding, can be an act of opening oneself up, of receptivity. It can be as brave and bold as any victory.

It’s a paradox: a collapse that invites fullness. Sometimes you have to…

“Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, ‘His Master’s Voice’, The Original RCA Music Puppy Dog Logo Symbol for Advertising” by Beverly & Pack is licensed with CC BY 2.0.
“Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, ‘His Master’s Voice’, The Original RCA Music Puppy Dog Logo Symbol for Advertising” by Beverly & Pack is licensed with CC BY 2.0.
“Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, ‘His Master’s Voice’, The Original RCA Music Puppy Dog Logo Symbol for Advertising” by Beverly & Pack is licensed with CC BY 2.0.

When Tom Hanks asked Nora Ephron for writing advice, she exclaimed, “Voice, voice, voice!”

It’s as if Ephron was telling Hanks to talk louder, to project, to speak from his diaphragm. But a writer’s voice isn’t so simple. It’s an enigmatic and elusive thing. I couldn’t help but thinking that after Tom Hanks went home, he wondered, “Just what did she mean by voice?” It’s like she handed him a jewelry box without the key.

Voice is perhaps the main thing that invites us into a story and keeps us reading. In fact, I’d argue that we’ll read even the…

If you make your novel into a sandbox, castles will emerge.

I was recently asked whether it’s more difficult to write the beginning or the ending of a novel. My answer? Neither. The most difficult part of a novel to write is the middle — popularly known as the “muddy middle,” or just the “muddle.” Whatever it is, it’s a mucky place to be.

When you’re writing the beginning of your novel, your words tend to flow to the glowing enchantment of your novel idea — a momentum sparked by the excitement of pursuing a shiny new idea and exploring new worlds. …

What does it really mean to be a “real” writer?

Quote from Alexander Chee’s NaNoWriMo pep talk

Many people hesitate to call themselves a “real” writer. They often think they need to be published to be a real writer — that they need to give readings, speak at conferences, earn a living from their work — even when they’ve been writing for years.

I don’t like money or the professionalization of an activity to be a validation for anything, especially an act as sacred and fundamental to being human as creativity. That’s why I like this simple definition of being a “real” writer: a writer is one who writes.

And yet …

Being a writer is really…

Rejection is a sign that you’re pushing boundaries, opening doors.

To be an author is to be rejected. Sometimes a publisher rejects your work. Sometimes a friend or family member responds unfavorably. Sometimes you reject yourself. Rejection for a writer is akin to water for a fish, except rejection doesn’t include the life-giving nutrients and oxygen that water provides for a fish.

Or does it?

Years and years ago, before I truly knew anything about the writing life, I took a karate class. I was no Bruce Lee. My body has never been limber, and my balance has always been wobbly, which was why I decided to take the class.

We are making birds, not bird cages.

One of the most difficult things in life is to declare yourself as . . . yourself.

Among the first questions people ask when they meet each other is, “What do you do for a living?” or “Where are you from?” Humans have a deep-seated need to swiftly put people into a neat category and place them safely in a box. To be from Peoria puts you in a different category than if you’re from New York City. To be a lawyer puts you in a different category than if you’re a waiter.

We act out these categories to some…

A goal without a deadline is like a ship without a captain.

If you’ve done National Novel Writing Month — the writing festival that challenges people to write 50,000 words of a novel in just 30 days each November — and learned just one thing, it’s the power of setting a goal and having a deadline to keep yourself accountable. A goal and a deadline serve as creative midwives, NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty wrote in No Plot? No Problem!

The words goal and deadline might not ring with any poetic allure, but these two words are perhaps the most important concepts in living the artistic life, ranking right up there with inspiration

Our imagination thrives when pressure is applied, when boundaries are set.

If you talk to another writer — any writer, no matter if they’ve just begun to write or if they have a few published books under their belt — you’ll likely hear complaints about their lack of time to truly write the novel of their dreams.

They yearn for a utopian idyll where time is expansive and unfettered, without worry about paying bills, or perhaps without worry of even making meals or cleaning the house. A pure time to write and nothing else.

I’m such a writer. If I had my druthers, I wouldn’t shop for groceries or even gas…

Grant Faulkner

Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month, co-founder of 100 Word Story, writer, tap dancer, alchemist, contortionist, numbskull, preacher.

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