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

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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?

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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 more than that, isn’t it? The more you write, the more you know that the act of writing weaves its way into your being to create a quite unique, wonderful, and sometimes peculiar creature. …


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

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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.

On the first day, the instructor introduced the concept of Osu, a Japanese contraction of the words Oshi (meaning push) and Shinobu (meaning to endure) that is a key concept of karate meaning patience, determination, and perseverance.


We are making birds, not bird cages.

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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 extent as well, even though we’re so much more than those check boxes of identity: teacher, student, plumber, doctor, mother, son. We adopt a persona for the role we have and wear different masks as the situation demands. Our roles can certainly feel comfortable and true enough, especially the more we become habituated to them, but they aren’t necessarily the definition of who we are. …


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

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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 and imagination. …


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

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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 the car. I’d reside in a completely pampered life where I would wake up and write every day — and then, and only then, would I truly realize the resplendence of my creative potential and write the novel of my dreams. …


There are many ways to describe these gems, these shards, these bonbons of stories.

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Of all of the forms of fiction, “flash fiction” is the only one described with a metaphor.

As James Thomas, the editor of several seminal anthologies of flash fiction, tells the story, he was talking with his wife about what to call these short stories of under 1,000 words. He’d been calling them “blasters,” but that moniker didn’t ring with any poetic allure. Right at that moment, a bolt of lightning struck, and the dark night lit up with a flash. “Call them flash,” his wife said. And the name of a genre was born.

The irony is that flash, despite being the smallest of fictional forms, breeds sub-genres and an ever-flowing list of new names. Flash stories are often called miniatures, short shorts, or postcard stories. There is the drabble (stories that are exactly 100 words), micro-fiction (stories under 400 words), and hint fiction (stories under 25 words). …


Too often, becoming expert means becoming finished.

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So much of our emphasis in life is to be the one who knows. When we embark seriously on any new endeavor, we look up to the masters and gurus and yearn to match their expertise someday.

They’re the ones who have it all figured out, after all. When they walk into rooms, people tilt their heads up in admiration. People ask them questions and hang on their every word. The experts move through life with surety, certainty, and maybe even a good paycheck, or so it seems from the outside. …


Fiction’s gift to us is the ability to live in the “land of ambiguity.”

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Stories allow us to live the questions.

I often remark that we’re living in “the Age of Certainty,” although perhaps the better moniker is “the Age of Righteousness.” The two go hand in hand.

People shout their truths on social media with such shrillness that life can feel like an ongoing screed. Our streams are rife with taunts and ripostes, demands and disses, rebukes and rebuttals. Rarely does anyone “lower” themselves to ask a question, listen to a response, allow another to explain. And then it’s even rarer to shift one’s own position. Being right is more important than creating an environment for an exchange of thoughts. …


Listening is an art like the understanding of poetry.

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When two people are talking, they’re often involved in their own private conversations, almost as if they’re separate from one another. We’ve all been in such a situation: so eager to speak that it’s as if we’re rushing to go to the bathroom. We have a deep need to be heard, to be recognized by another, to have our thoughts understood and ratified.

But that need can ironically narrow our world.

The next time you’re talking with another person, count the number of times you interrupt. Count the number of times you wait for a pause so that you can inject your opinion. Count the number of times you finish a sentence for the other person. …

About

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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